The National Archives of Australia is responsible for keeping federal government records – the Government and Public (Civil) Service filing system if you like. My initial thoughts were what could possibly be of any interest to a visitor among the 40 million odd records created by bureaucrats/armed forces and politicians and held by the National Archives? Then I thought – in 40 million records there must be something of interest and indeed there is – this place holds records ranging from those covering dramatic events that shaped the nation to decisions that impacted the lives of individual Australians.
The records of Government and the Public Service, of course, record or at least mirror the history of Australia since 1900 when it ceased to be a British colony and became the Commonwealth of Australia. The oldest and most important documents at the National Archives are those excising Australia from Britain – Australia’s “birth certificate” and related documents. These documents are included in a separate display – within the National Archives – in the Federation Gallery and can only been seen on very limited days for limited hours (see separate entry).
While it would be great to coincide your visit with a time when the Federation Gallery is open this will not always be possible. Don’t let that stop you visiting though.
The main display gallery contains a fascinating collection of documents covering all aspects of Australian history since 1901, including:
*Australia at War (world wars and regional wars) – including an original set of “bingo balls” used to determine who would be conscripted for military service in WWII;
*Social history – including an amazing mid 1960’s minute outlining why women could not hold the office of overseas Trade Commissioner. Certainly not something any public servant could write in 2017. Maybe it’s the sense of embarrassment that causes it to be hidden in a drawer;
*The dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor General;
*The story (ongoing) of immigration to Australia;
*Papers of prime ministers, governors-general and other prominent individuals; and
*So much more.
Two other ongoing and excellent exhibitions relate to literary censorship in Australia and a photographic depiction of Canberra from 1920-1935 (photos by government photographer William James Midenhall). Not perhaps well known is the fact that Australia was one of the most prolific censors in the western world. Thousands of books, magazines, items of music, etc were banned between the 1920s and 1970s – read all about them over a coffee in the café where this small display is located.
In addition to the permanent displays the National Archives put on temporary exhibitions. A very poignant and touching exhibition on Britain’s child migrants to Australia was on when I last visited. From the 1860s over 100,000 British destitute children were sent to various colonies/ex-colonies under child migration schemes (Australia operated the last of those schemes and received children as late as the mid 1960s).
For those wanting to delve more deeply into the archives a reading room is available.
There is so much to see in this place but be cautioned that you do need to read things – makes sense given the nature of the place!
There is a small café on-site.
Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours – 9 – 5 daily except Christmas Day.
Address: Queen Victoria Terrance, Parkes.
Directions: Close to Old Parliament House
Phone: (02) 6212 3600