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Humble Heroes – Far more than cave divers

On Friday 29th March, with the support of Murdoch University, Auspire hosted another in its series of Inspiring Australians – Leaders in Citizenship events at the State Reception Centre, Kings Park. The featured speakers were, in their words “two ordinary blokes with an unusual hobby who were presented with an extraordinary challenge”.

The 2019 Australians of the Year, WA’s Dr Craig Challen SC OAM and South Australia’s Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris OAM shared their experiences as part of June 2018 international rescue mission that saved 12 boys and their soccer coach from flooded caves in Thailand.

In an on-stage interview, hosted by ABC Presenter Geoff Hutchison, the undeniably humble and down to earth pair outlined their initial reservations for a successful outcome of the unprecedented rescue. There had never been a cave rescue with this level of technical difficulty using anesthetic and full face dive masks, particularly on young children so, in their informed opinions, the operation was fraught with danger and impossibilities. They initially joined the rescue team to provide consultation and advice but once ‘on the ground’ in Thailand, they felt compelled to do all they could to get the boys and their coach out.

Dr Harris said “the cave dive wasn’t the hardest part, it was the risks involved for the boys, the weight of that was the toughest thing for us to come to terms with and we expected casualties”.

Dr Challen explained that one of the most personally difficult experiences of the mission was the media attention; “we were happy to help out in any way we could but had no idea of how captivated the world was. Seeing the wall of cameras as we emerged from the cave each day was extremely daunting”.

Contrary to their initial doubts the mission was a complete success and they were keen to acknowledge the incredible team of people who came together from the world-wide cave diving community whose commitment led to the successful rescue.

As a result, both men received the Star of Courage for their lead roles. They were also both individually recognised as their state recipients in the Australian of the Year Awards leading to them becoming, arguably one of the most popular choices in recent years, joint national 2019 Australians of the Year.

Following the breakfast, Craig and Harry spoke to over 500 year 6 students from seven schools at Auspire’s inaugural Aussie of the Month Inspiring Australians Student Forum. Students were encouraged to investigate the story of the incredible rescue and develop and submit their own questions to be posed at the Forum. Those who submitted the selected questions were excited to have their photos taken with their #HumbleHeroes.

The pair were keen to share their message with students, teachers and parents, “Don’t be afraid to try a range of activities, even if you’re not the most athletically gifted, there’ll be something out there for you so don’t be afraid to try new things” said Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris.

They’re hoping to influence and inspire young people to challenge themselves to explore and develop creative and critical thinking skills through physical and mental challenges, and to do their best at whatever they do. “Don’t be afraid to get a few knocks and scrapes, pick yourself up and try again. When you find your thing, just go for it”, said Dr Challen.

Irrespective of their awards and recognition, their foremost satisfaction is that thirteen families still have their sons because of the combined efforts of all involved. They felt it a privilege to bring those boys out.

And we felt it a privilege to meet them.

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