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Sudanese Lost Boy's long walk comes to life

  • 30 April 2019


When refugees write accounts of their lives they usually express gratitude to the nation that has received them. A Child Escapes, in which Francis Deng describes his life from childhood as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan to refugee in Kenya and now employed in a bank in Australia, is no exception. Left unsaid, but equally important, is the gift that he and other immigrants have been to Australia. In some small measure they have made their own worlds and their experiences part of Australia.

To realise this you need only to think of place names — the names of English towns: Tamworth and Camperdown; of Irish towns: Killarney, Tullamore and Castlemaine; of German towns: Brunswick, Hahndorf and Altona. Beyond the magic of names are the foods and customs of Christmas, Tet, Easter and Eid, and the variety of restaurants and of wines served and music played in them.

At a deeper level are the national stories now held in Australian memory: the Irish Potato Famine, and the experience of war, loss and persecution in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. These stories have become part of the Australian heritage. They have shaped distinctive representations of what it means to be a human being, to be faithful, striving, generous, prudent, courageous, successful, loving and Australian. They encourage us to reflect on the conventional wisdom and prejudices we qualify as Australian and to move beyond them.

As a young boy, Deng's world and future lay with his extended family, herding cattle in the vicinity of Bora in Sudan. When the civil war began, soldiers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) took him with thousands of other eight or nine year old boys. They marched the boys through hostile territory into Ethiopia. There he suffered hunger, receiving a little education and basic training in military discipline in preparation for serving with the SPLA. His hunger for education led him to join a Catholic Church group run by a dedicated priest.

After the revolution in Ethiopia its army turned against the SPLA and expelled their camps from the country. In the fighting the boys fled again in fear of their lives, witnessed massacres, and lived under constant threat on return to Sudan. Eventually Francis was among those repatriated by the United Nations into Kenya.

His passion for education led him to Kakuma Camp, where he won a scholarship to secondary school, and after