Our mission was to find one black man in a big city. David and I have lost touch with our Sudanese friend Deng, and in coming to Sydney, we hoped we could locate him.

Deng Mading Deng in Uganda, December 2004
Deng Mading Deng — David took this photo during his trip through Uganda into Sudan in December 2004

David first met Deng in 2000. David was laying floors in an apartment in Brisbane, and Deng was newly arrived in Australia. While escaping from the long conflict in southern Sudan, Deng had spent years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Finally, he had been successfully processed by the Red Cross and had chosen to emigrate to Australia. At this time, Australia was just beginning to admit Sudanese refugees as part of their humanitarian intake. In 2001, there were just 4900 Sudanese-born people living in Australia. Five years later, the number was over 19,000.

It was easy to make friends with Deng. We brought him to our home and he accompanied David on floor-laying jobs. Modern life in Australia — including many electrical appliances — was completely foreign to him, but he quickly learned how to use them. During Deng’s first encounter at a bank’s atm, he was assisted by a friendly stranger who was waiting in line behind him. When out on a job with David, Deng vacuumed the whole house in sheer delight at using such a marvellous machine!

When Deng moved to Sydney, he worked very hard to save up money to sponsor his mother and siblings’ passage to Australia. At one time he was working three jobs simultaneously, saving every dollar. During the war, his mother had adopted two more children whose parents had been killed. Deng paid for their way too — and when they all arrived in Australia, he was suddenly living in a household of eight people!

After Deng’s family arrived, his siblings enrolled in local schools and also worked to support Deng. His duty completed, he wanted to study — to become a teacher — so that he could return to Sudan and assist with the reconstruction that he optimistically believed was inevitable.

In 2004, we joined Deng in Kenya and he and David entered Sudan in search first of the cattle Deng had bought in anticipation of an upcoming marriage, and also to find Deng’s family that were displaced by the war. These trips into Sudan — in parts of the country then controlled by the SPLA rather than the Khartoum government — was authorised by a permit issued by the SPLA’s office in Nairobi rather than a traditional visa on David’s passport. (We’ve got photos of David’s trip online at another site.)

In travelling with Deng, seeing his cattle and meeting his family, David learned a lot about the Dinka people. This love has stayed with us over the years, and we enjoyed meeting Deng’s mother and siblings a couple of years ago. However, we lost Deng’s address and phone number during our time in New Zealand.

It may seem unlikely that we could just approach strangers in a certain suburb of Sydney and expect to find information on a certain individual, but after our experience with the Sudanese Dinka community in Nairobi, we knew that they would be hanging out together and would keep tabs on everyone. In Nairobi, the place to hang out was Wimpy, and we knew that in Sydney, the place to find Dinka is Blacktown.

When we arrived in Blacktown, it was already evening. We pulled up on the side of a residential road and David and I scouted the area for good parking spots. The first Dinka people we approached was a group of women who were walking home from late-night shopping. One of them definitely had heard of Deng Mading Deng, but she thought he had gone to Africa. We thanked the ladies who also recommended that we return in the morning — there are Dinka everywhere, they said.

Returning to our truck, we looked for a spot away from the main road to spend the night. We didn’t fancy setting the alarm for 7am in order to drive out of the clearway zone. One of the benefits of our Freedom Truck rig is that we can camp incognito. We don’t look like campers, so we can usually spend the night almost everywhere.

In Blacktown, we were blessed to find a vacant residential lot very close to the central business district. Surrounded by houses, there was nothing on the lot except grass — not even a driveway. We pulled onto the house lot and turned the truck for privacy. This is much nicer than waking up in a public carpark.

Breakfast at Blacktown, October 2011
In the morning, we were able to give the girls their breakfast on a nicely trimmed lawn.

Parking at Blacktown, October 2011
The vacant lot which we parked on is just down the street from Blacktown City Centre.

The girls wanted to ride their bikes, so we loaded everyone up and headed up the street. While hanging out in front of the shopping centre, the security guard approached us and had a friendly chat with us, teasing the girls about being “good” and generally encouraging our family. Other small encounters with chatty strangers were similarly encouraging.

Riding bikes at Blacktown, October 2011
Our girls love riding their bikes, and the clear space in front of the big shopping centre here is the perfect location for wheels!

Climbing in trees at Blacktown, October 2011
After David put them up into their own trees, our girls pretended they were owls.

When we needed to go inside the shopping centre, we simply left the bikes outside — unsecured. Of course they were still in place when we emerged hours later.

As soon as we reached Blacktown’s main street, we quickly spotted a group of Dinka men. They congregate around benches, greet each other with handshakes and spend hours talking of politics, the economy, relationships and the future.

David talking to Dinka people, October 2011
In Australia it's easy to spot the Dinka — they're tall and very dark.

These men also knew Deng. It may seem random, but the Dinka community in Australia is still very close-knit. The Dinka place great importance on their ancestry and can recite their patriarchal ancestors for up to fifty generations! We only knew two of Deng’s ancestors — Mading and Deng. This was enough for his Sudanese acquaintances to recognise him.

We have learned that Deng has returned to Sudan again. Southern Sudan gained its independence in July 2011 and the prospect of a new, peaceful government has meant that the country is opening to investment, commerce and development. It’s good news for the Southern Sudanese, and great news for Deng. We look forward to catching up with him another time when he returns to Australia!