Australia

Australian of the Year: Thai cave rescuer, a Paralympian and Indigenous activist top finalists list

The finalists in the 2019 Australian of the Year have been announced. Source: AAP

The state finalists in the running for this year's Australian of the Year award have been announced ahead of January 25, when we find out the recipient.

A Paralympian, an Indigenous rights campaigner, and a doctor who helped rescue a group of boys from a flooded cave in Thailand are among the eight finalists for the 2019 Australian of the Year.

Chosen from a total of 32 nominees, they were all awarded Australian of the Year for their home state or territory late last year.

Each were recognised for their personal achievements and contribution to creating a better Australia.

But there can only be one national winner.

The recipient, picked by The National Australia Day Council Board, will be announced on Australia Day Eve in Canberra.

Here is a look at the finalists:

Kurt Fearnley - NSW

Kurt Fearnley, 37, is a powerful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

Born without a section of his spine, he has represented Australia in wheelchair-racing for 20 years and has won thirteen medals across five Paralympic games.

Named NSW Australian of the Year, Mr Fearnley now champions the rights of people with disability and advocates for greater access into communities and workplaces.

Kurt Fearnley at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London
Kurt Fearnley at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London
Australian Paralympic Committee

Mark Sullivan - Victoria

Mark Sullivan has been recognised for his work developing new sight-saving medicine moxidectin, which treats river blindness

Named Australian of the Year Victoria, his work as the founder and managing director of not-for-profit biopharmaceutical company Medicines Development for Global Health (MDGH) has helped prevent thousands of people living in sub Saharan Africa from going blind.

MDGH was the first Australian company to receive FDA approval for new drug moxidectin after years of fundraising, research and development.

Mark Sullivan
Mark Sullivan is the founder and managing director of not-for-profit biopharmaceutical company Medicines Development for Global Health, which has developed a new drug that helps prevent millions of people loosing their sight in sub Saharan Africa. (Source: National Australia Day Council).

Jon Rouse - Queensland 

Named Australian of Year Queensland, Detective Inspector Jon Rouse has been recognised for his fight against child sexual exploitation in Australia.

Inspector Rouse has 34 years' service with Queensland Police. Since joining Task Force Argos in 2001, he has been dedicated to investigating crimes against children and targeting internet child sex offenders under Task Force Argos. 

He is also responsible for implementing the Australian National Victim Image Library to assist police to identify victims. 

Jon Rouse
Detective Inspector Jon Rouse has spent more than a decade investigating crimes against children, and implemented the Australian National Victim Image Library to help identify victims (Source: National Australia Day Council).

Craig Challen - WA

In June 2018, respected cave diver Craig Challen was about to go on holiday, when he was asked to help rescue 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

Mr Challen, who had dived some of Australia's deepest wrecks, was chosen for the mission based on his technical expertise. 

Named Australian of the Year WA, Mr Challen received the Star of Courage for his bravery shown during the Thai Cave Rescue in which he repeatedly risked his life as the children were swum, one-by-one, through the dark and narrow flooded caves.

Craig Challen
Cave diver and reitred vet Craig Challen was one of two Australians who had an instrumental role in the rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. (AAP)

Dr Richard Harris SC - SA

Anaesthetist and cave-diver Dr Richard Harris made worldwide headlines when he joined an international rescue team, tasked with saving 12 boys and their soccer coach who had become trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.

Under great pressure and putting his own life at risk, he swam through the narrow cave system to assess the health of the boys and administer an anaesthetic to each of them within the cave to facilitate their rescue.

Named Australian of the Year SA, Dr Harris is recognised for the character, determination and courage shown during the rescue operation.

Dr Richard Harris
Anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris has been recognised for his bravery shown during the rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

Bernadette Black - Tasmania

After personally experiencing the stigma associated with teenage pregnancy, Bernadette (Bernie) Black founded Brave Foundation in 2009 - Australia's only national organisation representing parenting teens.

In this time, the foundation has helped thousands of teen mums connect to education and support opportunities.

Named Australian of the Year Tasmania, Ms Black has previously been awarded the Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year and Telstra Tasmanian Woman of the Year.

Bernadette Black.
Bernadette Black.
Twitter
 

Virginia Haussegger AM - ACT

Journalist Virginia Haussegger, a former ABC newsreader, has been a leading advocate for women in Australia.

Focus on improving the representation of women in leadership roles, Ms Haussegger founded the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation in 2017.

Named Australian of the Year ACT, she is currently spearheading a program of research into national attitudes to gender equality and its impact on men and boys.

Michael Long

Darwin born, Michael Long played 190 games for Essendon and has used his voice as an AFL star to fight against racism in Australia,

The player's strong stand against an on-field taunt in 1995 led to the AFL adopting a racial abuse code 

Named Australian of the Year NT, he continues to work with the Essendon Football Club and The Long Walk Foundation to increase awareness of Indigenous culture and history. 

 

Michael Long
Former AFL player and anti-racism activist Michael Long has spent his post-football career campaigning for Indigenous rights.

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