Australia

Australian of the Year award given to Thai cave rescuers

Dr Richard Harris Image copyright OZTEK/RICHARD HARRIS
Image caption Mr Harris was key to the success of the mission

Two medics who played a crucial role in the rescue of 12 boys stuck in a flooded cave in Thailand have been named Australians of the Year.

Dr Richard "Harry" Harris and Dr Craig Challen were honoured for their "heroic efforts" as part of the rescue operation, said the awards committee.

The amateur divers "put their lives at risk" during the mission which captivated the world in 2018, it said.

The award is given out each year to mark Australia Day.

It honours "eminent Australians" who have acted as role models for the nation.

'Quiet heroes'

The boys of the Wild Boars football team had been on a cave exploration in northern Thailand with their coach when sudden rainfall and flooding blocked their way out of the Tham Luang caves.

The dramatic rescue of the children and their coach took three weeks in June and July - an international team of divers eventually brought all of the boys out alive.

The two cave divers were recognised as having played a "crucial role" in the rescue, the National Australia Day Council said in a statement.

"The pair have remained humble about their role in the rescue, but have been embraced proudly by Australians as quiet heroes whose efforts are admired and applauded."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The dramatic rescue oft the 12 boys made global headlines

Mr Harris' medical expertise "was key in the plan to get the children out of the caves," the statement explained. He chose to stay with the boys until the very last one was brought out.

"After swimming through the narrow cave system to assess the health of those trapped and giving the medical all-clear for each evacuee, he administered an anaesthetic to each to enable their rescue. Richard was key to the mission's success, remaining in the cave system until the last evacuee was safe."

About Mr Challen, the awards said his "technical expertise was critical to the rescue".

"He played a leading role, working 10 to 12 hours each day in extremely dangerous conditions to swim the children one-by-one through the dark and narrow flooded caves."

Accepting the award from Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday, the two divers said they were "just one part of a very large team".

Mr Harris said he wanted to use the awards to encourage children to go outside and "find their inner explorer", and for their parents to "relax a bit" about the possible risks.

"You might think it's strange having just rescued some kids from a cave that I'd like to encourage kids to come underground," he said. But children, he added, need to "find their own boundaries and test their own limits".

Other Australians honoured

In the category of Local Hero, the ceremony recognised Kat and Tick Everett, two parents who founded the Dolly's Dream charity after their daughter took her own life as a result of bullying.

The Senior Australian of the Year award went to paediatrician Dr Sue Packer for her work in child abuse prevention.

As Young Australian of the Year, the ceremony recognised 22-year old indigenous rapper Danzal Baker, describing him as "an inspiration to indigenous youth."

He was praised for "using his talent to inspire young people in remote indigenous communities and encourage them to embrace their culture and embrace opportunities to lead their communities".

More on this story