Senior Australian of the Year 2019 award winner, paediatrician and advocate for the prevention of child abuse, ACT's Dr Sue Packer AM with Prime Minister Scott Morrison MP.
Senior Australian of the Year 2019 award winner, paediatrician and advocate for the prevention of child abuse, ACT's Dr Sue Packer AM with Prime Minister Scott Morrison MP. Salty Dingo

Australia’s very finest citizens recognised

THE WINNERS of this year's Australian of the Year, Senior Australian, Local Hero and Young Australian of the Year have been announced.

Chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche OAM, described them as the embodiment of the Australian spirit. "They are the people that make us proud to be Australian," she added.

Senior Australian of the Year 2019 is ACT's Dr Sue Packer AM. She joins the other winners - Australians of the Year are Dr Craig Challen SC OAM (WA) and Dr Richard Harris SC OAM (SA), Local Heroes - Kate and Tick Everett (NT), and Young Australian of the Year - Danzal Baker (NT).

Australian of the Year

It's the first time that the Australian of the Year has been awarded jointly. The recipients, Dr Challen and Dr Harris, were the incredible men who helped to save the lives of the 12 members of a soccer team caught in flooded caves in Thailand.  

In July 2018, anaesthetist Dr Harris and retired vet Dr Challen made worldwide headlines when they joined an international team to rescue a group of boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Dr Harris is a diver with 30 years' experience and a specialist in aeromedical retrieval. He has previously participated in complex diving recoveries and appeared in National Geographic documentaries.

Dr Challen has dived some of Australia's deepest wrecks and has set depth records in diving, including diving to 194m in the Pearse Resurgence, New Zealand in 2011.

The pair are long-time friends and diving buddies who were about to depart on a cave-diving holiday when they received the call for help with the delicate rescue mission in Thailand. Putting their own lives at risk and working under great pressure, the pair played crucial roles in the rescue. 

Dr Harris's medical expertise was key in the plan to get the children out of the caves. 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. Dr Harris was key to the mission's success, remaining in the cave system until the last evacuee was safe.

Dr Challen's 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.

Both Dr Harris and Dr Challen were awarded the Star of Courage for unwavering and selfless bravery following the successful rescue of the trapped soccer team.

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.

Senior Australian of the Year

Since starting her career as a paediatrician in 1972, Dr Packer AM, 76, has worked tirelessly to advocate for the rights of children in our healthcare system and in the wider community.

She has been involved in child abuse prevention through the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect since its very early days and has treated child abuse victims.

Dr Packer has also championed the importance of early childhood environments for the developing brain, leading to recognition by education and government agencies.

She was one of the driving forces behind the acknowledgement of the importance of creating child-friendly spaces in hospitals and the value of play in recovery.

Lecturing internationally and volunteering on a number of boards to improve health and well-being of children, Dr Packer stands up for the rights of children at every opportunity and encourages others to do the same.

Australia's Local Hero award

Following the tragic death of their teenage daughter, Amy 'Dolly' Everett in January 2018, following extensive bullying, Kate and Tick Everett founded Dolly's Dream, to create positive change and a legacy to their daughter.

Dolly's Dream aims to raise awareness about bullying and its potentially devastating effects on children and families. It delivers community education on bullying issues and strategies for preventing and mitigating bullying, through cultural change and victim support.

More than 250 communities have held fundraisers and events to support Dolly's Dream, with a particular focus on regional and rural Australia.

The Tick's non-stop advocacy, meeting with the Prime Minister and education and health ministers across the country, has resulted in governments taking action to prevent childhood bullying.

Mr and Mrs Tick advocate tenaciously on a voluntary basis while continuing to muster cattle, train horses and care for their daughter, Megan, from their home in Katherine, Northern Territory.

Young Australian of the Year

Working across rap, dance, acting and visual art, Mr Baker, 22, is an inspiration to indigenous youth.

A multi-talented, multi-lingual, Indigenous artist, Mr Baker, otherwise known as Baker Boy, is the first Indigenous artist to achieve mainstream success rapping in the Yolngu Matha language.

Raised in Milingimbi and Maningrida, Mr Baker rapped his way to national prominence when his single Marryuna was voted into 17th place in Triple J's Hottest 100 for 2017; a notable follow-up from his debut single Cloud 9, which won Triple J's Unearthed competition. Mr Baker is also an award winner at the National Indigenous Music Awards.

Touring Australia extensively, Mr Baker is 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.

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