FEW people can say they drank water squeezed from grass in a dead elephant's stomach to survive. Or wielded an AK-47 before picking up a pen. Or walked for 33 days to safety when they were 12.
Deng Thiak Adut can.
Forced to join the rebel South Sudanese army with hundreds of other children when he was six, Mr Adut escaped to Kenya and arrived in Australia as an illiterate 15-year-old refugee in 1998.
''I had never learnt to read or write, and I only knew a few words of English,'' Mr Adut says in a film launched by the Minister for Immigration, Brendan O'Connor, last week.
Mr Adut, now a criminal defence lawyer, is one of five successful African refugees profiled in the documentary New Land, New Life, funded by the federal government and commissioned by the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Agency.
Their stories have many common threads. All five have been displaced by violence, civil war and poverty. Most have walked for days to escape. Girma Feyissa Dabi, now finance manager with Mitsubishi MLA in Australia, walked for 26 days from Ethiopia to Sudan's border.
Several have spent years in refugee camps. Agey Abdikarin from Somalia, who has trained as a welder and information technology expert, spent his years in a camp ''hoping the war would end or that they would give me a visa to go somewhere like Australia''.
They all arrived with nothing. ''The flat was completely empty, no bed, lounge, fridge, nothing,'' Mr Abdikarin says. Now, they live suburban lives, often with little interest in material possessions.
Despite his success, Mr Dabi says he lives comfortably but not extravagantly. ''After the experiences I have had, I refuse to live the kind of life where shopping becomes a hobby,'' he says.
The film was commissioned to counter negative stories about refugees, particularly from South Sudan, who have got into trouble with the law, the agency's project manager, Abrar Ahmad, said.
Many young people when they arrive in Australia are just as Mr Adut was. ''A lot of young boys and girls have left the conflict areas,'' Mr Ahmad said. ''It is a bit harder for them to adjust into Australian life.''
Mr Adut, who represents many young refugees, appears in the film because he wants to open ''people's eyes to the impact of war on children''.
Many African refugees have pyschological injuries that need individualised, specialised treatment. Mr Adut has undergone counselling for post-traumatic stress.
''We have quite a number of Sudanese committing offences that are serious in nature. And magistrates don't understand their background,'' he said.
New Life, New Land, was written and directed by Michael Power (the brother of the reporter) from afterglow.net.au