Blog Archives

Proserpine Museum: open for business

Proserpine Museum. Image, Proserpine Museum website.

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.



Cyclone Debbie update

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


Winton one year on

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


Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery

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.

Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre

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.

This Blog will continue to update the progress of the response.

The Building

The objects in situ and display area

The recovery

The recovery area

MDO response to fire at Waltzing Matilda Centre

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.

Follow up from Cyclone Nathan, FNQ

Preparation for Cyclone Nathan at James Cook Museum, Cooktown, March 2015.  Image: Jacqui Collins-Herrmann, Manager, James Cook Museum.

Preparation for Cyclone Nathan at James Cook Museum, Cooktown, March 2015.
Image: Jacqui Collins-Herrmann, Manager, James Cook Museum.

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.


Museums and Marcia

Yeppoon two weeks after Cyclone Marcia passed through the area.

Yeppoon two weeks after Cyclone Marcia passed through the area.

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.

Roof damage in Rockhampton.

Roof damage in Rockhampton.

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!

Yeppoon - as beautiful as ever.

Yeppoon – as beautiful as ever.

Flood relief effort wins award

The MDO program recently received a Gallery and Museum Achievement Award (gamaa), presented by Museum and Gallery Services Queensland, for their flood relief work.  The award was given in the category of Organisations: staff of 4 or more.  Please see below  for the project summary and the judges citation.


In early 2013, floods devastated regions of Queensland, in particular around the Wide Bay/Burnett area. The MDOs converged to provide a professional, first-response disaster service to museum communities in Gayndah and Bundaberg. The MDOs worked with volunteers and staff at each location to ensure that any major decisions regarding the damaged collections were made jointly. Conscious not to use emergency resources or facilities needed for those who had endured significant loss, the MDOs brought mobile accommodation to deliver conservation and museum disaster procedures on-site, which allowed for limited but practical training to be undertaken. Being on-site also provided professional and emotional support through reassurance that community collections could be rebuilt, and that response efforts were supported. The MDO Blog played an important role in the dispersal of information and informed peers and the general public of the work being undertaken. The MDOs developed a professional relationship with these organisations based on mutual respect and understanding. They returned to Gayndah in October where they assisted in the conservation of the paper and photographic material that had been frozen immediately after the flood event. The MDOs were able to train the volunteers, thus allowing them to complete the process of first response action right through to reinstating the collection and its ongoing management.

mdo gamaa award
MDO gamaa award

MDO gamaa award

Image: Helen Pithie, Deborah Bailey, Josh Tarrant, Lydia Egunnike, Ewen McPhee and Dr Joanna Wills with Hon Ian Walker, Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts. Photographer: Chelsea Sipthorp


In choosing the 2013 Queensland Museum MDO Flood Response as the Winner in this category, the judges acknowledged the Museum Development Officer Program’s outstanding leadership in harnessing their training and knowledge to provide front-line support to communities in recovery. Their demonstration of best practice, and the creation of a learning environment for all involved (including themselves), resulted in a streamlined approach to the care and safeguard of collections at risk. The judges also recognised not only the professional support provided to these organisations by the MDOs, but also the personal commitment – living in campervans and working side by side with affected volunteers and staff in the midst of mud, water, mould and debris.

For a full list of other gamaa winners please see the Museum and Gallery Services Queensland website here.

Gayndah Flood Recovery Phase Two

In February 2013 communities in the Bundaberg, Burnett and Frazer Coast region were inundated by flood waters in the wake of ex tropical cyclone Oswald. In an initial disaster response, Queensland Museum’s MDO team worked with museums at Gayndah, Bundaberg and Maryborough to salvage collection material, and provided assistance to museums faced with the massive clean up task.

Eight months later, five MDOs, and Queensland Museum’s Director of Regional Services, Deborah Bailey, returned to Gayndah to help volunteers deal with the next phase of disaster recovery. The three day trip was also a chance for the MDOs and volunteers to get some invaluable applied onsite training.

Earlier posts on the blog outline the process for freezing paper-based materials.  Frozen material can be dealt with later, at a more convenient time for people whose lives have been disrupted by a disaster.

Packages of frozen documents defrosting from Gayndah and District Historical Society. (Photo: Lydia Egunnike).

Packages of frozen documents defrosting from Gayndah and District Historical Society. (Photo: Lydia Egunnike).

To prepare for the unfreezing process, Gayndah and District Historical Society volunteers removed the wrapped packages from the freezer two days before the MDOs arrived. They wrapped them in towels and placed them in an undercover, shaded area to slowly defrost.

Lydia Egunnike, MDO for the southern inland region, organised all materials needed for the workshop, including vast quantities of paper towels, plastic spatulas and clean water. John Wein, the Secretary of the Historical Society, ensured there were plenty of fly screens on hand that could be used for drying racks, bricks to make tables higher and prevent sore backs, and food for a hungry work crew!

Activities on the first morning involved setting up works stations and drying stations both inside and on the museum verandah.

Deborah Bailey and Helen Pithe ensure fly screens used for drying stations are free of dirt. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Deborah Bailey and Helen Pithie ensure fly screens used for drying stations are free of dirt. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee cover fly screens with absorbent material to make a drying station. (Photo: Helen Pithe).

Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee cover fly screens with absorbent material to make a drying station. (Photo: Helen Pithie).

Lydia then provided preliminary training on how to carefully separate documents, what to do if they were stuck together, how to clean away residual dirt and mud, and how to start drying them properly.

Lydia Egunnike demonstrates how to separate and clean defrosted items rescued from the floods. (Photos: Helen Pithe).

Lydia Egunnike demonstrates how to separate and clean defrosted items rescued from the floods. (Photos: Helen Pithie).

Each MDO and the six volunteers (John Wein, Mary McIntyre, Brian and Sue Hutchinson, Jamie Wilson and Judith Woodman-Heuth) then set about working through the bundle of frozen documents. With John providing advice about which documents or materials they could discard, much time was saved. John also started the process of scanning dried documents that contained important information but which were not going to be kept due to damage, mould and/or general condition.

Drying booklets, folders and archives was a primary goal. Items were interleaved with paper toweling, often two or three times over the course of the site visit. Some material was stuck together so tightly it needed to be re-submerged in clean water or re-wet and gently prised apart using finer, more professional conservation tools.

Josh Tarrant separating the pages of a manual. (Photo: Helen Pithe).

Josh Tarrant separating the pages of a manual. (Photo: Helen Pithie).

Helen Pithe at work table. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Helen Pithe at work table. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Interleaving a ledger with paper towels to help the drying process. (Photo: Helen Pithe).

Interleaving a ledger with paper towels to help the drying process. (Photo: Helen Pithie).

At the end of the three days, all frozen items had been assessed with the drying process underway. This was possible because of the large number of volunteers and MDOs available, but also due to the organisation and planning that had gone into preparing for the activity.

Many thanks again to the Historical Society at Gayndah volunteers for making the MDO team feel welcome and keeping us well fed.