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Richard Harris, SA Australian of the year 2019

Anaesthetist and cave diver
South Australia, 2019 Australian of the Year

Anaesthetist and cave diver Dr Richard Harris was a member of the team that rescued 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand in July 2018. He swam through the narrow cave system to provide medical assistance before giving the all-clear for the boys to be evacuated.

Scuba regulator and College of Anaesthetists certificate

Scuba diving regular piece made of metal and rubber, in front of a framed certificate with red wax seal.
SCUBAPRO MK3 regulator and College of Anaesthetists certificate, on loan from Richard Harris, anaesthetist and cave diver, South Australia, 2019 Australian of the Year

Richard didn’t expect to be in Thailand in July 2018, but his unique combination of skills was crucial in the operation to rescue the Wild Boars soccer team from a flooded cave system.

A highly experienced cave diver and an anaesthetist, Richard swam through the caves to the trapped boys. He assessed their health and administered an anaesthetic before a team of divers escorted them to safety.

Richard loves the challenge, camaraderie and peace of cave diving. He bought this SCUBAPRO MK3 regulator when he completed his first scuba course as a 15-year-old.

In search of adventure

I remember a year or two after I bought this gear, an instructor at the shop asked if they could borrow it back again. It turned out that this expedition scrounged every cylinder and regulator they could get their hands on to explore the famous Cocklebiddy Cave [in Western Australia]. I wish I’d had the gumption to follow my gear out to the Nullarbor to join in that epic adventure.

Dual passions

Prior preparation prevents poor performance, so attention to detail keeps you out of strife in both anaesthesia and cave diving. It seems my medical career and my diving have been intertwined for most of my life now and finally, in 2018, they came together in equally important parts to allow me to help the Wild Boars soccer team escape from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand.

Playing a part

Everyone should know that the role we played was no more or less important than all the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others involved. The part we played has been made out to be a lot more noble than it actually was. We just consider ourselves lucky to have had some skills that we could contribute to the wonderful outcome.

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images courtesy National Australia Day Council.

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