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