Inside the Collection

All is not lost – the collection recovery book

The Cootamundra Railway Disaster 1885
This photo of the Cootamundra Railway Disaster 1885 is the front cover of ‘All is not lost – the collection recovery book.

Remember the floods from last year and the year before? The earthquakes in New Zealand? The hurricanes in far north Queensland? The bush-fires in Victoria? How can you forget? Well conservators around Australia and New Zealand have been kept busy assisting with the salvaging of many personal and public collections. In terms of being prepared for an emergency situation, there are some key points that have been raised by museum staff that have experienced a major disaster. They advice having: disaster plans in place; plenty of equipment and supplies on hand; a pre-arranged area to relocate the collection to, possibly off site; allocating roles and teams to carry out the salvage operation to prevent duplication and confusion and to do staff training. In helping with the Powerhouse Museum’s own disaster preparedness, the Conservation Department has recently published a book on salvaging materials after a disaster, called ‘All is Not Lost – the Collection Recovery Book’. It is a sturdy, spiral bound book aimed at assisting people in museums, historical societies and anyone who has items that have been affected by a disaster.

The pink ted prop dries off during a disaster training session
The pink ted prop dries off during a disaster training session

There is a wealth of materials on the web about disaster planning and recovery but you may not have electricity in an emergency situation. We decided to produce a disaster flip book that provided quick, basic instructions about salvaging different materials that have been damaged by fire, water or impact. Conservators contributed sections for the book that was originally intended for our own department. I received a call from a colleague in the Riverina who was assisting the local members of the Lockhart Historical Society who had suffered severe flooding in their building. The Lockhart locals did a wonderful job in salvaging what they could. The advice I gave was from the draft text for the disaster flip book. After that, we decided the book would be useful for anyone salvaging items from a disaster.

Cleaning mould from a prop
A conservator demonstrates how to remove mould safely.

A lot of salvaging is common sense, but there are many tasks to do in a recovery situation and it is essential to allocate teams and team leaders to direct people and avoid confusion in an emergency situation. As well as information about salvaging different materials, the book provides flow charts on disaster planning and recovery, definitions of salvage terms, dealing with mould outbreaks, instructions on what to freeze and what not to freeze as well as an extensive bibliography. .

If you do have damaged items, please feel free to contact the Conservation Department at the Powerhouse for advice on how to salvage and conserve them.

Disaster planning - gather materials and equipment that would be useful in a salvage operation
Disaster planning – materials and equipment useful in a salvage operation

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