Mosman’s Meg Stevenson is one of Australia’s oldest volunteers.

By ANNA USHER

Each year, National Volunteer Week celebrates selfless contributions from people around the country, like 96-year-old Mosman grandmother Meg Stevenson, who devotes one day each week to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Meg’s extensive knowledge of architecture, history and fine art has positioned her as a Tour Leader at the Ultimo hub, providing regular talks to a range of audiences, including visitors, children, peer-volunteers and staff.

The Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo is where Meg volunteers one day per week.

“Her understanding of context, key architectural parts of the museum building and its evolution in Sydney are absolutely invaluable,” Powerhouse Volunteer Program Manager Cate Purcell says, “and Meg’s knowledge surpasses much of what many can remember.”

Mosman Collective was fortunate to catch up with Meg this week, to celebrate her outstanding contribution to the contemporary Sydney Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Meg Stevenson.

Meg Stevenson.

What led you to volunteer at the Powerhouse?

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 to the Powerhouse.

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 at the Museum and what your role involves.

Volunteers like me are sometimes entrusted with taking items off-site 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 that encourage audience participation; engaging them is the primary aim.

Recently I gave a talk in a nursing home about the toast-rack tram and it prompted many stories from the residents.

Meg’s extensive knowledge of architecture, history and fine art has positioned her as a Tour Leader at the Ultimo hub.

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.

Living in Mosman for most of my life has been a blessing, Meg says.

What is your favourite story told in response to a Powerhouse 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 King’s 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.

Meg’s family tell Mosman Collective they are so proud of their Matriarch.

What is the secret to your longevity?

Living in Mosman for most of my life has been a blessing. I was a physiotherapist for 40-years and every day I make sure I move every limb and muscle in my body. I’m 96 and can still touch my toes!

In my view, living this long has been a combination of keeping active in mind and body. By volunteering each week, I am constantly meeting new people and learning new things. I am very grateful to be able to do what I do.

Meg is now aged 96 and her husband Ian is aged 97. They are both photographed here prior to their retirement.