David Murphy, Whakaora Te Waihora Programme Implementation Manager



DSC_4348 David M Horiz 400Three months into his new role as Whakaora Te Waihora Programme Implementation manager, David Murphy says he has landed the perfect role.

He is excited by the concept of co-governance and in Whakaora Te Waihora, a joint work programme  between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury, he has plenty of opportunity to make the most of his people skills and his passion for collaborative enterprise.

“I have always enjoyed ‘working between people’ to make things happen. I like people and I like being the catalyst to help move projects along,” he says.

“Whakaora Te Waihora is the first volunteer partnership between iwi and local government in New Zealand and three months into the job, I feel very proud to be involved.”

He says a project of this size and complexity is not without its challenges but he is inspired by what has been achieved so far and what is possible for the future.

David’s path to his present role has a solid foundation in his family upbringing. Born into a missionary family in India in 1975, he has been greatly inspired by his grandfather, a Kiwi mechanic from Invercargill, who went to India at the end of the 1920s, met and married an Australian nurse and spent the next 46 years working on village development in India.

David’s parents continued the missionary focus, working on social projects in Bombay (now Mumbai), offering educational, sports and counseling services to street kids.

The family returned to New Zealand when David was seven and he grew up in Christchurch, going on to complete a master’s degree in zoology and ecology at the University of Canterbury.

“I was always inspired by my grandfather and by the time I finished university, I was itching to travel. I wanted to do something of benefit to the world.”

To that end he applied for Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) and in 2000, aged 25, he set off for Vietnam. He completed a two-year term working for VSA in conservation biology and project management at Cat Tien National Park, followed by a further two-year term under contract to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

David Murphy and manuhiri being welcomed onto Ngāti Mōki Marae at Taumutu in August.

David Murphy and manuhiri being welcomed onto Ngāti Mōki Marae at Taumutu in August.

Eight months in Cambodia followed, where he worked between overseas donors and locals to achieve goals in national park protection and management.

“At that point I could see that a lifestyle working on development projects could become addictive so I moved to Australia to be closer to home.”

David spent the next nine years working in the Threatened Species Unit in the Queensland Government, initially working on projects to prioritise the future of threatened native species; and then managing a team of biologists working on the rarest Queensland species.

That’s where he also met and married Sierra Leone-born Kathleen.

“Kathleen loved New Zealand when we visited, so when the opportunity arose to return, we leapt at it,” David says.

“The role with Whakaora Te Waihora excited me. It was more than a conservation project, it involved the comprehensive rehabilitation of a very significant and special site. I liked the idea of that challenge.

“I’m also inspired and excited by the number of people involved in so many different areas of the Te Waihora restoration – riparian planting, mahinga kai health and monitoring, fish recruitment, research, engineering and so much more. There is a significant body of work being done

“Te Waihora is a huge part of the environmental jigsaw that runs from the mountains to the sea (ki uta ki tai) and there are some very exciting things ahead, as we make sure the intended goals of the initial five-year programme are met and that they are met via best practice.

“I look forward to that – and to telling people about what is being achieved around Te Waihora. To this point we’ve been hiding our light under a bushel a little but I think it’s time people started looking at Te Waihora with fresh eyes.”