Bushfire Crisis in Australia – update 20 January 2020

Note: This update is not meant to be comprehensive

With further evacuations and fires out of control in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, the critical bushfire situation across the country continues. Damage to some heritage property will only be known once affected areas are declared safe, and damage has been assessed and able to be reported. The sheer scale of the fires, the sensitive nature of many of the areas affected and with so many communities and wildlife displaced, the effort ahead is still ongoing and enormous.

Australia ICOMOS have updated their Heritage Toolkit to include a Rapid Assessment Form for Fire Affected Heritage Places for use by local councils. BSA has added a list of Recovery Agencies to our website.

From a GLAM perspective there are still no reports (yet) of libraries, archives or museums being damaged. A number of small galleries have sustained damage, but information is brief at this time. Severe smoke did affect cultural institutions in Canberra in January.

A number of heritage houses have sustained significant damage, especially in Victoria including Towong Historical Homestead. Victoria still has many fires burning but we acknowledge the East Gippsland region has been devastated. The South Coast Region of New South Wales and Victoria including the towns of Mogo with heritage houses and Cobargo and Mallacoota.

Some of the Kosciuszko Huts have been lost but with great work by NPWS and NSWRFS staff on saving so many. There are further reports of the loss of heritage at the Huts and Selwyn Snow Resort and the Kiandra Courthouse.

While the Jenolan Caves House was saved, there is significant damage close to the property. We are grateful that much of the Wollemi Pines Heritage Listed area has been protected.

There has been significant destruction and damage on Kangaroo Island.

There has been an update on Budj Bim National Park indigenous sites. It has been noted that many indigenous site areas are not yet safe to return to, to make any assessments at this time. We note comments from the Yuin South Coast of NSW Elders but also acknowledging the immediate and significant human need priority in the region.

Blue Shield Australia would like to note that if you are an owner of a State Heritage listed place affected by the fires (or other severe weather events), or if you are aware of any impacts to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Places and sites, or historic archaeological sites please contact your state Heritage Council or Department.

Conservation Volunteers Australia has been selected by the Australian Government to coordinate the national environmental volunteering response to the bushfire crisis. You can register your interest as a volunteer here. There are many other groups co-ordinating assistance, with BlazeAid being just one example.

We would like to acknowledge communities that sustained bushfires months ago, who are now very much in a difficult recovery phase. This includes Bobin and Wytaliba in the Glen Innes region, North Coast NSW and also Port Macquarie and the Blue Mountains. The ZigZag Railway is calling for volunteers and donations.

This heartfelt post by Kate Brady from Australian Red Cross describes the anguish, patience and fortitude that we must have for the very long recovery that’s ahead – it’s an important read on the blog by John Richardson.

One site to consider for a broad overview is the Wikipedia 2019-20 Australian Bushfire Season page and other useful pages with collated national information are currently being added and updated.

The Australian GLAM peak bodies and Blue Shield Australia will meet during the week of 20th January 2020 to discuss and update on the current situation and focus on planning for future support for affected communities and cultural heritage sites.

We thank the national and international cultural heritage community for their ongoing support and concern.

Sue Hutley, Chair, Blue Shield Australia info@blueshieldaustralia.org.au

Blue Shield International Statement on concerns for cultural sites in Iran

Blue Shield Australia members join with Blue Shield International sharing their grave concern regarding the statements by the President of the USA that he is contemplating targeting cultural sites in Iran. Intentional targeting of cultural sites is prohibited under international humanitarian law, particularly the UNESCO 1954 Hague Convention. Read the full statement here https://theblueshield.org/bsi-statement-on-potential-specific-targeting-of-cultural-sites-in-iran/

Bushfire Crisis in Australia – update 4 January 2020

The Blue Shield Australia Committee and all involved in our member organisations join in the national concern for everyone impacted over the past few months from the many extreme bushfire disasters.  We are also grieving the loss of life, and of animals, heritage sites and landscapes.  

Our Members’ first priority must be the safety of families and the community.  There are currently many dangerous fire zones that pose a serious threat to life. We remind everyone to follow alerts, messages and warnings as the catastrophic conditions continue.

Blue Shield Australia member organisations have not received many notifications of damage to Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Historical Societies and Sites at this stage.   We note that the Bundanon Trust has been evacuated, including artworks. More news on Bundanon from The South Coast Register and the Sydney Morning Herald. We also note concerns for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In December the Clifton Creek Primary School Library was lost, new book donations are now being requested. The Wytaliba Public School Library was also destroyed in November and local donations are still requested. We know that a number of Indigenous Sites are in the path of fires, but at this stage, we are unsure of damage. There has been a report about the Bunj Bim National Park.

We acknowledge and sincerely thank the brave firefighters, emergency and defence force personnel, volunteers and co-ordinators who have enacted plans to save many community buildings, sites and collections.

Colleagues in our Member organisations are encouraged to advise their own Association about any collections, buildings and sites that have been affected, damaged or impacted. 

The loss of personal property has been great, and the immediate threat to life is still at its height in many regions.   Personal safety and following all Emergency Services directives is imperative at this time. 

There will be a long recovery ahead for many Australian communities in the coming months and our member organisations look forward to assisting our cultural heritage colleagues when the time is right.   We hope that these BSA Resources and links to information will be helpful in a range of recovery activities. 

We remind our colleagues and members to donate funds to authorised organisations such as the Australian Red Cross and all Rural Fire Services (rather than goods at this time) and please continue to book-in to donate blood and plasma to the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood.  

Members who are not currently affected – now is a good time to review your own personal and cultural heritage organisation’s disaster preparedness plans and contact lists and to support those colleagues directly and personally impacted. 

Responses to the ongoing National Bushfire Crisis :

Australian Museums and Galleries Association (AMaGA)

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)

Australian Society of Archivists (ASA)

Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM) Fire Recovery Resources – If you need the immediate help of a professional conservator in your bushfire recovery, you can use the Need a Conservator search.

International Council of Museums Australia (ICOM Australia) – updated 15/1/20

Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites (AICOMOS) – updated 20/1/20

Sue Hutley

Chair, Blue Shield Australia


Bushfire Recovery

In the wake of unprecedented bushfires across eastern Australia during November 2019, we have updated our list of BSA Resources and links which may provide useful information and contacts for disaster recovery after a bushfire, including salvaging fire-damaged records.

Colleagues from Australian Museums, Archives, Galleries, Monuments and Sites, Libraries and Historical Societies can contact Blue Shield Australia via email info@blueshieldaustralia.org.au

We thank and acknowledge the brave work of firefighters, first responders and community volunteers at this time.

If you would like to donate and contribute to bushfire recovery activities, this is a useful list of organisations directly assisting.

ALIA Disaster Management for Libraries, 2nd Edition 2019

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and Blue Shield Australia, have launched the 2nd Edition of the ALIA Disaster Management for Libraries Guide, Templates and Scenarios. With thanks to Heather Brown and Christine Ianna for all of their work updating these important and useful resources. Please share these resources widely with your disaster management networks.


A well-documented and tested disaster plan can ensure library staff respond quickly and effectively, minimise loss of stock and equipment, ensure the safety and well being of staff, provide continuity of service in some circumstances, and recover quickly. Plans are most effective if staff are trained in using the disaster response plan, and the plan is easily accessible when it’s needed most.

Libraries can find their premises, collections, staff and users under sudden threat, in the case of a fire or burst water pipe in the building. They can be part of a bigger disaster, for example a flood, not only damaging the building and contents, but also affecting the wider community. Libraries sometimes emerge unscathed from a disaster and become part of the essential support service afterwards, as happened in the 2009 Victorian bushfires and the 2011 Queensland floods.

In 2009 ALIA first prepared a number of guides and templates to get you started towards disaster preparedness, and in 2019 these have now been updated.

‘Creating the Future: Trust. Diversity. Imagination.’ (AMaGA) 2020 Conference

The Australian Museums and Galleries Association (AMaGA) 2020 conference will be held in Canberra – ACT, between 18-21 May 2020.
The theme for the conference is ‘Creating the Future: Trust. Diversity. Imagination.’ AMaGA 2020 will invite new perspectives on the museum and gallery sector’s role in creating the future.

AMaGa is looking forward to developing an ambitious, imaginative and outward-looking program that questions assumptions. This is your chance to share your ideas about addressing our sector’s impact on communities, ecologies and economies and building trust and empathy in the context of global challenges.

We are particularly looking for papers that bring inter-generational, cross-platform, cross-cultural and inter-sectional perspectives to the conference. We are also looking for new perspectives on the work of the sector and its role in shaping our future communities, society and world.
Presentation formats for proposals may include : a Pitch, Lightning Talk, Debate, Performance or Film.

Significant dates:
Call for Abstracts – NOW OPEN – closes Monday 30 September 2019
Registration – opens October 2019
Further informationhttps://amaga2020.org.au/abstract-submission/

Fires, Floods and Failures. ALIA URLs Symposium

Canberra – 1 May 2019

Australian Society of Archivists

This year ALIA URLS (ACT) Group and Blue Shield Australia are hosting a one-day Seminar at the National Library of Australia on the topic of ‘Fires, Floods and Failures: Future Proofing against Disaster’

Hear how our colleagues deal with disaster planning and emergency responses in relation to libraries and cultural collections.

Date: Wednesday 1 May, 2019
Time: 9:30am – 4:00 pm
Price: $100 for ALIA members
Location: Conference Room, 4th Floor, National Library of Australia, Canberra

The program and registration details can be found at: https://membership.alia.org.au/events/event/fires-floods-and-failures-future-proofing-against-disaster

Implementing the Hague Convention in Australia

The 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999 comprise the primary international humanitarian law regarding the protection of cultural property during armed conflict.

Australia has not yet ratified the two Protocols of the Convention, unlike the USA (in 2009) and the UK (in 2017).

The only impediment appears to be lack of a government decision to do so.