“Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, past and present, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.
Ten years ago, Clover Moore, the lord mayor of Sydney, talked at the National Maritime Museum. She said,’Today, as we mark the beginning of Refugee Week, it is important to remember that all non‐Indigenous Australians are immigrants to this land.’
She continued, ‘From the perspective of thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship, the rest of us are newcomers’. I wonder what the Gadigal people in 1788 thought as they watched sailing ships coming up their harbour? Did they realise that their civilisation was about to be uprooted? Did they watch with interest and wonder? How soon did that interest turn to mortal fear?
It has been a 200-year journey for their descendants to reassert the right to be free of those fears, to acclaim pride in their traditions. That’s a long wait.
The theme of this year’s Australia Day address is that freedom from fear is very special to all of us. To appreciate the value of freedom one must first be denied it. To know real fear gives special meaning and yearning to being free of fear.
So what does ‘freedom from fear’ entail for you and me as Australians, or those who ‘want to be Australians’ in 2016?
Let me share with you parts of my story. It may be unfamiliar to those who have been born and grown up in a peaceful Australia. To those who have come as refugees from the world’s trouble spots, parts of this story will be too familiar. A point of this story is to emphasise how very lucky we are to enjoy freedom from fear, and how very unlucky are many, many others who neither choose, nor deserve their fate.
I was born in a small fishing village called Malek, in the South Sudan. My father was a fisherman and we had a banana farm. I am one of eight children born to Mr Thiak Adut Garang and Ms Athieu Akau Deng. So the parts of my name are drawn from both my parents. My given name is Deng which means god of the rain. In those parts of this wide brown land that are short of water my name might be a good omen. I have a nickname: Auoloch, which means swallow. Alas I couldn’t fly and as a young boy, about the age of a typical second grader in Sydney, I was conscripted into an army.
As they took me away from my home and family I didn’t even understand what freedoms I had lost. I didn’t understand how fearful I should have been. I was young. I was ignorant. I lost the freedom to read and write. I lost the freedom to sing children’s songs. I lost the right to be innocent. I lost the right to be a child.
Instead, I was taught to sing war songs. In place of the love of life I was taught to love the death of others. I had one freedom – the freedom to die and I’ll return to that a little later.
I lost the right to say what I thought. In place of ‘free speech’, I was an oppressor to those who wanted to express opinions that were different to those who armed me, fed me, told me what to think, where to go and what to do.
And there was something else very special to me that was taken away. I was denied the right to become an initiated member of my tribe. The mark of ‘inclusiveness’ was denied to me.