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Bul Bulkoch, Sudanese Migrant, 1996

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Source: Museum Victoria

Bul Bulkoch was born in Bor, a village in southern Sudan in 1983; the same year the war in Sudan began. Bul lived there with his grandmother while his family went to a refugee camp in Itang in Ethiopia. Bul has few memories of those early years but in the late 1980s, his mother trekked for months from Itang to Bor to take Bul back to Ethiopia for better schooling opportunities. He has vivid memories of this long journey, on foot without transport, with little or no food or water. When he got blisters or was tired, his mother would carry him, along with their belongings. At this time, Bul's father was in jail, a political prisoner for four years. Etang had become a massive tent city but it was attacked and the family fled back to Sudan with many others - and many were killed. They had to flee so quickly that Bul left his shoes behind, which had been bought with his mother's jewellery.

The family moved from place to place in Sudan, sometimes together, sometimes apart, trying to keep ahead of the war. Bul finally settled in Kakuma, a refugee camp in northern Kenya where his parents joined him and began the long process of seeking a new home. Meanwhile Bul attended boarding school in Lodwar in southern Kenya, through funds raised by his parents through their restaurant and winemaking business. As the eldest son his education was extremely important to his parents and their expectations for his sucess would remain high. Upon acceptance by the Australian refugee humanitarian program they then had to wait at least three months in Nairobi before finally boarding a plane for Australia.

Bul was 13 when he arrived in Australia in October 1996 with his parents, younger sister and brother. With only five family members allowed to come, other members of the extended family had to stay behind. When he arrived at Melbourne International Airport, he had only the clothes he was wearing and his traditional language, Dinka which his family spoke at home. He knew nothing about Australia and early settlement was challenging although his youth made adapting easier for him than the older generations.

As an Australian teenager, Bul played basketball, made many good friends, especially those with whom he was able to share similar memories and experiences as refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. He completed his secondary education at Footscray City College, completed his university engineering degree at Ballarat College and now works for Rio Tinto in Western Australia as a mining engineer and planner.

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