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.
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.
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!
As Cyclone Ita has gathered strength in the Coral Sea, the MDO for Far North Queensland based in Cairns, Dr Jo Wills, has been liaising with groups across the far north region to provide advice and assistance as they prepare for its arrival.
Due to the uncertain path of the cyclone, there has been potential for small museums and historical societies in Cook Shire Council, Tablelands Regional Council, Mareeba Shire Council, Douglas Shire Council, Cairns Regional Council and Yarrabah Shire Council to be affected. This has meant that Jo has been either in direct or email contact with more than 25 groups and representatives from each council to provide collections related disaster information and advice.
Understanding the significant collections, the types of issues they may face due to rain, water damage and wind damage is vital to help the MDO prepare and prioritise any response they may be tasked to undertake. One of the key tasks Jo has been undertaking is to ascertain any major concerns or issues groups in high risk zones, particularly in Cook Shire, might have. Many groups have collections in heritage buildings and some of these may be vulnerable in this significant storm. Groups in a flood inundation zone, like the Cooktown Historical Centre, for instance, have an important collection of archival documents. The National Trust of Queensland’s James Cook Museum is housed in a Queensland Heritage Register, heritage listed building and holds a significant regional collection of artefacts, photographs and items related to James Cook. Nature’s Powerhouse holds the botanical drawings of Vera Scarth Johnson – water damage to these would impact a significant record of the region’s diverse flora. Coen’s Cape York Heritage House collections are also housed in an older building – they reflect the districts pastoral heritage, priceless records of interviews with local stockmen and have an association with the Cape’s telecommunications history.
Through contact with the various groups and councils, Jo is keenly aware of the work volunteers do to protect community collections as volunteers devote significant time to collecting and preserving local stories and heritage. Most of the groups Jo works with have experienced and dedicated volunteers who are keenly aware of the risks associated with a cyclone. All are working to secure their collections and buildings to the best of their ability.
The MDO program will keep you updated as we know more and please refer to our disaster recovery page here if you require some general advice.