Hobart man’s journey from human shield to supporting others

Amara Tholley will never forget the 10 second argument with his brother over a new white shirt that literally saved his life.

The 16 year old was part of a huge crowd being herded by rebels as a human shield towards Government fighters in Sierra Leone in West Africa in 1999. It was then Amara’s brother realised he was wearing his only brand new piece of clothing.

“He pushed me to the side of the road and demanded I give him back the shirt, the next thing I know I wake up and there are bodies and blood everywhere,” Amara said.

Miraculously both boys survived. When they finally made it home through the chaos and carnage, their mother said it was time to leave. His family of nine began their walk of over a hundred kilometres to a refugee camp in neighbouring Guinea.

That journey, which included two very hard years in a refugee camp, eventually ended in Hobart and a job at the Department of Human Services.

“I remember arriving and the sun was out,” Amara said. “The immigration official who welcomed us said it was a beautiful day, but we were freezing! We were a long way from warm African weather.”

Amara is sharing his story as part of Refugee week which celebrates the courage, resilience and contributions made by refugees to Australian society.

18 years on, Amara is again calling Hobart home, working as a Support Officer for international services staff. He has travelled around Australia with the department, including delivering services in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

“That work was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I was able to give so much back to the community, it was so fulfilling,” he said.

“We could literally see the difference we were making to people’s lives every day.”

His family feel extremely privileged to have been given a second chance at life.

“My arrival in Australia was the best thing to ever happen to me, better than my best day,” Amara said.

“I want to continue to contribute to the community which opened the door to me.  I live in the lucky country, that’s for sure.”

More information

  • You can find more information about support for refugees and new arrivals here.