Deng is a self-made man, a living example of Australian values such as multiculturalism and a ‘fair go’. After starting his adult life working in factories, pulling the night shift in a petrol station and catching live chickens for slaughter, Deng now holds a Master’s Degree in Law and practices as a criminal lawyer.
Soon after featuring in the Western Sydney University’s award-winning ‘Unlimited’ marketing campaign, viewed millions of times around the world, Deng was invited to give the 2016 Australia Day address. The public further got to know Deng through his highly-acclaimed biography, Songs of a War Boy, co-written with Ben Mckelvey.
A Childhood Interrupted
Deng’s achievements are even more inspiring when you consider his humble origins. Deng was born into a peaceful village on the banks of the River Nile, in what is now South Sudan. War came to his village when he was just six years old, and Deng was one of many children of his generation conscripted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
The following years were harrowing for him. After being forced to march for 33 days to Ethiopia, Deng’s military training begun. By the age of eleven, Deng was given an AK47 and made to fight on the front lines. The first time he fired a gun, he was so small and weak it dislocated his shoulder.
The Scars of War
After enduring years of life in the army, a chance encounter reunited Deng with his older brother, John Mac. John was courageous and a born leader, and arranged to smuggle Deng out of Sudan. John risked his own life in doing so, hiding Deng under some sacks in the back of a truck, and driving them across several heavily armed checkpoints to Kenya.
Thanks to John Mac’s tenacity, the brothers were able to secure the right to come to Australia. They arrived in Sydney speaking little English, with no knowledge of Western culture or ways. Both bore the scars of war, but with the enterprising spirit of refugees, the two set about remaking their futures.
Paying it Forward
Deng mastered the English language and worked tirelessly to educate himself, firstly in accounting and later in law. The events of this period of his life are hugely inspirational to anyone fortunate enough to hear Deng speak about them. Today Deng is a partner in his own law firm, AC Law Group.
Tragically John Mac did not have as much success finding employment in Sydney. Despite being the first Sudanese refugee to graduate from university in Australia, John Mac was only able to secure factory work. He ultimately returned to South Sudan as an aid worker, where he was killed in 2014. In his name, Deng is establishing the John Mac Foundation.