Dave Key

Visitor Services Coordinator

As a Visitor Services Coordinator, Dave Key is committed to making all of our places welcoming environments for visitors to hear and engage with Aboriginal stories.

A proud heritage

Dave is ‘a Western Sydney boy, born in Gadigal country, raised on Darug country from the age of three. Now I live in Liverpool, the meeting place of Dharawal, Darug and Gandangara lands and people’. He discovered his Aboriginality when he was ten.

Dave’s great-grandmother was a Wiradjuri woman who was taken from her family by authorities and raised in various institutions. She concealed her background from her own children, possibly fearing that the authorities might also take them. As a result, Dave’s grandmother was 50 before she discovered her Aboriginal heritage: ‘she embraced the knowledge wholeheartedly; it filled gaps in her own knowledge and made more sense of her past, brought a deeper sense of herself’.

Dave regards his Aboriginal identity as an ongoing personal journey: ‘I wasn’t brought up with culture or language, and I don’t look like people expect Aboriginal people to look – except for the curly hair! – so when people hear me say I’m Aboriginal they’re often confused’. Family and community members – particularly Dave’s uncles – have helped him to understand culture and learn more about his great-grandmother and her family: ‘I’ve become much more empowered in recent years. I recognise myself as Aboriginal, and am recognised by community and family as Aboriginal’.

Growing and learning

Dave first visited Elizabeth Farm as an 11-year-old primary school student, and came ‘full circle’ when he returned to the property as chief guide in 2010. In between, he had an early career in the music industry, then completed a degree in sociology and history and a teaching qualification from Western Sydney University, which led to teaching at a performing arts school in Parramatta.

Dave has a sound understanding of the ways people absorb, engage and learn through different mediums and the importance of Sydney Living Museums’ role in relating the region’s heritage. He’s also excited by how Western Sydney’s identity has flourished: ‘It’s really come into its own – it’s grown and matured from being “the western suburbs” and has developed a strong and proud heritage’.

Today, as the Visitor Services Coordinator for Elizabeth Farm, Meroogal and Rouse Hill House & Farm, Dave has myriad operational responsibilities, but most important to him are the quality of visitors’ experiences and the welfare of frontline staff and volunteer teams. This includes staff and volunteers feeling comfortable and confident in their ability to sensitively and appropriately communicate Aboriginal culture and narratives. Dave’s Ruth Pope scholarship research trip to New Zealand (see overleaf), to see how museums and heritage institutions present and respond to Māori narratives, has helped him to identify ways to do this.

The scholarship wasn’t simply a ‘professional development’ opportunity for Dave: it was a deeply enriching process, continuing his long journey of personal empowerment and learning ‘to legitimise how I can speak about Aboriginal culture and language’. This journey has helped him to appreciate what it’s like for other people to find a respectful way of speaking about Aboriginal culture: ‘I’ve observed colleagues at work – intelligent and caring people who want to do the right thing in telling Aboriginal stories, but struggle to feel confident and comfortable’.

Building relationships

SLM’s place-based museums have a vital role to play in connecting visitors and the local community to a region, which includes its Aboriginal heritage: ‘Working with the team from Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Cultural & Education Centre builds on a 15-year collaboration and partnership that is helping to strengthen the education and cultural program at Rouse Hill House & Farm and build relationships with Aboriginal communities through events such as the Eel Festival at Elizabeth Farm’. It’s important to Dave that his team feels familiar and comfortable working with Aboriginal communities and their stories: ‘We have a long way to go, but these initiatives take us a step forward …’ 

Man seated on root of fig tree.

Dave Key (detail). Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums