Six outstanding welfare, sustainability and First Nations changemakers were the recipients of Murdoch University’s Distinguished Alumni Awards for 2023.
The annual Murdoch University Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony was held at Boola Katitjin, Murdoch’s award-winning academic building for the first time this year, allowing the outstanding Murdoch alumni group to celebrate back on campus.
The recipients for 2023 were Professor Andrew Knight (BSc/BVMS 2002), Dr Chris Sarra (PhD Psychology 2005), Elaine Pearson (BA 1999, LLB 1999), Mitch Taylor (BA 2023), Professor Pat Dudgeon AM (PhD Psychology 2008) and Mathilda D’Silva (BA Media St 2005 BA Media St. with Honours 2006).
The alumni were all chosen for making a significant contribution to their profession and for demonstrating positive advancement in one or more of Murdoch’s key priority areas of Sustainability; Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; and First Nations.
Professor Andrew Knight, a globally respected and trusted voice in the world of animal welfare received a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Professor Knight is a pioneer in the quest to establish alternative veterinary teaching methods. His proposals changed university curriculums across Australia and ultimately sent ripples of change across the veterinary world.
In his acceptance speech Professor Knight said Murdoch allowed him to start a journey of change throughout the world.
“The knowledge of humane teaching methods I gained as a student campaigner here got me my first academic job directing the clinical skills laboratory at one of the world’s largest veterinary schools, in the Caribbean, where I had a series of wonderful adventures,” Professor Knight said.
Dr Chris Sarra, an acclaimed Australian educator and leader who has made significant contributions to education, particularly in the field of Indigenous education, was also a very worthy Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.
After growing up the youngest of ten children in Bundaberg, Queensland, Dr Sarra attended Murdoch University, then dedicated his career to transforming educational experiences and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Dr Sarra’s work as the Founding Chairman of the Stronger Smarter Institute has been transformative.
Dr Sarra accepted by video saying his time at Murdoch was challenging in the best possible way.
“It was a really great time in my life, where my family stood by me, I got to really stretch my mind and I thoroughly enjoyed that period,” Dr Sarra said.
Award recipient Ms Elaine Pearson has long been on the frontline in the fight for human rights; from human trafficking in Nepal, to unlawful killings in the Philippines.
She is the Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, overseeing the work of researchers documenting human rights violations in more than 20 countries and a trusted international voice on human rights issues.
Her experiences have widely shaped understanding about how the rights of victims need to be protected, as well as how poverty, corruption and war drive trafficking in the first place.
In her acceptance speech Ms Pearson said she came with strong opinions, but really grew up while she was at Murdoch.
"I came here as a young idealistic student. I had strong opinions about a lot of things - capitalism, feminism and injustice in the world," Ms Pearson said.
"But Murdoch was the place where I grew up. I learnt how to research – to construct careful rigorous legal analysis, I improved my writing and editing skills, I learned my independence, and gained confidence and curiosity. But I also learned to listen and to give back."
Professor Pat Dudgeon AM received a Distinguished Alumni Award recognising the dedication she has given to improving the mental health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians over the past 17 years.
A Bardi woman from the Kimberley, Professor Dudgeon has led transformative research projects focused on Indigenous health and wellbeing in her role as a research professor at UWA’s School of Indigenous Studies.
Her most notable achievements include the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project and the establishment of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention at UWA.
In her acceptance speech, Professor Dudgeon reflected on how her time at Murdoch had inspired her.
“I’ve been fighting for social justice all my life, but it was time at Murdoch, doing my PhD on the role of Indigenous Women’s perception of their identity and gender that gave me the grounding to go even further,” Professor Dudgeon said.
Mr Mitch Taylor impressively received a Distinguished Alumni Award, despite only graduating in 2023.
An entrepreneur who sold his first e-commerce business while still studying at Murdoch University, Mr Taylor was committed to the idea of creating fantastic products while contributing positively to the environment and the community. He launched his breakthrough business Koala.com in 2015, with his childhood friend Danny Milham.
The company was so named as the founders adopted a koala in partnership with Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital, and later the WWF, for every mattress purchased. This partnership with the WWF, is now global and includes many other species and regions.
The company has grown and is in the process of expanding further, beyond current markets in Australia, Japan, Korea and the USA.
Mr Taylor outlined how studying sustainability at Murdoch had shaped him.
“Murdoch and what I learnt here about driving sustainable outcomes in society has given me clear direction and focus in the work that we do and provided a sense of meaning in my professional career," Mr Taylor said.
"I can’t thank Murdoch enough – all the staff and the educators here, for the good that you keep on driving for both people and the planet and the good that you have been able to drive through me.”
Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Ms Mathilda D’Silva is an environmental eco-entrepreneur.
After a successful decade-long career in the media, Ms D'Silva's life changed while in a competitive dragon boat race in the Philippines in 2015.
She was exposed to polluted seas and developed an incurable auto-immune disease. Following hospitalisations and months of recovery, Mathilda became the founder and CEO of Ocean Purpose Project (OPP), a social enterprise driving ocean conservation and plastic pollution prevention.
Ms D'Silva spoke in her acceptance speech about the ingredients she felt made Murdoch a unique university.
“The Murdoch addiction to levelling up and never being satisfied is ingrained in the carpet, in the walls and in the lights that hang above you," Ms D'Silva said.
"That is your invisible crown that sets you apart from everyone.
"The fact that I, a woman, am sharing this knowledge with you, standing in front of a place that for centuries has been the grounds where women of the First Nations people of this land shared their knowledge, is that special magic that binds us all together.”
The six 2023 Murdoch University Distinguished Alumni Award winners join an elite group of previous recipients, who have all made their mark on national and international stages since departing the grounds of their alma mater.
The University’s leading academics and alumni were in attendance at the event to congratulate each award recipient on their career achievements so far.
Read the Distinguished Alumni Award winners' full profiles.
Image: Dr Chris Sarra
Feature image L-R: Mitch Taylor, Elaine Pearson, Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Professor Andrew Deeks, Professor Pat Dudgeon AM, Mathilda D'Silva, Professor Andrew Knight
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