A cave-diver and retired vet who helped rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand has been named the 2019 Western Australia Australian of the Year.
Dr Craig Challen, of Wangara, was about to go on a caving holiday on the Nullarbor Plains in July 2018 when he was called to join the international rescue mission at Chiang Rai in Thailand.
On Tuesday, he was honoured in the Perth ceremony for the Australian of the Year awards. Other category winners were:
- 2019 WA Senior Australian of the Year – Frank Mallard
- 2019 WA Young Australian of the Year – Noelle Martin
- 2019 WA Local Hero – Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker
The Western Australia award recipients will now represent their state at the national Australian of the Year awards, announced on January 25 in Canberra.
Western Australia Governor Kim Beazley congratulated all the state nominees for their contributions.
“Each year, these awards celebrate our nation’s finest – Australians who go above and beyond to make a difference and create a better community for us all,” Mr Beazley said.
“This evening’s nominees have emerged from hundreds of nominations from all over Western Australia. They lead by example; dedicating their time, knowledge, energy and experience for the benefit of others.
“On behalf of all Western Australians I thank them all for the time, energy and commitment they have provided to our community – you are an inspiration to us all.”
National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand said the Western Australia award recipients all use their skills and experiences to help others.
“The Western Australia award recipients are fine ambassadors for their communities and their state,” she said.
“We look forward to welcoming them to Canberra in January for the national awards.”
For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards visit australianoftheyear.org.au.
More on the WA winners
The 2019 Western Australia Australian of the Year is cave-diver and rescuer Dr Craig Challen, of Wangara.
In July 2018, the respected cave diver and retired vet was about to go on a caving holiday in the Nullarbor Plains, when he was called to help on a rescue mission in Thailand.
Craig was part of the international team that successfully rescued 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Craig, who has dived some of Australia’s deepest wrecks and has set depth records in diving, was chosen for the mission based on his technical expertise.
Working 10 to 12 hours a day in extremely dangerous conditions, Craig repeatedly risked his life as the children were swum, one-by-one, through the dark and narrow flooded caves. Despite admitting he initially thought the rescue would be too difficult to accomplish, he played a leading role in this successful and heroic mission.
Dr Challen was awarded the Star of Courage for his unwavering and selfless bravery following the successful rescue of the trapped soccer team.
The 2019 Western Australia Senior Australian of the Year is 73 year old Yamatji elder, ex-serviceman and volunteer Frank Mallard of Northampton.
Frank is a proud ambassador and advocate for the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women.
Part of the Stolen Generation, Frank served in the Australian army from 1962 to 1985, and in the Army Reserves from 1986 to 1999. He saw active duty in Borneo and Vietnam – but on returning home, like other Aboriginal soldiers, was rejected by the RSL.
This spurred him to promote the military service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within Veterans’ Affairs and the broader community.
Today, despite PTSD and Parkinson’s disease, Frank is media officer at Ellenbrook RSL and a dedicated veterans’ issues volunteer. He is the chairperson of Voice of the Voiceless Ministry that helps people with addiction, mental illness and social issues. In 2015, he received a Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation as a member of the 1RAR Group, and was City of Swan Citizen and Senior Citizen of the Year in 2018.
The 2019 Western Australia Young Australian of the Year is 24-year-old feminist, activist and law reformist Noelle Martin of Nedlands.
At the age of 18, Noelle discovered sexual predators had stolen images of her from social media, editing them onto pornographic images and videos, adding her name and details of where she lived.
The feminist, law graduate and activist has courageously taken action, helping provide avenues for justice for victims of image-based sexual abuse.
Despite the abuse escalating after she shared her experience publicly and being told that nothing could be done about the images, Noelle continued to speak out. Her actions were a major factor in new laws being introduced and passed in New South Wales in 2017, in 2018 at the Commonwealth level and in Western Australia, making it a criminal offence to distribute non-consensual intimate images.
An inspiring and courageous speaker and expert on image-based sexual abuse, Noelle regularly speaks to the media, and travels the country as a TEDx speaker, educating people on the harmful impacts of this type of abuse.
The 2019 Western Australia Local Hero is basketballer and researcher, Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker, of Guilford.
Wadjuk traditional owner, Curtin University Professor, children’s author and mother-of-three, Cheryl Kickett-Tucker, is passionate about helping children build their confidence and improve their social, physical and emotional wellbeing through sport.
In 2015, the ex-state and Women’s National Basketball League player launched the basketball lifestyle program Kaat, Koort and Hoops.
Translating as head, heart and hoops, the after-school basketball lifestyle program aims to build sporting confidence – providing a boost to participants’ self-esteem. By 2018, 250 children had participated in the program.
A highly accomplished woman committed to social development, Cheryl completed a PhD in 2000 at Edith Cowan University, exploring urban Aboriginal children’s self-identity and self-esteem in the school sporting setting.
She is a voluntary member of not-for-profit Koya Aboriginal Corporation, an Aboriginal-controlled and owned organisation, which provides services including training, employment, professional development and cultural security audits. In 2014, she founded Pindi Pty Ltd Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Wellbeing in 2014, where she is executive director.