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Curtin University
John Curtin Day

2019 Award Ceremony

The John Curtin Medal is awarded by Curtin University to people who have made a significant contribution in their chosen field in Australia or internationally and who have exhibited John Curtin's qualities of vision, leadership and community service. Read more about the recipients.

John Curtin Medallists

Patricia Tibbett (2019)

Patricia Tibbett - 2019 John Curtin Medal recipient Patricia Tibbett - 2019 John Curtin Medal recipient

Patricia Tibbett has played a key role in transforming nursing as a profession in Western Australia. She implemented key changes in the career framework for nurses that, for the first time, recognised the value of clinical nursing, and she fought hard for the delivery of patient care by nurses to be as highly valued as nursing management and education.

Patricia’s lifelong contribution to nursing began decades ago, when nursing was taught as vocational training and entrenched in a conservative and hierarchical health system that mirrored traditional views of women in society.

Patricia held a clear view that nurses – and the women who almost exclusively made up the nursing workforce – were critical to modern health care delivery and essential to ensuring excellence in care for patients and the community. To be more valued and effective, she believed that nursing had to be professionalised through the creation of more robust clinical and research pathways.

In delivering her vision, Patricia led changes on two fronts. The first was to implement an improved career framework for nurses. She set about the complex negotiations required – facing the conservative terrain of health departments and hospital structures, powerful lobby groups (including the Australian Medical Association), diverse representative and union groups, and traditional teaching colleges. After significant consultation, she arrived at a feasible career structure that could be interpreted industrially, function across a broad group of health delivery settings and be true to her vision of professionaling nursing.

Having achieved this, Patricia moved on to become one of the most influential Directors of Nursing at a West Australian hospital. At Royal Perth Hospital she oversaw the implementation of the clinical career framework, then played a key role in broadening the internal management structure to include nurses as key directors alongside their other professional colleagues. This became the blueprint for organisational management in tertiary hospitals.


While at Royal Perth Hospital, Patricia also initiated the Nursing Research Foundation, which was launched in 2001. The Foundation, built on Patricia’s vision, thrives today as a driver of clinically focused nursing research that brings together universities and hospitals to advance clinical knowledge and practice. Importantly, the Foundation has contributed significantly to transforming nursing from a purely vocational calling to a dynamic research-driven profession.

Working more broadly than just the nursing profession, Patricia was also highly committed to the importance of health service delivery and public confidence in Western Australia’s healthcare institutions. Througout her career, Patricia worked tirelessly to engage with all levels of health service providers, patients and the community to ensure this confidence was not undermined or misplaced.

Patricia is regarded by her peers as courageous and determined, yet always polite, respectful and open to a broad spectrum of views. An articulate and effective advocate for the nursing profession, she stepped up to speak on behalf of many, often where no voice had previously been heard.

Now retired, Patricia continues to lead charitable organisations such as the Friends of Royal Perth Hospital and is actively engaged in the continuing success of the Nursing Research Foundation.

For her outstanding contribution to the nursing profession and to health care delivery in Western Australia, Patrica Tibbett is a worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal.

John Curtin Medallists

Leif Cocks OAM (2019)

Leif Cocks OAM- 2019 John Curtin Medal recipient

For more than three decades, Leif Cocks has worked tirelessly to improve the welfare of orangutans in captivity and ensure their ongoing survival in the wild. As a zoologist, author, speaker and founder of the international charity, The Orangutan Project, he is a world-renowned orangutan advocate and outspoken campaigner on their behalf.

After graduating from Curtin in 1985 with a Bachelor of Applied Science, Leif began working at Perth Zoo, where he eventually became the orangutan keeper. Fascinated by the animals he worked with, Leif went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Natural Resources at Curtin – specialising in primate behaviour – and then a Master of Science (Biology) in Curtin’s Department of Environmental Biology. Through his work and research, Leif came to the conclusion that orangutans cannot survive through captive breeding programs alone. The only way to ensure their survival is to save them in the wild.

Leif founded the Australian Orangutan Project (now The Orangutan Project) in 1998 and has been President of the organisation since its inception. The organisation aims to raise public awareness and funding to increase numbers of the endangered species in the wild. His vision is that all orangutans live in their natural habitat in secure and viable populations.

Since its formation, The Orangutan Project has grown from just three volunteers to become a highly respected multi-million-dollar international charity. It has contributed more than $14 million directly to orangutan conservation projects and has earned a reputation amongst its partners and donors for being financially responsible and transparent.


Respect for Leif has given The Orangutan Project world standing in conservation. He has been a key player in developing conservation plans for orangutans – including the first ever successful introduction of a zoo-born orangutan into the wild. Leif’s conservation work has had an impact not only on orangutans, but also on the environment, other species and the local Indonesian communities that call these forests home. The introduced animals are now thriving, and the associated publicity has meant that the animals’ ecosystems are more likely to be protected from logging and plantations.

In the past 20 years, The Orangutan Project has won three major legal cases against deforestation and rescued 84 orangutans from dangerous captive situations. Leif continues the fight for orangutans in the court room as an expert witness. In 2014 he was called upon as a world-renowned expert to testify in an Argentinian court case for an orangutan in the Buenos Aires Zoo. Through his testimony, it was decided that the animal did have rights and the Zoo had to provide an adequate habitat and activities for the orangutan to thrive.

Leif is also President of the International Elephant Project, International Tiger Project and Wildlife Asia, the Vice-President of the Orang Utan Republik Foundation, and sits on the Technical Advisory Boards of several Indonesian conservation organisations.

Incredibly, he has also found time to author three books – Orangutans and their Battle for Survival, the #1 Amazon Best Seller Orangutans My Cousins, My Friends and Finding Our Humanity, which launched in April 2019.

Intelligent, engaging and driven, Leif is the sort of person who would succeed at whatever he turned his hand to – yet he has selflessly dedicated his life to protecting his beloved orangutans. He has been quoted in the media as saying, "It’s an all-consuming thing which might not necessarily bring financial or academic rewards, but the rewards are achieving a higher goal for conservation and animal welfare."

For his tireless work to protect orangutans, Leif Cocks is a worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal.