Our WA Day Heroes

Article | Updated 5 months ago

Max Cramer
Max Cramer
Courtesy of the Geraldton Regional Library

On the first Monday of June each year, Western Australians unite to celebrate WA Day. Whether it’s our rich and diverse culture, relaxed lifestyle, world-class cuisine or endless blue skies… There are so many reasons for us to celebrate what makes WA, and its people, so unique.

For many years now, the WA Museum, in partnership with Celebrate WA, has helped deliver events at Perth, Fremantle, Geraldton, Albany and Kalgoorlie. There will be no festivals this year, however, we have jumped on board Celebrate WA’s call out to recognise Western Australian heroes, #WADayHero.

Enjoy this small collection of WA heroes, and visit https://www.celebratewa.com.au/wadayhero/ where you can nominate a WA Day hero.

Opening this November, the New Museum for Western Australian will showcase many more of our WA heroes. You can read more on this exciting project here.

New Museum for WA, Perth Culture Centre
Susan Langoya

Susan Langoya

Susan Langoya
Image copyright Jeremy Tan

Susan Langoya has a passion for politics and social issues.

As a young child she arrived in Australia from Uganda with her parents. She remembers the struggles growing up as an African refugee child in Australia, particularly the underlying racism and continuous feeling of being left out in a society.

When Susan was appointed to the YMCA Youth Parliament in 2019, a program that encourages young people to comment on government policy and provide recommendations that young people want to see in our society, she used this opportunity to challenge the Australian media’s portrayal of people of colour, and to encourage multicultural representation.

“Let us not make children see the face of white Australia but a land of visible multiculturalism at work, because representation matters too.”

Susan’s story is featured in the New Museum exhibition Connections: Our place in the World, proudly supported by Tianqi Lithium.

Museum of Geraldton
Max Cramer OAM (1934 – 2010)

Max Cramer

Max Cramer
Image copyright Geraldton Regional Library

Max Cramer, was a legendary character and passionate advocate for Western Australia’s maritime history and heritage. He was one of the driving forces behind the development of the Museum of Geraldton, as it is known today.

Max was co-discoverer of the wrecks of the Dutch ships Batavia (1629) and Zeewijk (1727). He was also a member of the first team to dive on the wreck of the Dutch ship Zuytdorp (1711). Max co-led the team that located the site of the 1772 French annexation of the Shark Bay region and in the recovery of relics from that site.

Max was honoured with an Order of Australia medal in 2008 for his service to maritime history and the community of Geraldton.

Museum of the Goldfields
Bessie Way

A black and white photograph of a woman in a nursing uniform.

Bessie Way
Image copyright WA Museum

Our team has chosen Matron Bessie Way because she was the guardian angel of the Kalgoorlie hospital during the goldfields era — here’s an excerpt from the Coolgardie Miner newspaper (from 27 July 1896) describing Bessie.

In 1895 the Kalgoorlie hospital opened, initially in tents, and subsequently more permanent buildings. Miss Bessie Way was appointed as Matron, and her accommodation was a hessian tent. The first nurses struggled in primitive conditions with an endless supply of patients.

The discovery of gold unleashed another fever – typhoid. Lack of water, unhygienic conditions and inadequate disposal of waste meant the newly arrived settlers quickly succumbed to disease. Typhoid continued to kill patients and nursing staff until the advent of clean water.

Nurses became central to survival for many on the goldfields. They worked extremely long hours in very difficult conditions. The treatment of typhoid required constant vigilance, especially during the long hours of delirium. Many nurses worked themselves to exhaustion. Bessie contracted typhoid, but she survived the disease and later married.

In 1898, she returned to her position as matron for the next decade. It became a flourishing institution thanks to her leadership. She was soon ‘winning the gratitude and affection of the prospectors by her untiring devotion to her duties’.

The guardian angel of the institution.

WA Maritime Museum
James (Jim) Dix OAM (1915 – 2001)

Exploring the Blue. 12-year-old Matthew Turner paddling this tin canoe, similar

Exploring the Blue. 12-year-old Matthew Turner paddling this tin canoe, similar to Jim Dix’s, at South Beach, Fremantle (November 2002).
Image copyright Joy Lefroy

This is the story of local hero, Jim Dix. We like this story because it’s a very local one, of an ordinary person – in this case a 12-year-old boy – who was brave, saved his mate, was awarded for his bravery and then went on to serve his community, being awarded the Order of Australia.

On 21 January 1929, 12-year-old Jim Dix and John Murton went down to the sea with their homemade tin canoes. They set sail from the bottom of Howard Street, Fremantle, known locally as ‘Baronia Bay’ because of the stench from the build-up of seaweed.

The smell was so bad it could peel the paint off the Esplanade Hotel, recalled Jim.

We tiptoed through the weed to avoid the cobblers and then headed for the ‘Blue’ where the clear sandy bottom gave way to the dark blue of the deeper water. We were going to paddle across the bay to the Fishermen’s Jetty. Soon after we had crossed into the ‘Blue’ I heard a cry behind me. I turned around to see John thrashing in the water and his canoe nowhere to be seen. You see we knocked the canoes up out of roofing iron back then and so if you filled up you sank. I suddenly realised John couldn’t swim so I paddled back yelling to him to hang on to my canoe. Unfortunately, he panicked and tried to pull himself onboard and that’s when we all went down.

We were still a couple of hundred yards from shore. I had to try and clam him, stop him trying to strangle me and then tow him back to the beach. By the time we had nearly reached the shore we were both exhausted. Luckily some help arrived and we managed to get John ashore and up to the hospital. He had swallowed quite a bit of water and was not in a good way but after a week he was allowed to go home.

Three months later Jim Dix received a certificate of merit from the Royal Humane Society of Australasia for ‘Rescuing John Henry Murton from drowning’.

Jim Dix died in 2001, aged 86 after a distinguished career with the Waterside Workers Federation and later as a Justice of the Peace in Fremantle. In 1981 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to the community and to the Trade Union Movement.

Museum of the Great Southern
Bessie Flowers (1851 – 1895)

Bessie Flowers in the 1860s

Bessie Flowers in the 1860s
Image copyright State Library of WA

Our WA Hero is Bessie Flowers, a Menang Noongar woman who was born in King George's Sound, Albany sometime in 1851.

Bessie was educated at Annesfield, an Anglican School for Noongar children run by Anne Camfield, where she acquired a love of music and reading. When aged about 13, she was awarded a certificate of proficiency and in 1864-65 she attended a Church of England model school in Sydney where she trained as a teacher. In 1866 Bessie returned to Albany to become Camfield's assistant and also played the organ at St John's Church.

The following year Bessie accepted an offer to be the teacher at Ramahyuck mission station in Gippsland, Victoria, run by Br. Frederick Hagenauer. On 4 November 1868 at the chapel at Ramahyuck, aged 17, she married Adolph Donald Cameron an Aboriginal man from Wimmera. She and Donald were given the responsibility of managing the mission's boarding school and she began to bear and raise her eight children.

The Aborigines Protection Act of 1886 was to have a great impact on Bessie's family. The Act determined that Aboriginal people who it defined as “half-castes” should be separated from “full blood” Aboriginal people and merged into the general population. It forced Bessie's family to fragment and two of her daughters were apprenticed as domestic servants.

Bessie focused much of her energies helping her daughters and other Aboriginal women to keep their families together. Bessie died on 14 January 1895 at Bairnsdale and was buried in the cemetery there. Her husband, three daughters and two sons survived her.

In Albany on 24 February, 2013 during a moving ceremony of song, smoke and sand members of her family and the Noongar community welcomed home the spirit of Bessie Flowers.

Gwoonwardu Mia, Carnarvon (managed by WA Museum)
Thomas Cameron

Thomas receiving his 2019 Banksia Award

Thomas receiving his 2019 Banksia Award
Image copyright Banksia Foundation

Our team has chosen Wattandee Elder Thomas Cameron. His family grew up on the ‘Littlewell’ Reserve, on the outskirts of Mingenew, 400 kilometres north of Perth, and about 100 kilometres southeast of Geraldton. The Mingenew Aboriginal Reserve operated from 1898 until 1972.

Thomas, along with others from the Littlewell mob, have worked tirelessly to commemorate the lives and stories of Littlewell Elders, creating oral histories, and, a heritage trail to commemorate the people who had lived in the Littlewell community.

Their dream became a reality in 2019 with the official opening of the Littlewell Heritage site. The Littlewell Reserve is now a protected place of healing, language, belonging, history, heritage and culture. In 2018, Thomas received a Regional Achievements and Community Award on behalf of the Littlewell Mingenew Aboriginal Reserve Group.

Thomas was nominated for ‘Person of the year’, selected by the NAIDOC committee as a finalist. He won Person of the Year at the Carnarvon NAIDOC awards in 2019.

Thomas is recognised as a leader and spokesperson, for his work with Littlewell.

Thomas received the Aboriginal Banksia Sustainability Award in Sydney on 16 December 2019, on behalf of the Littlewell community. He is standing with Justin Frank, Director, Marketing Communications and National Key Accounts, SUEZ Australia & New Zealand; and Stephanie Lebeau, Sustainability Manager, SUEZ Australia & New Zealand.