ACT News

National Archives of Australia preparing to transfer their valuable collection

The task of moving house can be daunting enough but that job is nothing compared to what is about to be undertaken by the National Archives of Australia.

Hundreds of thousands of items will be packed individually and then in boxes to be trucked across to the new facility in Mitchell.

Assistant Director-General (Government Information Assurance and Policy) at the National Archives of Australia Anne Lyons.
Assistant Director-General (Government Information Assurance and Policy) at the National Archives of Australia Anne Lyons. Photo: Jamila Toderas

While the state of the art building is still under construction, the staff are in the process of planning exactly when and how the records will be moved.

National Archives assistant director-general (government information assurance and policy) Anne Lyons said it was a mammoth task.

"We have an electronic location system where we have barcodes so it is a matter of mapping and tracking the location of every single record going from one place to another," she said.

"You can relate it moving house, but this isn't just packing things into a box. Every single item is recorded as to where it is and where it has got to go to."

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The building is expected to be finished in early 2017 and will almost triple the amount of cold storage available for preserving significant Australian items including photographs, interviews and even airline boarding passes,  including those of The Beatles and David Bowie.

While staff are planning to move everything out of the old building, located just across the road from the new building in Mitchell, there are still more unique and valuable records coming in.

The 80-year-old Stanley Fowler collection of film and photographs is a series of more than 13,000 items of national significance. They portray the Australian coastline and fishing industry including rare aerial photos from 1936 to 1947.

For the past 16 years the irreplaceable photographs have been in limbo as talks between CSIRO and the NAA for the transfer of the collection never came to fruition.

Nitrate-based negatives are known to spontaneously combust when they reach a certain level of deterioration, which meant the National Archives' cold storage was the only possible way for the collection to be preserved.

Work has now begun on the packing and processing of the 13,000 items in the collection, ready for their transfer.

CSIRO records services manager Tim O'Grady said he was pleased that the valuable collection would be transferred into the custody of the National Archives.

"Whilst CSIRO has managed this collection for many decades it is best that the collection be preserved for future generations using the archival expertise and facilities provided by the National Archives," he said.

Eventually, the Stanley Fowler collection would make up part of more than two-kilometres of shelf space used for photographic material at the National Archives. It would be placed into cold storage until such time as the collection could be digitised.

Ms Lyons said she was pleased to have the collection being transferred, as it meant Australians could have access to the valuable research.

"It is one-of-a-kind," she said. "Mostly what we do have here is that iconic, really valuable information, so the fact we've got it at the archives now means it will be kept forever, for Australia and for Australians to come."