A passion for preservation

Dr Chris Murray

Pictured above: Dr Chris Murray (left) and Dr Andrew Weeks

Dr Chris Murray has enjoyed a successful career in dentistry, but to contribute to a better future, he’s leaving a gift in his Will to support his personal passion – environmental preservation.

Dental prosthodontics may have taken alum Dr Chris Murray (BDSc 1968, MDSc 1972, PhD 2013) around the world, but it’s his passion for the future of the natural world that’s influenced the legacy he plans to leave.

“I’ve been really happy to contribute to dentistry through my professional career, but I’ve always been interested in the environment, and birds especially,” he says.

Chris chose dentistry as a career because of his aptitude for solving problems and making things work. “Dentistry has been a fantastic profession,” he says, “but I think that if there had been environmental science when I was at university, I probably would have chosen to study that.”

Dentistry enabled Chris to pursue opportunities around the globe for many years before he returned to Melbourne, where he set up a prosthodontics practice in Collins Street 35 years ago.

While dedicated to his profession, Chris remained interested in the environment. That curiosity – and a desire to help preserve Victoria’s native flora and fauna – led him back to the University for a doctorate, which he completed in 2013.

An ardent bushwalker and trekker, Chris focused on waterbirds and artificial wetlands in Victoria for his PhD research. He continues to be involved in environmental research as a Senior Fellow in the Faculty of Science.

Through a major gift to conservation organisation Trust for Nature, Chris is also helping to preserve a treasured piece of wetland on the Moolort Plains.

And now, by leaving a gift to the University in his Will, his contribution to natural resource management, conservation and wildlife will endure.

“Dentistry has been my livelihood, and it’s been an interesting life,” Chris says, continuing: “But loss of biodiversity is one of the great tragedies of our generation and our civilisation.”

Dr Andrew Weeks, Senior Research Fellow in Melbourne’s School of Biosciences, shares Chris’s passionate concern.

Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, Andrew developed an affinity for bushland and an appreciation of nature – an appreciation that inspires his work.

His research revolves around conservation genetics, particularly for threatened species in Australia. It’s mostly human-borne threats, he says, that are impacting the ability of some species to survive, let alone thrive.

Chris agrees: “You look at the dwindling populations of endangered species around the globe. And it’s not just climate change: it’s the destruction of their habitats and the total lack of awareness from people of what they’re doing to the world. It's the environment that pays the price.”

As Andrew explains, as populations of threatened species dwindle, they lose genetic variation.

“Genetic variation is what we need to be able to handle and adapt to different environments and changing environments, whether it’s climate change or other impacts,” he adds.

Through his research, Andrew is seeking ways to reinvigorate threatened populations by integrating new genetic variations. His current project is focused on the Victorian Eastern Barred Bandicoot, but there are plenty of other at-risk species that will benefit from ongoing research and conservation efforts.

This is the type of innovative environmental research Chris’s future gift may support.

Chris’s appreciation of the outdoors is something he has passed on to his family, who share his philanthropic interests. Reflecting on reasons for leaving a gift to the University, Chris talks about the love he and his youngest daughter share for climbing mountains, camping and trekking.

“There should be some passion involved in the giving so that it means something to you,” he says.

And, according to Andrew, Chris’s plan to give will make a tangible impact on future generations.

“Individuals can make a difference,” Andrew says. “You can’t just rely on governments, and you can’t just rely on other organisations. With the research we’re doing, we know that we’re impacting the future, and the future survival of threatened species around Australia.”

When it comes to next-generation research – and ensuring that the environment can thrive – Andrew says: “Philanthropic funding will play a big role going forward.”

In a lot of countries overseas, philanthropic ventures are quite strong. I think it’s something we should aspire to in Australia – everyone giving back towards things that have really touched them in their life.

By leaving a gift in his Will to support restoration ecology, Chris’s passion for the natural world will form part of his lasting legacy. And it will give new generations the opportunity to keep enjoying the natural beauty that has inspired and moved Chris for a lifetime.

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