MAAS Volunteer Meg Stevenson, winner of the 2017 NSW Volunteer of the Year Award and Senior Volunteer of the Year Award for Sydney North, reflects on almost 30 years of work at the Museum.
What led you to volunteer at MAAS?
A friend and I were playing golf, and both our husbands were about to retire. We decided to find them something to do, and by volunteering we would be sowing the seed. My husband went to the Mining Museum and I came here. I’d worked as a physiotherapist for 40-odd years, and thought a new direction would be a good idea. We all start volunteering as a purely selfish thing — it’s me I’m thinking of! But when you get involved you realise you can be useful. It’s my retirement job, which I really enjoy.
Tell us about your work with outreach programs.
Volunteers take items out to organisations like Probus as promotion for the Museum. For example, a Museum history presentation starts with the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition in the Botanic Gardens to finish at its present location and ends with clothing people would have been wearing in the 19th century. We also visit retirement villages and nursing homes with shorter presentations to encourage audience participation; engaging them is the primary aim. Recently a talk in a nursing home about the toast-rack tram prompted many stories from the residents.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Learning new things all the time. You’re with like-minded people in a stimulating environment. I also do some work with people who have low vision. It takes a bit more effort to get them involved, but when you do strike a chord it’s rewarding. You hope you get to make their day a little better. The Museum’s a great place to work and I feel I’ve been a beneficiary. Volunteering is good for you — there’s no doubt about that.
What is your favourite museum object?
I love the porcelain ‘Baron’ Schmiedel bust made in Meissen, Germany, about 1739. It’s a piece of much historical worth, acquired by the Museum in 1951. How it came to be in Australia is a mystery, one that will probably never be solved. Your mind goes on lovely tangents about how it came here. It’s incredible that it has survived.
What is your favourite story told in response to a MAAS object?
When people come to the Museum they want to learn something, especially something they feel they’ve been a part of. When we demonstrate the fotoplayer in the Kings Cinema, people tell stories because they’ve had pianolas in their house and remember standing around them to sing. For me, objects are here to encourage people to contribute their stories. I remember years back we had a lot of American kids visiting the Museum. One day after I’d finished talking, a boy of about 11 said, ‘You done well, Meg!’ and wanted to give me a dime. It felt like I’d made it.