Australian becomes first foreigner honoured by Hong Kong government for act outside the city, as pan-democrats are snubbed for fourth year running
- Constable who saved Hongkonger from swollen river in 2016 gets bravery medal, as do firefighters who saved hikers in Fei Ngo Shan
- Justice Robert Tang among four awarded Grand Bauhinia Medal
Being awarded a bravery medal in Hong Kong was not only “a great honour” but “surreal” for Zachary Rolfe, an Australian police officer who is the first foreign national commended by the Hong Kong government for heroic acts outside the city.
Rolfe, who saved a Hong Kong woman from drowning in Australia, was one of 282 people named on the government’s official honours list this year. He was presented with his medal by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor at Government House on Saturday.
The constable was commended for saving the Hongkonger, who went missing in December 2016 after the vehicle she was riding in was swept away as it tried to cross a flooded road, 30km from Alice Springs, a town in the Northern Territories.
Without any communication equipment and operating alone, Rolfe, searched the highly dangerous and turbulent floodwaters for the woman, and finally found her seven kilometres away downstream.
He carried her around his neck, and successfully swam across the floodwaters to reach safety.
“It’s a great honour, definitely unexpected,” Rolfe said on Saturday, with his medal freshly pinned on his navy suit. “I was doing my job, but definitely feel honoured to be here today, [it’s] so surreal.”
In Hong Kong for the first time, Rolfe said he felt he was in “a different world”, as he has been working in a desert town, with population of 30,000 people.
“I’m loving it [Hong Kong],” he said.
Meanwhile, four local firefighters who rescued two hikers trapped in Fei Ngo Shan in the middle of a raging storm last August were also honoured with silver medals for bravery.
The list, gazetted on July 1, and the first one approved by Lam, has dropped to a 10-year low in terms of recipients. It is also the fourth year in a row that no pan-democrats have been included.
Modelled on the British system, the awards are designed to recognise those who have made significant contributions to the community. But, it has been criticised as a system that distributes prizes to government allies.
Four prominent figures were marked for the top award, the Grand Bauhinia Medal. They are Justice Robert Tang Kwok-ching, a permanent judge of the city’s highest court, Cheung Hok-ming, a leading rural leader and former Executive Council member, entrepreneur Robin Chan Yau-hing, the father of Exco convenor Bernard Chan, and renowned researcher Professor Rosie Young Tse-tse.
Microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and two judges – David Edmond Neuberger and Michael Lunn – are among 10 who have been awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star.
Actress Kara Wai Ying-hung, and Cantonese opera actor Law Kar-ying, received bronze stars, as did wheelchair fencer Yu Chui-yee.