Last week, Jo Wills and Melanie Piddocke traveled to Townsville to assist groups affected by the recent severe flooding. Although most collections have emerged unscathed from days of torrential rain, the Family History Association of North Queensland and the Townsville RSL were both inundated, sustaining damage to their collections, assets and infrastructure.
Our first port of call was the RSL premises. Ewen McPhee met us on site with RSL Library Officer, Brenda Connolly, and we made our way through the damp, unlit ground floor to assess the damage. The collection is housed in three main locations but a collection storage room was particularly compromised – the door was so swollen that we had to get workmen to remove it from its hinges.
The salvage process involved removing all items and sorting them by type, condition and treatment required. We set up a bagging station for items that required freezing, a washing station for items that needed mud and debris washed from them, an area for drying textiles and leather, and an area for assessing all of the framed images that were damaged. We tried to focus on significant materials, particularly some of the First and Second World War items, and welcomed hands on advice from a Queensland Museum conservator for fragile items.
While Melanie, Ewen and Brenda continued to work on the RSL, Jo visited the Family History Association of North Queensland at their Hermit Park premises. Volunteers had been working on the mammoth task of cleaning since the previous weekend. They had been working with Annette Burns and Katie Pittock from Townsville City Libraries, who had been liaising with Jo and with Lydia Egunnike via phone for advice on how to manage items. After checking with MTQ staff, we managed to identify space in the MTQ freezer, which was a great relief to the organisation. In addition to the damage to the collection, the group also sustained damage to computers and equipment and had to start working through the process of insurance claims.
Jo also headed to Townsville CityLibraries local history collection where roof leaks from the unprecedented downpour, the excessively damp conditions and fluctuating climate had caused an outbreak of mould. Staff were involved in packing the collection items and finding temporary storage so that the space can be repaired.
Another MDO trip to Townsville will be organised later this year to work through the process of taking items out of the freezer with all groups. Material can stay in the freezers indefinitely so the trip can be made when volunteers and staff have had a chance to recover from the stressful salvage phase and get their own lives back to normal.
Preparing a response is always a hectic time for the MDOs, and a stressful time for the communities involved. This time it was rather hot as well! But it is always worth it. There is also a lot of behind the scenes work by staff and we are appreciative of Lydia Egunnike for her media performances, to Andrea Hughes for arranging them, and for the Queensland Museum conservator for working on site with us to support the RSL and find space in MTQ’s freezer.
Our thoughts and best wishes are with the people of Townsville and Western Queensland who are currently experiencing unprecedented rain and flooding.
The Museum Development Officer program is currently in the process of contacting heritage organisations in the flood affected areas to see how they have fared and if they require assistance. If your organisation needs help please contact Dr. Jo Wills on 0478 307 447 or firstname.lastname@example.org
We have also compiled a list of resources (see below) to help organisations deal with water and mould affected collections.
These resources will also be useful to anyone who is dealing with their own personal collections, so please share the information across your community.
If your collection has been damaged, please don’t risk your own safety for collection items. Stay safe and ensure everyone is wearing suitable safety equipment (see list of PPE below). Only enter flood-affected buildings when you have been given the all clear from the authorities.
Once you have entered the affected area, it is important to allow time to take stock and get over the initial shock and panic. Many people’s gut reaction is to throw everything in the skip. While sadly many objects may be beyond repair, it is very rare for everything to be unsalvageable. The sooner you are able to access objects, the better the chance of successful salvage.
Objects such as ceramics and glass may be covered in mud but otherwise undamaged. Many water and mould damaged paper and photographic material can be frozen indefinitely (see list below for the link to State Library’s instructions on safe freezing). Freezing allows you valuable time to recover from the immediate flood recovery phase. You can then treat frozen material when everything has calmed down and you have more resources, energy, and people available. Please see the links below from the AICCM and State Library for specific salvage guidelines.
And last but not least, ensure everyone involved in the many hours of recovery that lie ahead are well fed and take regular rest breaks. The volunteers who make the cakes and sandwiches are as vital to the recovery as those working directly with the objects.
Personal Protective Equipment:
- protective footwear (ideally safety boots or safety gumboots);
- disposable P2 respirator masks, the kind with the valve on the front is best and replace regularly as it gets dirty (N.B. For heavily mould affected collections, a full face mask with P2 or P3 filters would provide better protection)
- sturdy waterproof gloves for retrieving objects from the water and mud;
- nitrile gloves during salvage treatment work;
- safety glasses to protect your eyes from toxic particulate matter including mould (the type with wrap around sides provides the best protection);
- Tyvek overalls are recommended if mould is present or you are working in very muddy, contaminated conditions;
- Most hardware stores will stock the PPE listed above.
- N.B. For very serious mould outbreaks, it is recommended you seek advice from a mycologist prior to accessing the collections. People with respiratory conditions should not be involved in any mould clean up.
- Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM)
- Flood resources link: https://www.aiccm.org.au/disaster/flood
- List of websites with practical information on dealing with flood damaged collections
- Brochure: After a Flood https://aiccm.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/AICCM_Brochures/AfterAFlood_Ver5.PDF
- Flood resources link: https://www.aiccm.org.au/disaster/flood
- State Library of Queensland
- Dealing with disaster – Part one: how to recover a flood-damaged collection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfFke8fIOfw
- Salvaging damaged collections:
- Savaging flood damaged collections: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/preserving-collections/salvage_damaged_collections
- Freezing water damaged collections: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/128983/Caring-for-your-collections-Freezing-water-damaged-and-insect-infested-collections.pdf
- Dealing with mould: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/128982/Caring-for-your-collections-Dealing-with-mould.pdf
- Queensland Culture and Heritage Disaster Forum (Q-Dis)
- This Facebook page provides a disaster forum for Queensland heritage and cultural organisations: https://www.facebook.com/QDisForum
- Museums and Galleries Queensland
- M&G QLD have set up a disaster recovery fund: http://www.magsq.com.au/cms/page.asp?ID=5084
If you have trouble accessing any of the links above, please let us know and we will get the information to you in another format.
Today, volunteers at Proserpine Museum opened the doors for business for the first time since Cyclone Debbie. With many local businesses still closed and undergoing repairs, this reopening is great news for Proserpine.
Volunteers report that the building held strong during the cyclone. Although a small of amount of water got into one of the displays, there was very little damage – most of their collection was raised off the floor and this helped it to stay safe. Volunteers held a working bee to remove wet carpet and received assistance from the army to clean up the front of the building.
This means that the museum can now focus on preparing for it’s annual book bonanza in May, an event that has been running for over 20 years. Money raised goes towards the cost of maintaining the museum.
Visit the Proserpine Museum website for more information.
Update 03/4/2017 – Proserpine Museum. All volunteers safe. Minor water damage – but mostly ok. Will update as needed.
– Collinsville Coalface. All ok.
The MDO team will be contacting museums across the weather affected areas in central and south east Queensland over the coming days to assess damage and issues arising from the cyclone and associated flooding. Please get in touch with us if you have any information or if your museums and collections have been affected.
Update 30/3/2017 – Bowen Museum and Historical Society are ok. No structural damage to building, collections and volunteers are all intact!
The Queensland Museum, Museum Development Officer Program is waiting to hear from groups that are located within the region where Cyclone Debbie has caused damage.
This information may take a few days or even up to a week to come through as volunteers and staff stay safe within their own homes and look after families and friends.
As ex Cyclone Debbie follows its path, other risks including flooding may also cause concern for collections throughout Queensland.
Please see a past blog here for some useful information on disaster preparedness.
The Museum Development Officer Program will do a further blog post to let people know of any progress and is working closely with Museums and Galleries Queensland to gather information.
Please take the time to leave a comment if you have heard any news regarding groups in this area or contact Joanna.Wills@qm.qld.gov.au
The early hours of Saturday July 18th will mark the first anniversary of the fire which claimed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. It has been a long hard road for the volunteers of the Winton District Historical Society so it is timely to reflect on the enormous amount they have achieved since the devastating impact of the fire. Previous blogs have detailed the remarkable results achieved by conservators on a number of significant objects (Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery, Phoenix objects from Winton, The conservation of a fire damaged print), but the work hasn’t stopped there.
Since March 21st the volunteers have opened those areas of the complex unaffected by the fire on a daily basis, and have welcomed over 1800 visitors. Although displays in the main Waltzing Matilda Centre were impacted by the fire, there’s still plenty for visitors to see in the museum complex with a fascinating range of cultural and natural history objects from the region on display. Visitors can also see objects salvaged from the fire and the ongoing work of volunteers in conserving them.
The Waltzing Matilda Story, which previously formed part of the Billabong Show in the Centre, was saved from the fire and can be viewed in the Sarah Riley Theatre, which has also played host to a variety of community activities since the fire, including Waltzing Matilda Day, a famil tour and smoko for interstate journalists, and a free talk on overshots in Western Queensland by historian Sandi Robb.
In amongst all this activity, the volunteers have continued to work steadily through the objects still requiring attention. Locals and visitors have also donated their time and expertise in the ongoing cleaning process, and the Winton Creative Arts Group have achieved stunning results with some of the collection, reading room, and storage furniture, with 11 large items and 12 chairs restored.
With all these achievements it’s easy for outsiders to forget the physical and emotional toll a disaster such as this takes on those who face loss and damage of their treasured collections. But the images below demonstrate just what a huge accomplishment the successes of the past year have been. The Winton District Historical Society are collaborating with Council, architects and the curatorial team on plans for the new Waltzing Matilda Centre, incorporating the museum precinct, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Follow the new Centre’s progress at Waltzing Matilda Centre
After the enormous effort by volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society and Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee and Sue Valis to recover objects from the fire damaged Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, the next stage of the recovery process could begin. Ewen and Sue returned to Winton with MDOs from across the state, Melanie Piddocke, Josh Tarrant, Lydia Egunnike and Jo Wills, to assist museum volunteers with the next step in cleaning and conserving objects retrieved from the fire. During the week we were also joined by Deborah Bailey, Director of Operations & Communities for Queensland Museum, who lent an extra pair of helping hands.
Despite extensive damage to the main building at the Waltzing Matilda Centre, a significant number of objects were retrieved for cleaning and conservation. As other parts of the facility containing the remainder of the museum’s collections were untouched by the fire, this provided excellent working spaces for the cleaning process. The excellent documentation, organisation, and knowledge of the collection by the volunteers further added to the efficiency of prioritising and locating items to be cleaned.
Most of the items recovered had suffered surface damage from soot, while some paper based materials had suffered water damage in the fire fighting process. Under the watchful eyes of our conservators Sue and Lydia, we all learned special techniques for dealing with the unique challenges of object recovery post fire. Against the continual hum of generators and vacuum cleaners, the cleaning process was started. After a solid week of cleaning, significant inroads had been made on many of the objects, and the area reserved for clean objects began to fill up. It was time for the MDOs to say a regretful farewell to all the volunteers at Winton, who have not only worked incredibly hard since the fire but had also been wonderful hosts to the MDOs throughout the week. But, with a long road still ahead of them in recovering and rebuilding their museum, the MDOs and Queensland Museum will continue to support them in this important process.
Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee and Sue Valis have returned from their initial response to the salvage work at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. Ewen and Sue worked side by side volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society and Winton Shire Council workers to salvage the objects and start the conservation process.
Once the building was cleared for entry, objects were removed from the Centre with the assistance of Council workers, many of whom also had a strong attachment to the collection through their own family history. Objects were then brought outside and checked off a list, recorded and transported by car, truck and ute to a clean work area. Under the guidance of Sue, Winton and District Historical Society volunteers then prioritised objects and started laying them out and undertaking preventative conservation. Other makeshift drying areas and cleaning zones were utilised to ensure the large volume of objects were processed quickly to allow every possible chance of long term conservation.
Credit must go to the Winton and District Historical Society for their policies, procedures and facilities before, during and post disaster. The Society had excellent records, training, facilities and community spirit that allowed the initial response to go smoothly. A report on the condition of the collection will be provided at an appropriate time by the Society.
Please see the galleries below for images of the building and response. If you click on the images this will enlarge them and allow you to scroll through each gallery.
The entire Museum Development Officer team will return to Winton in mid July to again work alongside the volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society.
The objects in situ and display area
The recovery area
Following the fire late last week at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, MDO Ewen McPhee and object conservator Sue Valis from Museum of Tropical Queensland are traveling to Winton today to assist museum volunteers with an initial assessment of the site. Ewen and Sue will spend the next few days providing support for staff and volunteers at the Centre as they begin the recovery process, and in consultation with them will begin to formulate a longer term plan of how this support can be continued into the future. Further updates regarding the MDO team response to this event will be posted here.
After two weeks of watching and waiting as Cyclone Nathan carved an erratic path back and forth across the Coral Sea, it finally passed over the FNQ coast on Friday/Saturday between Cape Flattery and Cape Melville. This more northerly crossing meant that the museums in Cooktown were spared the worst of the severe winds, and the museum at Coen did not experience adverse weather. A number of these organisations are housed in heritage buildings. During cyclone season, we always reflect on the vulnerability of these buildings to heavy rain and cyclonic weather, particularly if they have sustained damage from previous weather events.
As usual, MDOs worked with groups in the immediate vicinity pre and post cyclone to discuss their preparations and contingencies, and to offer advice and support. We are pleased to advise that none of the organisations sustained significant damage or impact. Staff and volunteers at James Cook Museum, Nature’s Powerhouse, Cooktown History Centre and Cape York Heritage House all did a fantastic job during the lead up phase to ensure that collections, data and buildings were as prepared and protected as they could be.
Cyclone preparation and clean up can be an exhausting process – at work and at home. And it always disrupts work on other projects. For Cooktown History Centre, Cyclone Nathan meant putting on hold their research and preparations for the new exhibition they plan to open for Anzac Day. Spare a thought for these groups now as they clean up, reopen and get back to the business (and pleasure) of running museums.
While communities in the Livingstone and Rockhampton Regional Council areas are still recovering from the effects of Tropical Cyclone Marcia, Lydia (MDO for Southern Inland Queensland) and I have been visiting museums in affected communities to offer collections care advice and assistance.
The rapid increase of Marcia from a relatively weak cyclone to a severe category 5 is a timely reminder that preparation is a museum’s best defence against severe weather events. The potential for severe damage from Marcia was very real, and in the days leading up to the cyclone I had been in touch with as many groups as possible to talk over their preparations. Although Marcia was still at that stage a relatively weak system, groups were taking the threat seriously and preparing well, ensuring the best possible outcomes for their collections and allowing themselves sufficient time to also prepare their own homes and families.
A well thought out Disaster Plan is invaluable in situations such as these. Having a plan of action to follow, and a system for obtaining assistance should it be necessary, makes a very stressful situation considerably easier to manage. But a Disaster Plan is only as good as your preparation – revise it, practice it, and make sure everyone knows what to do! If you are interested in learning more about disaster preparation and response, visit the Disaster Recovery section in the Resources page on our blog.
In the aftermath of Marcia, no significant collection losses have been reported, and most groups seem to have escaped with relatively minor damage. The museums were well aware, however, that the days following a cyclone are no time for complacency, and were carefully monitoring their collections for hidden leaks and mould growth, which can occur easily in the hot, humid and still conditions which inevitably follow.
The visit was also a reminder that, while some people have had their lives seriously disrupted by Marcia, most local businesses are trying to get back to normal so if you’re considering a visit to these regions, don’t shy away because of cyclone damage – come along and support local businesses and visit a museum or two while you’re there!