Will Patten, Indigenous Community Engagement Officer.
Image: Nicole Alley
Source: Museum Victoria
William Patten has been a familiar face around Museum Victoria and its galleries for a decade. In June 2010 he began a new role as the Indigenous Community Engagement Officer on the Bunjilaka redevelopment project.
Will first began at MV as a customer service officer at Melbourne Museum upon its opening in 2000. With a background in horticulture, he was initially attracted by the Forest Gallery. “One of the areas I love is indigenous plants - the plants themselves and their food and medicinal properties,” said Will. Since then he’s also worked at the Immigration Museum and Scienceworks and in temporary roles as a gardener, a presenter in the Discovery Program, exhibition installer and was even the museum’s mailman. “All those diverse roles showed me just how many pockets of expertise there are here,” said Will. “I love the museum. It’s a place that is what you make it, that’s what gives me the urge to walk out my front door and come here every day.”
In his new role, he is coordinating the community consultations about the new exhibitions for Bunjilaka which are scheduled to open in 2012. “The most exciting part of it for me personally is travelling round and getting out into the community.” He believes that the local Indigenous networks connected to Bunjilaka are just as important as the physical exhibition. After a month in the job, he said, “I’m starting to understand who everyone is and how we can work together in collaboration.” His work will formalise the existing local networks and the way the museum communicates with them to ensure ongoing relationships.
Already active in formal Indigenous organisations, such as the Victorian Indigenous Men's Network, Will credits his strong sense of community to his family background. “I’m from a strong, proud family that revolves around culture, a culture where you understand your place within your community. My family has been active politically. I’m part of the Cooper and Patten family.”
The first round of consultations in late 2009 introduced the project to the Indigenous community around Victoria and ask what they’d like to see in the new exhibitions. The next stage builds upon that and will work closely with Traditional Owners of country, objects and culture. “Everything’s intertwined,” explained Will. “All Indigenous people are Traditional Owners in one way or another, so I’m talking to everybody.” He is excited about new ways to work with communities, such as online media, and the idea of Indigenous communities participating in the conservation of cultural material through workshops on how to store and handle precious objects.
Will described Bunjilaka’s importance for Victorian Aboriginal people. “They will walk into this place and feel a sense of belonging. They’re walking in and seeing family. I want it to be a meeting place – you’d feel like this is a live, community building and know that there was going to be someone there you know and haven’t seen in ages.”