Blog Archives

Reopening Atherton Chinatown

After four months of closure due to COVID 19, the National Trust of Queensland (NTQ) have been preparing to reopen the Hou Wang Temple and museum displays in the Tableland Regional Council’s Old Post Office Gallery in Atherton. Like other cultural venues across the state, reopening is not as simple as just unlocking the doors and welcoming visitors. Facilities need to be prepared in line with strict regulations and COVID plans, and thoroughly cleaned. An opening date is planned for early August.

For Atherton Chinatown, this has meant addressing the effects of an extended period of rain which had caused mould issues in the gallery and the collection area. To help out, MDOs Ewen McPhee and Dr Jo Wills spent four days helping NTQ workers and volunteers undertake a ‘deep clean’ and refresh of the site. In the process we learnt more about the collection, the temple and Chinese history. We also got to know some of the amazing volunteers who proudly share Atherton Chinatown’s history with visitors throughout the year.

Preparing the Gallery

NTQ representative and archaeologist, Gordon Grimwade, photographed each display section as a reference point for re installation. We then dismantled each display, making sure to link the case, perspex cover and contents by a temporary number. Objects were placed on calico lined trestle tables in their display groupings to avoid any confusion. They were checked for mould or other problems and cleaned with either a dry cloth, a solution of vinegar and water, or lightly vacuumed using a micro attachment. Volunteers removed and cleaned all of the large timber backed images that were mounted on the display (back and front) and the free standing interpretation panels. Ewen and I removed some multimedia items that were no longer working, and cleaned and relined drawers in the display that contained collection items. The empty gallery was then cleaned by professional cleaners.

The installation process involved Ewen rehanging all of the agricultural instruments making sure they were at once secure and accessible. Jo reset each of the display cases and, because of the poor condition of the labels, created new foam core labels for all items (thanks to Tablelands Regional Gallery and Council staff for their help with materials). We also sought opportunities to make the extraordinary portraits in the gallery more accessible for visitors by removing obstacles and creating a clear line of sight. The result is a gallery that looks refreshed and reinvigorated, and that is easy to manage for the volunteers into the future.

Refreshing the Temple

Volunteers cleaning the temple fence.

Atherton’s Hou Wang Temple is an extraordinary and beautiful building made from black bean, red cedar and tin. It is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and is the only surviving timber and iron temple in Queensland One of the volunteers, Graham, has been taking visitors through it for the past 17 years, and it was a pleasure to listen to him share his knowledge of the history and of Chinese symbolism.

Despite its charms, the temple does present ongoing maintenance challenges, particularly regarding mould and pest control. Gordon, along with volunteers Neil and Graham, spent considerable time cleaning mould and residue from the fence. Ewen worked to bring the interior of the temple back to life – mostly with vacuuming and cleaning the floors. In an attempt to reduce vermin access, he and Graham placed steel wool in gaps that were identified – this will hopefully reduce the damage and mess within the temple this while pest control solutions are explored.

A new collection room

The project also gave Gordon and the volunteers a chance to plan how their collection room, located in one of the back rooms of the post office, would operate. Lucy and Terry spent two days painting boards for the new shelving system. The room will be a dedicated collection space for storage, cataloguing and other collection management activities. Items that had to be moved temporarily into the temple meeting room can now be stored more appropriately.

Our thanks and appreciation for the help and good humour to all the volunteers, and to Gordon and Christine Grimwade who coordinated the weeks work.

Pesky Pests 1: What is IPM ?

Protecting collections from pest and fungal damage is one of the greatest challenges faced by cultural heritage custodians. The most effective approach to controlling pest and fungal activity in collections (including any personal collections) is a well-considered, practical Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. So if you thought IPM was just used in the agricultural sector, think again. The aim of my new Pesky Pests series is to help you plan and effectively implement an IPM program for your collection and help you identify and eliminate your pesky biological foes.

A successful IPM program is all about proactive actions including good housekeeping practices, regular monitoring, effective building maintenance and the creation of a hostile environment for enemies. Regular applications of toxic pesticides and fungicides are not recommended and should not be necessary.

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Detail of a register showing extensive termite damage (Image: Lydia Egunnike)

So what does a successful IPM program look like:

An organisation-wide acceptance of the principles of IPM and a willingness of all to learn and implement routine actions needed to protect the collections. These actions include:

  • Training of all staff and volunteers (including cleaning staff).
    • Contact your local MDO if you would like help with this.
    • Run regular refresher IPM sessions on an annual basis.
  • Prevention of entry of pests, such as insects, birds, and rodents, into buildings
    • Moderate the interior climate and avoid high relative humidity and temperatures.
    • Develop good exterior building maintenance and appropriate landscaping.
    • Inspect all incoming objects and paper materials for evidence of prior or current pest and mould activity, and inspect stored collections periodically for insect and mould activity. This includes materials such as stationary supplies.
  • Avoidance of practices and habits that attract pests and fungal activity:
    • Moderate the interior climate and avoid high relative humidity and temperatures.
    • Develop and maintain good interior housekeeping practices.
    • Maintain appropriate food restrictions and food/rubbish removal practices.
  • Implement measures to detect pests and fungal activity:
    • Set up and maintain a pest and fungal monitoring program for all collection storage and display areas. This should include regular visual inspections as well as the use of insect blunder traps.

Next time in Pesky Pests: We will look at how to check your buildings and collections for potential and existing risk factors and discuss mitigation strategies.

 

 

Dealing with flood and mould damaged collections

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 joanna.wills@qm.qld.gov.au

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.

Online resources:

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.

Mould, mould everywhere !!!

Lately mould had been very much on my mind. Everywhere I go; there it is on leather objects, paper documents, photographic material, textiles, wooden furniture…  I am haunted. So I am compelled to use my blog turn to encourage you all to be vigilant and regularly check your collections especially after periods of heavy rain and high humidity. Ideally this should be part of a wider Integrated Pest Management program.  A small isolated outbreak is much easier to deal with than a large one.

Box brownie camera with active mould affecting leather surface.

Box brownie camera with active mould affecting leather surface.

Mould (the common term for fungal growth) can cause major, irreparable damage to a wide range of organic materials found in heritage collections. Staining and structural weakness is the most common form of damage.

When fungal spores are in a conducive environment, they will germinate and spread. What constitutes a suitable environment varies for each species. Many of the species affecting cultural heritage materials require moisture (e.g. water damage and/or high humidity above 65%), stagnant air pockets and surface dirt. It is very important to minimise the risk by maintaining relative humidity around 50-55%, ensuring good air movement and keeping collections and storage and display areas scrupulously clean. This will also reduce the risk of insect activity.

If you find fungal activity in your collection, take care. Some species can cause major health problems particularly for people who suffer from respiratory conditions and allergies.  Avoid the area if you think you’re at risk.

Wool uniform displaying active mould

Wool uniform displaying active mould

For small outbreaks, wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). At a minimum, you will need a P2 respirator mask (the kind with the filter valve on the front of the mask), nitrile gloves and enclosed safety googles. Listed below are a number of websites providing advice on how to deal with outbreaks. If you are unsure what to do, seek advice from a conservator or your MDO.

If the outbreak is large, I would strongly recommend quarantining the room and collections and seek assistance from a mycologist.

A few useful links:

National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/Museum/publications/conserveogram/03-04.pdf

State Library of Queensland: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/128982/Caring-for-your-collections-Dealing-with-mould.pdf

Canadian Conservation Institute: http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/resources-ressources/carepreventivecons-soinsconspreventive/mould-moisissures-eng.aspx

Conservation Centre for Art and Historic Artifacts: http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/managing_a_mold_invasion.pdf

Lydia Egunnike, Museum Development Officer, Southern Inland Queensland.