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.
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.
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.