WANGARA cave diver Craig Challen has been named the 2019 WA Australian of the Year.
Announced at Government House in Perth this evening, he was recognised for his integral role as part of the international team that rescued 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.
The retired vet, who has dived some of Australia’s deepest wrecks and set depth records, was chosen for the mission based on his technical expertise.
Working 10 to 12 hours a day in dangerous conditions, he 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 the successful mission.
Dr Challen was awarded the Star of Courage for his unwavering and selfless bravery following the rescue.
The 2019 WA Young Australian of the Year went to 24-year-old feminist, activist and law reformist Noelle Martin, of Nedlands.
At the age of 18, Ms Martin discovered sexual predators had stolen images of her from social media, edited them onto pornographic images and videos and added her name and details of where she lived.
The law graduate 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 nothing could be done about the images, Ms Martin continued to speak out.
Her actions were a major factor in new laws being introduced and passed in NSW in 2017 and in 2018 in WA and at the Commonwealth level, making it a criminal offence to distribute non-consensual intimate images.
Ms Martin now regularly speaks to the media and travels the country as a TEDx speaker, educating people on the harmful impacts of this type of abuse.
Winning the 2019 WA Senior Australian of the Year was 73-year-old Yamatji elder, ex-serviceman and volunteer Frank Mallard, of Northampton.
Mr Mallard is an ambassador and advocate for the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women.
Part of the Stolen Generation, he 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, Mr Mallard is a media officer at Ellenbrook RSL and a dedicated veterans’ issues volunteer.
He is also chairman of the 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 this year’s City of Swan Citizen and Senior Citizen of the Year.
The fourth award went to Guildford basketballer and researcher Cheryl Kickett-Tucker as the 2019 WA Local Hero recipient.
As a Wadjuk traditional owner, Curtin University professor, children’s author and mother-of-three, Ms Kickett-Tucker is passionate about helping children build their confidence and improve their social, physical and emotional wellbeing through sport.
In 2000, she completed a PhD at ECU exploring urban Aboriginal children’s self-identity and self-esteem in the school sport setting.
Then in 2015, the ex-state and Women’s National Basketball League player launched the after-school program Kaat, Koort and Hoops (Head, Heart and Hoops) to build sporting confidence and boost participants’ self-esteem.
By 2018, 250 children had participated in the basketball program.
Ms Kickett-Tucker is also a voluntary member of the not-for-profit Koya Aboriginal Corporation, which provides services including training, employment, professional development and cultural security audits.
In 2014, she also founded Pindi Pty Ltd Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Wellbeing where she is an executive director.
The Governor of Western Australia, Kim Beazley, presented the award winners with trophies this evening and congratulated all the 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,” he 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.”
The four winners will now become part of 32 state and territory recipients at the national awards in Canberra on January 25 where the four Australians of the Year will be announced.
2019 WA Australian of the Year Award winners
WA Australian of the Year – Dr Craig Challen SC OAM
WA Young Australian of the Year – Noelle Martin
WA Senior Australian of the Year – Frank Mallard
WA Local Hero – Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker