2017 Young Alumni Award
Defence Lawyer and Co-founder, AC Law Group
Master of Laws (Criminal Prosecutions), 2014
Deng Adut has overcome astonishing adversity to become a successful lawyer and a tireless advocate for refugees and human rights.
At just six years of age, Deng was taken from his parents and his South Sudanese village of Malek and forced to become a child soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Robbed of his family, his childhood and his innocence, he was made to march 33 days to Ethiopia, to fight and to witness countless deaths. He was the victim of torture and gunshot wounds, and suffered through cholera, dysentery and malnutrition. Spending time in a camp in Kenya after fleeing the military and being smuggled out of Sudan by his brother, Deng’s visa for Australia was approved. He and his brother seized upon this opportunity for a better life.
Arriving as a 14-year-old with no previous education, Deng taught himself to read, write and speak English while working to support himself and his family back home. He went on to study undergraduate law at Western Sydney University (WSU), subsequently earning a UOW Master of Criminal Law.
Deng co-founded Blacktown law firm AC Law Group in 2014, and as a managing partner works seven days a week on a challenging case load across areas of criminal, family, personal injury and employment law. He continues to practice in refugee law, helping fellow Sudanese refugees with legal advice and support and taking on at least two new pro bono cases each week.
Early in his career, Deng was involved in the Sudanese Court Support Program, assisting new refugees to better understand the criminal justice system and environment. His impact on improving relations between the local African community and Blacktown Police has been gratefully acknowledged by local law enforcement. He is also an active contributor to the Parramatta Community Justice Clinic, and has given countless hours to mentoring to help the next generation to both access and contribute to a brighter future.
Deng works with disadvantaged communities to assist those who he considers less fortunate than himself, and in 2016 established the John Mac Foundation in memory of his late brother. The Foundation works to enable access to higher education for people from refugee, humanitarian and other backgrounds in Australia, and to support a more just legal system and access to legal education in South Sudan. Ultimately, he aims to return to South Sudan to prosecute those responsible for the conscription of child soldiers.
Deng is a living example of the power of education to change lives. When he appeared in an advertisement for WSU, his story was so powerful that more than 4 million people downloaded the video. Last year he released his book Songs of a War Boy through Hachette Australia, sharing his deeply moving and inspiring story as an important reminder of the transformative effect of compassion and of how we can all benefit from opening our doors and hearts to those fleeing war, persecution and trauma.
Invited by the NSW Premier to give the Australia Day Address in 2016, Deng’s stirring speech implored Australians to cherish, and not take for granted, the freedom from fear enjoyed in our country. His eloquent words inspired new understanding of the plight, capabilities and contribution of Australia’s refugee population. He was named NSW Australian of the Year in 2017, seeing this as an opportunity to mobilise others and for many more voices to be heard.
Chancellor, Deng Adut has shown extraordinary courage and determination to build a new life and a highly successful career from the most challenging of circumstances. He has helped countless other refugees in the community to better outcomes, and his passionate contribution to lifting the debate on refugees in Australia continues to challenge ignorance and change hearts and minds for the better.
I am pleased and honoured to present Deng Adut to receive this year’s Young Alumni Award.