• SBS Dinka Broadcaster Ajak Deng Chiengkou. (Supplied) (supplied)
When conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013 many fled from their homeland to Australia, prompting the establishment of SBS Dinka Radio.
By
SBS

24 Jul 2015 - 2:14 PM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2015 - 3:12 PM

What started in 1975 as a three-month experiment with eight languages is now a national multimedia broadcaster, with radio going out in 74 languages, over the airwaves and over the internet.

To mark SBS Radio's 40th anniversary in 2015 we've be meeting some of the people behind the mics.

 

 

English is now the official language of South Sudan which became an independent country in 2011.

Hundreds of other regional languages are also spoken, with Dinka one of the main ones.

Dinka speaker Dor Akech Achiek settled in Australia a few years ago and works with Settlement Services International, a program that provides intensive settlement support to newly-arrived humanitarian arrivals.

He said most South Sudanese in Australia were here due to conflict in their homeland.

"They came to Australia due to the war that started back in 1983. Most of them were displaced into refugee camps and displaced people's camps. And it was through the refugee resettlement program from the United Nations that they made their way to Australia for safety. So they came here to seek safety."

Like many Dinka speakers, he too settled in Australia after fleeing conflict in Sudan.

After nine years in a refugee camp in Kenya, Mr Achiek said his first impression of Australia was a positive one.

"You have all the set up that is needed for humanity to survive, and this is the first impression that I got about Australia."

He said his second impression was that he was able achieve his dream in finishing university, and getting a job.

"That is a set up that is not available back in the camps and also in the countries that we came from due to war."

The 2011 census showed just over 9,500 Dinka speakers living in Australia.

The Lost Boys of Sudan

Like Mr Achiek, most arrived through the humanitarian program - including SBS Dinka Radio journalist Ajak Deng Chiengkou.

He spent almost two years in an unaccompanied children's camp from the age of ten, an experience shared by more than 20,000, mostly boys, separated from their parents when their communities came under attack.

This group were informally known as 'The Lost Boys of Sudan'.

Many fled their homes to avoid being forced to fight in Sudan's brutal civil war, but what awaited them was not much better.

"I was actually 10 when we left home, some were younger than me and some were older, and the older ones served. It was not a pleasant life. The abuse that were happening were rampant and it was not something that some of us can imagine."

Some of the young boys were forced to fight. All experienced the indignity of war.

"You had to stay wearing the same clothes six months. There were a lot of outbreaks from gastroenteritis, malnutrition. Some of them are living in Australia today but some of them who went to war have not survived. Some of them have died."

One of the victims of the war was Mr Chiengkou's brother, who was shot dead.

He also lost many friends during the conflict which lasted from 1983 to 2005 before re-erupting in 2013.

 

Finding solace in photography

As a young man he found solace in photography, a move that led him to where he is today. 

Almost 20 years later, that interest has led Mr Chiengkou to a career in broadcasting, becoming the first Dinka language broadcaster to present a national program on Australian radio.

That was in 2013, when SBS introduced the Dinka language into its schedule.

It attracts a loyal live following in Australia as well as online in Dinka-speaking communities in Australia and overseas.

SBS Radio listener Awek Bul Akech liked being able to listen to the radio while being free to do other things.

"I think when we came here there wasn't that many South Sudanese and then a few years later a lot of them came, but when it comes to the Dinka program, I think there wasn't any program back then. There have been a few along the way, but they never really get somewhere except for the SBS Dinka Radio."

She usually listens to the radio with other family members.

"On Saturday at 11am my mum is the biggest fan of this show, so she puts it on and we tune in for it. Basically you clean when you listen to the program. It's the radio and there's nothing much you can do, except for doing things around it. So we usually clean and tune into the radio and discuss things that are happening."

 

Heavy hearts

Mr Chiengkou said since conflict erupted again in 2013 in South Sudan, the diaspora was more desperate than ever to know what was happening back home.

He said many South Sudanese carry heavy hearts about what could be happening to family and friends still in South Sudan, with the memories of what brought them to Australia still raw.

"To a person actually living in Australia there is a double life. A life of peace when you are working. A life of peace when you are driving on the street. But psychologically your parents or your relatives are in displaced camps, refugee camps. Some it's unknown where they are. Some of the boys here that are in Australia now have not seen their mothers or relative for 27 years. The memories of war are still fresh and traumatic at the end of the day."

But he said for him at least settling in Australia had gone some way in healing some of the memories of the past.

"This situation that I saw when I first arrived at Melbourne international airport was that the society was so welcoming. From that day I still have the impression of liking the place until we speak now. The multicultural aspect of the society is so good. People don't see that unless you go and visit other western countries, and you see where Australia fits."

 Listen to SBS Dinka Radio