The Archives, located in Nissen (Romney) Huts, Parkes foreshore ACT, 1961

The Archives in Canberra 1961

There have been many events leading to the creation of the National Archives of Australia.


Prime Minister William Hughes instructs departments to transfer ‘war records of historical value’ to the War Museum, later the Australian War Memorial.


The Parliamentary Library Committee puts forward an Archives Bill, the first attempt to devise a way of dealing with the destruction of government records. The Bill never reaches Parliament.


Prime Minister Joseph Lyons warns Commonwealth departments not to destroy records ‘other than those of a purely routine character’ without consulting the Commonwealth Librarian.


During World War II planners discover the destruction of earlier wartime records has left them without precedents for many wartime requirements. The Institute of Librarians makes ‘archives’ the theme of its 1940 conference. Historians, librarians and political scientists lobby for World War II material to be preserved.


Prime Minister John Curtin authorises a Committee on the Collection and Preservation of Historical Records which was soon renamed the War Archives Committee, chaired by historian CEW Bean.


The Commonwealth National Library appoints Ian Maclean as the first Archives Officer, a move that heralds the beginning of the National Archives.


The Commonwealth National Library insists that ‘the primary object of archives is efficiency in the executive arm of government’.


The War Archives Committee is renamed the Commonwealth Archives Committee, whose role is to oversee disposal of all past and future records and to coordinate the archival work of the War Memorial and the Commonwealth National Library.


The Archives Division of the Library takes over the archival responsibilities of the War Memorial.


Dr TR Schellenberg, Director of Archival Management, National Archives in Washington DC, visits Australia and advocates for the establishment of a national archives.


The Archives Division of the National Library gains independence, becoming the Commonwealth Archives Office in the Prime Minister’s Department.


The Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Commonwealth Archives confirms the significant role of national archives in collecting and keeping government records.


The Cabinet introduces the 50-year access rule for archival records, in line with access at the Public Records Office in Britain. However in 1967 Britain adopts a 30-year rule.


The government adopts the 30-year rule for access to archival records.


The first purpose-built archival repository opens in Villawood, Sydney.


W Kaye Lamb, former Dominion Archivist of Canada, reviews the Australian archives system. His report affirms the responsibility of modern government archives for records 'from the time that they are created until they are destroyed or selected for permanent preservation'. He insists the role of archives should be reinforced by legislation. The Commonwealth Archives Office is renamed the Australian Archives.


Historian, Professor R.G. Neale, is appointed to the upgraded position of Director-General of the Australian Archives.


The Archives Act 1983 comes into effect on 6 June. For the first time Australia's Commonwealth archives are protected by legislation and the Australian Archives functions under a legislative mandate.


The name of the Australian Archives is changed to the National Archives of Australia. The new headquarters in East Block in the Parliamentary triangle in Canberra is opened by the President of the Senate, the Hon Margaret Reid.


Reforms to Freedom of Information legislation mean the open access period for most National Archives records commences after 20 years.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019