IPSWICH artist Deb Mostert drove past residents' homes after the 2011 floods and was distressed to see their possessions piled up on the footpath.
And as she investigated further and met the flood victims Ms Mostert realised many objects carried special meaning to their owners.
A year-long art project ensued. It is now the subject of an exhibition at the Ipswich Art Gallery called 'Recovery: The Flood Objects Project', which will open on January 11 on the second anniversary of the tragedy.
The works involve 11 families and 11 paintings of the precious objects that survived the floods, all of which have fascinating stories behind them.
Ms Mostert, who lives at Bellbird Park, has friends who suffered in the floods, and took part in the clean-up.
"Like everybody, you are looking for some way to connect and to make some sense of it all," she says.
"A lot of people's possessions were out on the footpath and that was a catalyst. The whole thing was traumatic and this (art project) was one way of making sense of it.
"My art revolves around painting objects, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to connect my interest in still life with people and what they valued."
Ms Mostert found that some objects "resonate with us more than others" as she investigated what people actually do value.
"I find the fact that some people keep certain objects over others to be really fascinating," she says.
"Sentiment, where it came from, who gave it to you and whether it triggers memories ... are the obvious things. But I am also reading a lot about why we value things.
We tend to think it is a bit consumerist and shallow of us to value stuff, but maybe it isn't. Maybe the stuff that we keep is an extension of who we are, it remembers relationships ... and a whole host of things.
"We tend to think it is a bit consumerist and shallow of us to value stuff, but maybe it isn't. Maybe the stuff that we keep is an extension of who we are, it remembers relationships ... and a whole host of things."
The art project has been based on people Ms Mostert knew of or knew personally. Through her aunt and uncle, Ms Mostert became aware of Goodna flood victim Margaret Kloostra. She sat down with Ms Kloostra and listened to her story and they collaborated on what items would be painted.
"Margaret came up with her daughter-in-law's wedding veil, which was pulled out of the mud in the clean-up, her parents wedding photo which went through the flood and a (Chanel No.5) perfume bottle which was saved because her son made an effort to go back and get it," Ms Mostert says.
"He left all his wedding presents behind, but made an effort to go back inside to get his mum's perfume.
"A situation like a flood can bring out the best and worst in people, but I think we should celebrate the best."
Ms Kloostra, who was at work when the floods hit, says she was "very touched" by the fact that her son Satcha and daughter-in-law Retchie put her belongings ahead of their own wedding presents.
She has also been touched by Ms Mostert's art.
"I was honoured to be part of this because I think it is a lovely thing that Deb is doing," she says.
"It does make you think about everything that you have lost, in a way.
"To just pick out just a few (in the painting) makes it more poignant.
"I love the values behind the whole project with Deb trying to connect with the feelings of the people."
There are some extraordinary stories behind the artwork.
One relates to a football owned by flood victims Marty and Becky from Pullenvale, who are friends of the artist from church.
"A couple of weeks after the flood they got a phone call from a guy who had their football. It had their phone number on it in pen," she says.
"When they exchanged addresses Marty says, 'Where are you?' The other guy says that he is in Mooloolaba and picked it up on the beach.
So the football has gone from Pullenvale, down the creek, up the Brisbane River and into the bay and landed on the beach up at Mooloolaba.
"So the football has gone from Pullenvale, down the creek, up the Brisbane River and into the bay and landed on the beach up at Mooloolaba."
Then there is the story of a piece of Chinese pottery recovered from the home of Wim and Rachel from Riverview.
"Rachel is a student of Chinese ceramics and her and Wim had travelled through China.
"She had this shard of very culturally valuable 1200-year-old pottery from the Changsha Dynasty in her studio that she had found at a kiln site. When the volunteers came she said, 'If you find a piece of broken pottery, don't throw it away'.
"I was painting the object in my studio and I had never held a piece of 1200-year-old pottery before. It was fascinating."
Benitta from Goodna lost just about everything including artwork that was two years in the making. Virtually all that survived was a jewellery box with some junk jewellery and a novelty clock with piano keys painted on it.
Ms Mostert has been an artist for more than 25 years and this project has been both rewarding artistically and emotionally.
I knew when I started this project that there would be some cost because you can't travel with people on any sort of journey without sharing it with them to some extent.
"I knew when I started this project that there would be some cost because you can't travel with people on any sort of journey without sharing it with them to some extent.
"It has been a very humbling experience as well because people let you into their pain.
"Some people are very phlegmatic and philosophical about it and other people are still hurt and recovering. Some people are still quite fragile.
"I hope people are made aware again that others are still potentially hurting from the flood experience and to keep an eye out for people, ask how they are going and generally look in on folk.
"We have a society that moves on from pain and loss. We want the good news stories, which is all well and good. But one of my aims of this artwork was to bring this back to the public forefront again so we can make sure that people are being looked after."
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