Tribute to Richard 'Harry' Harris – Star of Courage, OAM


Your Excellency

It’s an honour to participate in this tribute to Richard Harris this morning.

Richard Harris, Star of Courage and Medal of the Order of Australia following the conferral of these awards on behalf of our deeply appreciative nation earlier this week.

‘Harry’ Harris to his close friends.

A hero to his fellow South Australians and millions around Australia and the world.

But no honour or praise is high enough for Richard’s deeds in Northern Thailand this month which contributed so much to the safe rescue of 12 boys aged between 11 and 16, and their soccer coach, trapped for up to 18 days deep in a dark cave under the constant threat of flooding from monsoon rains.

As Richard’s diving mate, Craig Challen, has said, on their arrival at the Tham Luang Cave they assessed the prospects of a successful rescue as ‘bleak.

It could take months if achievable at all.

The path out would be extremely dangerous.

It had many twists, turns and narrow passages down to 38 centimetres wide with almost no visibility and strong currents of water to overcome.

Some of the boys to be rescued could not swim.

But due to a truly regional and international co-operative effort led by Thai authorities, the bravery of many prevailed.

They included a team of British divers and Thai Navy Seals as well as the Australian contingent which also comprised six members of the AFP and a navy officer.

Yet as Richard has put it in the self-effacing manner which we have quickly come to both admire and stand in awe of – ‘we just went cave diving for a few days and were able to get the kids out.’

If I could put it another way.

You knew it would be difficult and dangerous.

But you did it because the possibility of rescuing those young boys and their coach was worth the risk of failure.

That’s a true mark of extreme bravery in any language.

Richard’s specific tasks as he remained with the boys in the cave included supporting the Royal Thai Navy and their medical personnel in the dive and rescue efforts and working alongside the Thai Navy divers to assist and prepare the boys prior to evacuation. 

The world has been inspired by the rescue team’s outstanding demonstration of human bravery, generosity, determination, skill and strength even when the circumstances were bleak.

I note that a professional profile of Richard says this: ‘For Harry, the ultimate thrill is to photograph and video previously unseen sites and then share them through his publications.’

I recognise that as well as doing these things, Richard has given important service to his own community as a member of the South Australian Ambulance Service MedSTAR emergency medical retrieval team.

It was this combination of his medical and cave diving expertise that led to him being asked to join the mission in Northern Thailand.

Richard was one of the last men out of the cave at the end of the successful mission.

I am sure I speak for all South Australians in saying that for inspiring us all,  Richard has earned our enduring pride, respect and admiration.

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