Australian Museum Trust
over two years towards a pilot education program providing positive cultural experiences to indigenous young people in custody.
The Australian Museum is Australia’s first public museum, established in 1827. Its key objectives are to disseminate and increase knowledge in the fields of biology, anthropology and geology. It achieves this through an active program of research, exhibitions, education programs and community engagement initiatives.
In 2012, VFFF supported the Museum’s Pacific Youth Cultural Reconnection Program, an innovative concept aimed at addressing the over-representation of Pacific youth in the NSW juvenile justice system. Charting new territory for the Museum, youth worker Thelma Thomas was employed to work alongside Museum staff and design a program harnessing the Museum’s rich cultural collection to reconnect Pacific youth in custody with their heritage – a fresh take on a challenging issue. Recognising the value of the program, juvenile justice centre staff requested the Museum consider a specific program for Indigenous young people who represent 50% of youth in custody. In response, the Museum developed a tailored program that sees Indigenous Museum staff, presenters and community organisations delivering educational workshops to build cultural understanding, identity and connection.
VFFF appreciated the Museum’s innovation and willingness to try a different approach, using their vast cultural collection in non-traditional ways to deliver positive educational and social experiences for young people in tough situations.
We valued the unique contribution Thelma, as a social worker, brought to the Museum’s ability to work meaningfully with young people. We were encouraged by the success of the Pacific program, which received widespread community and peer recognition, including winning a 2013 Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Award. VFFF also recognised the opportunity to provide catalytic early stage support for the next iteration of a successful program.
"Our work with youth in detention is a radical departure from the traditional museum activities of academic research and exhibitions, so we are literally learning as we go. VFFF support has allowed youth worker Thelma Thomas to join our cultural collections team, and represents the first time any museum in Australia has created a position for a social worker.
Thelma has not only radically improved the way we deliver services to at-risk young people, but taught a whole range of new skills to our curatorial staff, allowing us to turn what was an experiment into a core part of our ongoing community engagement activities."