Australian doctor Richard Harris (right), along with his dive partner Craig Challen. Picture: AAP
Australian doctor Richard Harris (right), along with his dive partner Craig Challen. Picture: AAP

Thai cave heroes vie for Australian of the Year

HEROIC cave divers Richard Harris and Craig Challen are in the running to become Australian of the Year tonight for their selfless bravery in the dramatic rescue of 12 boys trapped in a flooded Thai cave.

There has never been dual-recipients in the history of the awards but the humble South Australian anaesthetist and his West Australian dive buddy hope to be the first.

"For two good mates to share the award would be tremendous," Dr Harris said.

Both were given state honours after taking part in the dramatic rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team last year.

Cave divers Craig Challen and Dr Richard Harris are nominees for Australian of the Year. Picture: Gary Ramage
Cave divers Craig Challen and Dr Richard Harris are nominees for Australian of the Year. Picture: Gary Ramage

Dr Challen, a retired vet and long-time cave diver, opened up about the miraculous rescue in July after the pair were given Australia's second highest civilian bravery award, the Star of Courage.

"Cave diving is what we do. That bit didn't require anything special. But what we are not used to is holding these little humans in our hands and their fate completely and utterly up to us," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning said the nominees for Australian of the Year were a reflection of the best Australia had to offer the world.

A picture of Richard Harris (left) and Craig Challen posted on Facebook by Richard Harris as they were flying home from Thailand. Picture: Facebook
A picture of Richard Harris (left) and Craig Challen posted on Facebook by Richard Harris as they were flying home from Thailand. Picture: Facebook

Addressing a morning tea at The Lodge, the prime minister said the nominees were an "eclectic bunch".

"Today is very special day because today and tomorrow we remind ourselves of our shared histories as Australians and we rededicate ourselves to Australia's future," Mr Morrison said.

"Our Australians of the Year, our Local Heroes, our Young Australians and Senior Australians of the Year are a reflection of the very best of Australia, the very best of our stories, the very best of our contributions."

He said he had been raised to understand that "life wasn't about what you accumulate, its about what you contribute."

"Everyone here is a model of that way of life and that way of thinking."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with NSW 2019 Australian of the Year finalist Kurt Fearnley at the 2019 Australian of the Year finalist morning tea at The Lodge in Canberra. Picture: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with NSW 2019 Australian of the Year finalist Kurt Fearnley at the 2019 Australian of the Year finalist morning tea at The Lodge in Canberra. Picture: AAP

Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley has also been nominated for the national award after a glittering 20-year wheelchair racing career.

"The sport gave me life. The sport changed the way I saw myself in about 10 seconds," Fearnley said.

The NSW Australian of the Year, who was born without part of his spine, has also been an advocate for people with disability, campaigning for greater access in communities and workplaces.

Victorian Australian of the Year Mark Sullivan is the founder and managing director of not-for-profit Medicines Development for Global Health.

MDGH received a world-first approval for its new medicine, moxidectin, which treats river blindness, a debilitating disease endemic among the world's poorest people.

Queensland's finalist is Detective Inspector Jon Rouse, for his work with Australia's first police operation proactively targeting online child sex predators.

Former Essendon AFL star Michael Long's work in reconciliation, including his annual Long Walk which raises awareness of indigenous issues, earned him the nomination for the Northern Territory.

Tasmanian Bernadette Black founded the BRAVE foundation, Australia's only national organisation supporting and representing 8300 expectant and parenting teenagers a year.

She's in the running for the national gong, along with ACT women's advocate and journalist Virginia Haussegger for her work with a foundation striving for gender equality in public life.



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