Save your treasures: Experts step up to help Australians restore flood-damaged items

Two hands, wearing blue gloves, hold flood damaged items including a book and a framed picture partially submerged in a container of dirty water.
The expert conservators from the University's Grimwade Conservation Services are keen to help people restore their prized items as part of post-flood recovery.

Expert conservators from the University of Melbourne’s Grimwade Conservation Services are offering their expertise to help people recover and restore their most precious items following devastating floods across parts of Australia.

In many places, the floods have caused water and mud to invade homes and historic collections, contaminating important items like family photographs, books, documents and other personal treasures. After the floods recede, mould can grow rapidly, causing staining and further damage.

Over the next three weeks, Grimwade conservator Libby Melzer and her team will host free online workshops to help people salvage flood-damaged items in the critical immediate post-event period. Video and online resources are also available.

Ms Melzer, who specialises in the conservation of paper, books, and photographs – items which often hold great personal significance and are irreplaceable – says time is critical to successful recovery and restoration.

“Many people throw out items after a flood. Conservators know from experience that during and in the immediate aftermath of a disaster many items can be restored even if they appear beyond repair, if you act quickly and follow a few simple steps,” Ms Melzer said.

“This program is a chance for people to learn how to save precious belongings – whether that’s books, family albums, paintings, framed photographs, or even clothing. They can speak to a range of expert conservators who can give simple practical advice specific to their personal items.”

The University has a long-standing international reputation for its expertise assisting communities with flood recovery. In 2011, staff and student conservator teams deployed after flash flooding in the town of Warmun in Western Australia’s East Kimberley region damaged the Warmun Art Centre, a key repository for cultural knowledge and artefacts of the Gija people.

In 2013, teams worked alongside local community as first responders helping communities on the island of Bohol, Philippines to save items following a magnitude-7.2 earthquake and Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Ms Melzer said University conservators are keen to contribute to post-flood recovery.

“As conservators, we know you can often salvage items that may appear too dirty or damaged to save. We would like to share our expertise in this area to support people to save their most important possessions.”

Ms Melzer said while owners can clean and dry some objects with professional guidance, other items need to be restored by a professional conservator. This recovery work from these floods will likely continue into 2023.

“How items are treated in the immediate aftermath of a flood does a lot to determine the extent of the damage and success of future restoration. There will be urgent work to clean, dry, and freeze collections to prevent mould outbreaks, then follow-up work to conserve water damaged items,” Ms Melzer said.

Register here for Ask a Conservator sessions or download the Grimwade’s emergency flood recovery resources.