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Studio portrait photograph of Deng Adut.

Refugee and lawyer
2017 Australian of the Year | New South Wales

At the age of six, Deng Adut was forced to fight in the war that eventually split his homeland of Sudan. Trained to use an AK-47 and expected to either kill or be killed, Deng eventually made his way to Australia and is now making a difference as a lawyer and an advocate.

Deng is keenly aware of the opportunities education can bring. As a former boy soldier from South Sudan he was denied education but, after arriving in Australia, Deng taught himself English. His steely determination to learn saw him graduate with a law degree.

Deng's Lord Erskine speeches

Thomas Erskine was a 19th-century British lawyer and politician, who gained fame through representing clients accused of corruption and treason. His speeches were first published in 1876. Deng bought this collection when he was a student. Poring over them helped expand his vocabulary and understand the law.

A leather bound hard cover book containing two volumes of speeches by Lord Erskine. The cover is burgundy with gold tooling, and text on the spine reads 'ERSKINE'S SPEECHES / VOLUMES I & II'. The end papers are marbled.

Erskine’s Speeches from Deng Adut

Looking for inspiration

Lord Erskine is a man who I aspire to be like, my icon. He was the greatest lawyer and advocate. His ethics are impeccable. Every single line in that book, from the introduction to the final line, is like food. You can’t throw it away. Every sentence is valuable.

When Deng first arrived in Australia almost everything seemed alien. Education provided mental sustenance, but football enabled social engagement.

Finding a place

While I understood almost no aspects of Australian life, I understood the goals and the ball, and the offside rule and the joy of scoring, in the exact same way every Australian player did.

Advocating for others

I don’t think I deserve to be in the spotlight so I have to work hard to deserve it. I work for my community, and for my cause; a cause for education, a cause to make a change.

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