1929 – 2018
Patricia McDonald is probably now best known for her generous bequest which she left to the Australian Museum – her workplace for her entire working life, from 1953 – 1988. If you have visited the Australian Museum recently and particularly if you visited with young children you may well have spent time in the wonderful Burra learning space which was funded through the Australian Museum Foundation and the bequest from Patricia. As part of the education facilities at the Museum there are also the Patricia McDonald Education Rooms, named in her honour.
Joining the Australian Museum at the age of 24, Patricia had a science education degree from the University of Sydney, but very few resources available to her. During her 35 years at the Museum she developed and introduced many innovative programs, favouring a hands-on approach to children discovering the natural world. In 1958 she wrote a book with museum biologist Elizabeth Pope “Exploring between Tidemarks” which was partly developed as she recognised the need for an Australian perspective in children’s science education.
As well as the programs within the Museum, Patricia helped to ensure students who could not attend the Sydney site also learnt from the displays – first with the Museum in a Box program for schools and then in the 1970s with the Australian Museum Train and the Wandervan, both of which could travel around the state with education officers teaching with the materials.
In 2021, the CEO of the Australian Museum, Kim McKay said “Our robust education initiatives at the Australian Museum would not be what they are today without the ground-breaking work of Patricia McDonald, a true education pioneer”. (Read article here)
Patricia was one of the 33 original or charter members of the Zonta Club of Sydney, the initial group of women “at the top of their game” who were invited to form the first club in NSW.