Gong goes to trailblazer, 21

Sam JonesNorth West Telegraph
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A high-achieving medicine student from the Pilbara has been named 2020 WA Young Australian of the Year.

Yarlalu Thomas, 21, was presented with the award at a ceremony in Government House last Thursday, in recognition of his journey from his tiny home community towards becoming a doctor.

Hailing from Warralong, 120km south-east of Port Hedland, the Nyangumarta Pitjikarli man was the first in the community of 175 people to ever complete a high school certificate, before enrolling in a Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Sydney.

Mr Thomas also launched the UNESCO-endorsed Life Languages project, which works to translate medical terminology into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, among other indigenous languages internationally.

Despite his long list of achievements, Mr Thomas said the award should be seen as a celebration of all his colleagues and the important work they do.

“It was overwhelming to be up there in front of so many people, but it isn’t about me, it’s about the people I work with and the work we do,” he said.

“My main area is surrounding rare and genetic diseases, it’s significant to receive the award on the 60th anniversary of Young West Australian of the Year Award, as I work with around 60,000 children who suffer from rare and genetic diseases in WA alone.

Where I’m from, my community in Warralong, access to health services is such an issue, just like many other rural communities, indigenous and non-indigenous.

“Looking at ways in which we can use new technology to bridge that gap is a fascinating area to work in.”

Recognising the opportunities afforded to him, Mr Thomas said he would not be at the point he is without the support of education initiatives throughout his upbringing.

“It started with a fellowship with the Roy-Hill Community foundation, I stepped into a realm I had no idea about,” he said.

“Education is the key for communities to build brighter futures.”

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