As many prepare to light their barbecues and crack open a beer on Tuesday to celebrate simply being Aussie, a former child soldier has urged Australians to not take for granted living in a country fortunate enough to have “freedom from fear”.
Deng Thiak Adut was taken from his family’s banana farm in South Sudan at the tender age of six to become a child soldier.
Years of bloodshed later, Adut was smuggled out of the country and sponsored by an Australian couple he befriended at a United Nations Compound. Blacktown -- in Sydney’s Western Suburbs -- was soon home. But many he knew were not so fortunate.
“To appreciate the value of freedom one must first be denied it,” Deng told an audience at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Thursday, including state premier Mike Baird, in the annual NSW Australia Day address.
“I came to Australia as an illiterate, penniless teenager, traumatised physically and emotionally by war.
"Australia is a nation where most of us, most of the time, seek to give and receive a ‘fair go’ and ‘respect democracy’. It’s that ‘fair go’ that you see in every new Australian success story."
The refugee is now a criminal lawyer, dedicating many hours of his time to work with the Sudanese community in Sydney's western suburbs.
Not shying away from the national discourse in his address, Adut acknowledged the current issues leaving fear in some Australians, highlighting domestic violence and national security.
“This past few years there have been unexpected fears, the fears that random atrocities such as those that took place in Bali, and more recently in London, Paris and Istanbul will come here. We scarcely notice the frequency of such acts in other places where terror, not freedom from fear, is the norm."
As the fear of home-grown terrorism remains eminent, Deng warned Australians of leaders politicising the issue to skew the asylum seeker debate in their favour.
“Fears and doubt are the ideal environment in which to breed misguided obsessions and grand delusions.
“In responding to tragedies in which the lives of victims and perpetrators alike have been snuffed out to serve some demagogue, we must all be careful not to let local opportunists exploit our emotions with simplistic solutions.”
Ita Buttrose and Ben Roberts-Smith are among the names of past speakers. And Adut paid homage to his beginnings being far different than those preceding him.
“I know that some who are watching and listening will be wondering why I, so black, am ignoring that the ruling majority appear to be white. I don't ignore it, just as I don’t ignore that the colours and faces of the Australian community are such a rich palate," he said.
“Take a trip around an Australian city, visit a building site, walk around an educational campus, look at the names in our sporting teams, and hear, see, smell, and taste the richness of the cultures in any of our shopping centres. White is a colour to which so much can be added."
Read the entire speech here.