Sandy Barrie washes a glass plate negatives.
Sandy Barrie washes a glass plate negatives. Peter Marquis-Kyle

Flood-ravaged photos salvaged

RETIRED Ipswich photographer Sandy Barrie devoted 40 years of his life to collecting rare images from Laidley and Australian history.

His collection contained images collected from photographers' estates; some not seen for decades.

But tragedy struck with the floods, as Mr Barrie's Bundamba home was devastated by the rising water.

The 58-year-old was told the 1974 floods had reached six inches (about 15cm) below the floorboards of his top level, so he spent a day frantically moving the enormous collection upstairs.

Unfortunately the water rose much higher – about shoulder height in the top level – and he feared his enormous collection of images was lost forever.

Among the images, which feature scenes from early Australian history, were a large collection of Laidley photographs including images of a recruiting parade in 1915 and the old Laidley Hospital.

But after hearing the devastating news an army of volunteers and photo conservators, most of whom had never met Mr Barrie, arrived at his doorstep to salvage the images.

Photo conservator Lydia Egunnike and many other volunteers worked on saving as many images as they could in Ipswich's Incinerator Theatre for eight days.

“It was an upsetting thing to hear that a collection of that significance has been damaged,” Ms Egunnike said.

“We feel this collection warrants attention.”

The team managed to treat about 5000 images on glass plate negatives and albumen prints. A further 43 crates of negatives – at least 10,000 images – were carefully wrapped and placed in a commercial freezer facility in Brisbane.

Ms Egunnike said freezing collections that cannot be treated quickly prevents mould growth and further damage and the images would be carefully defrosted in small batches and treated when more volunteers could be found.

She estimated about 80 per cent of the collection may be salvageable but it was impossible to tell at this early stage.

Mr Barrie was thankful for the volunteers' help but concerned about the potential for so many of the images to be lost.

“I'm relieved of a phenomenal burden,” Mr Barrie said.

“They're an absolutely fantastic team but we have to marshal our resources to save what's saveable and overlook what we've got to let go.

“There are scenes and views never seen before and which probably never will be seen again now.”

As well as the damage to his images, Mr Barrie has lost almost all his possessions from his home.

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