Dr Charlotte Smith is MV's Senior Curator, Politics and Society.
This week, Museum Victoria volunteer Bill Woodward lost his fight with cancer. Bill was the quintessential quiet achiever; for almost 24 years he spent every Wednesday morning researching, cataloguing and filing documents relating to the history of the Royal Exhibition Building (REB).
Bill Woodward next to Ivy Raadik. The photo was taken under the dome of the REB in 1996, at an REB Museum Volunteers dinner.
Source: Museum Victoria
It was around 1991 that Bill first began working on the ‘REB Museum’ project. At this time, the REB was managed by a government-appointed body of Trustees. While responsible for ensuring the financial viability of the REB’s event and conference business, the Trustees also recognised the need to document the building’s past. In 1988 the Trustees appointed museum professional Nina Stanton to develop a collection and archive. Nina’s call for volunteers in September 1990 attracted over 65 applicants. Not all made it through the intensive interview process!
Bill joined the team about a year later. Each team member had a role: some spent their days researching at the Public Record Office or State Library, another spent her time developing a chronological list of events, while others traced the history of pictures exhibited at Melbourne’s two International Exhibitions. Bill’s role at this time was to key all the information gathered by fellow volunteers into the computer. Other members of the team then filed the documents and images into filing cabinets.
In 1996, custodianship of the REB was transferred to Museum Victoria. As part of the transfer, the museum acquired a significant collection of objects, a growing archive, and a team of amazing volunteers.
Bill chatting with a fellow volunteer at a casual gathering in the REB, early 1990s.
Source: Museum Victoria
I joined the museum as Senior Curator responsible for the REB collections in 2007. At this time, the REB volunteer team had shrunk to two regulars: Deidre Barnett and Bill Woodward. Deidre retired at the end of 2008, so it was just Bill and I who used to get-together early on Wednesday mornings for a chat.
My first indication that Bill was not completely well was about four years ago, but in typical Bill style he refused to give in to his illness. Every Wednesday morning he would be at his desk, typing away with research he had done at the State Library. There were weeks when he’d go off for treatment, but he’d always return with enthusiasm and a wide smile.
Bill died surrounded by his family. His wife tells us he had a smile on his face; a wonderful and evocative image for those of us who knew Bill well. Many of us in the Humanities Department will miss Bill immensely; I will definitely miss my Wednesday morning chats, but find solace in the knowledge that Bill’s legacy will live on in the amazing archive he spent a quarter of a century developing.