Records of Governors-General

The National Archives of Australia collects, preserves and makes accessible the records of former Governors-General that are in our care. Records of former Governors-General deposited with the Archives comprise a mix of Commonwealth records and non-Commonwealth or ‘personal’ records. The access arrangements that apply vary depending on whether a record is a Commonwealth record or a personal record.

Commonwealth records: Records of the official establishment of the Governor-General

Under the Archives Act 1983, only records that are the property of the official establishment of the Governor-General are Commonwealth records. These are the documents produced in the performance of duties by the Governor-General as the representative of the Queen, her heirs and successors, under the Constitution. For example this may include proclamations, regulations made under laws of Parliament, formal advice from the Federal Executive Council, or functions performed as Commander-in-Chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth. They are subject to the access provisions of the Archives Act and are assessed for release when they reach the open access period in the same way as other Commonwealth records. Our fact sheet on access to records under the Archives Act provides more details.

Most record collections of former Governors-General in the care of the Archives include some Commonwealth records. When you apply for access to such records, the Archives is required to notify you of an access decision no later than 90 business days after the day we receive your application. This consideration period may be extended in certain circumstances. See our fact sheet on access to records under the Archives Act for further information. Where an access decision is delayed beyond 90 business days (or the extended consideration period as notified) or we decide, in accordance with the exemption provisions of the Archives Act, to restrict access in full or part to a Commonwealth record, internal and external appeal rights apply. Our fact sheet on what to do if we refuse you access provides further information.

Non-Commonwealth records: Personal records – owned by the depositor

In accordance with sections 5(2)(f) and 6(2) of the Archives Act, the Archives can enter into arrangements to accept the care of significant records that are not Commonwealth records.  These records are referred to as personal records. Personal records deposited with the Archives by or on behalf of former Governors-General are not the property of the official establishment of the Governor-General. They can include records about education, family and other private interests that are largely unrelated to the role of Governor-General.

Personal records are held by the Archives under arrangements agreed with each individual depositor.  Access to personal records is determined by the depositor as expressed through an Instrument of Deposit, Deed of Gift or sometimes a letter. When the Archives accepts such a collection, we undertake to adhere to arrangements agreed to with the depositor. These personal records are not subject to the access or appeal provisions of the Archives Act.

Non-Commonwealth records: Personal and confidential correspondence with the Monarch

Some collections of records of former Governors-General also contain personal and confidential correspondence between the Governor-General and the Monarch of the day. These records are not property of the official establishment of the Governor-General. They are not Commonwealth records for the purposes of the Archives Act and therefore are not subject to the access or appeal provisions of the Archives Act.

The Archives holds a small collection of such papers, deposited by a number of Governors-General. Access to these records is determined by the wishes of the Queen and the instructions of the Governor-General. For example in the case of such material in the Kerr collection, the current requirement is that these records remain closed until 50 years after the end of his tenure as Governor-General. This material is also subject to a further caveat that its release after 50 years will only occur with the approval in each case of the Sovereign’s Private Secretary and the Official Secretary to the Governor-General.

Records in the care of the Archives

The Archives holds open period records of various Governors-General including Casey (1965-69), Hasluck (1969-74), Kerr (1974-77), Cowen (1977-82), Stephen (1982-89) and Hayden (1989-96). Further information about the records of these Governors-General is available in our collection database, RecordSearch.

Other collecting institutions, including the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria hold records of several earlier Governors-General. The National Library also has personal records of former Governors-General Casey, Hasluck, Cowen, Stephen and Hayden.

    Collection references

     Title or description of recordDate rangeCommonwealth Person number
    ItemCasey, Richard Gardiner1965–69CP 24
    ItemHasluck, Paul Meernaa Caedwalla1969–74CP 115
    ItemKerr, John Robert1974–77CP 266
    ItemCowen, Zelman1977–82CP 335
    ItemStephen, Ninian Martin1982–89CP 457
    ItemHayden, William George1989–96CP 626
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