For the first time in history, two people have been awarded Australian of the Year.

With AAP. 

Thai cave rescue medics Richard Harris and Craig Challen have been named joint 2019 Australians of the Year at the annual awards ceremony in Canberra.

Dr Harris, an Adelaide anaesthetist, and his friend and retired vet Mr Challen captured worldwide attention for their part in the daring rescue mission which saved a team of 12 young Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave.

“I really want to inspire young people to get outside and explore and have an adventure and build some resilience through doing that,” Dr Harris said.

As reported by Sydney Morning Herald, at the ceremony, the chair of the National Australia Day Council Danielle Roche praised Harris and Challen for their “selflessness, courage and willingness to help others in a time of need”.

“Richard Harris and Craig Challen led a heroic rescue under the spotlight of the world’s media,” she said.


“They placed the safety of others above their own and inspired hope when hope seemed lost.

“They embody the very best of the Australian spirit – a commitment to improving the lives of others, a determination to succeed and the ability to inspire us to think about how we can contribute to our nation.

“They are the people that make us proud to be Australian.”

In July, the 12 boys in the Thai soccer team, aged 11-16, and their coach, were successfully rescued after becoming trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The last boys were rescued 17 days after they first entered the cave.

ABC reported that the rescue trip with each boy was initially expected to take eight hours, and was an incredibly delicate operation.

Australian doctor Richard Harris was one of the last to evacuate, with Sydney Morning Herald reporting at the time that for three days in a row, he swam to the trapped boys to complete a medical check for each boy ensuring they were fit for the exit journey.

According to ABC‘s South-East Asia correspondent Liam Cochrane, the narrowest gap in the journey was just 38cm in diameter – only slightly bigger than the width of a school ruler. At this point, the boys had to be pushed through the gap, which was only large enough to fit their head through.

It was a story that captured hearts and minds all over the world – and was, and still is, a testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit.