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Research Guides

Land of Opportunity: Australia's post-war reconstruction

Using National Archives of Australia research guides

The National Archives of Australia preserves and cares for a diverse collection documenting the relationship between the Commonwealth Government and the Australian people. This collection is a rich resource for the study of the nation’s history, society and people.

While the collection covers almost 200 years of Australian history, its main focus is Commonwealth Government activities since Federation in 1901. The Archives also has significant holdings of 19th-century records transferred by the colonies to the federal government.

Archival resources

The guide is based on an examination of thousands of files and other items in the National Archives. The majority have not been listed because, even when they had enticing titles, they were found to be too slight, too routine, or were concerned with administrative minutiae. The guide therefore provides a selective listing of records that document planning, policy formulation, decision-making and administration in the many areas of government encompassed by the term ‘post-war reconstruction’. Most of the records are listed at the item level and the guide goes beyond the Archives’ online collection database, RecordSearch, in briefly summarising the types of records, subject matter and the names of correspondents contained within the items. These items are all available for access. Other records are described at the series level, either because they contain a very large number of relevant items or because many of the items have yet to be cleared for access. In such cases, the titles of a few items are listed as examples of the kinds of records found in the series.

Most of the records listed are held in the Canberra repository of the National Archives, the remainder being held in the Melbourne and Sydney repositories. It should be noted that there are relevant records, particularly concerning re-establishment, in all the repositories of the Archives.

The guide is structured according to key functions and activities carried out by the Commonwealth Government. Each chapter describes selected Archives holdings on relevant subjects and topics. This guide is not exhaustive; it does not seek to include every record associated with post-war reconstruction. However, it does highlight areas for further research.

Accessing records

Access to records held by the Archives is regulated by the Archives Act 1983. Under the Archives Act, records in the open period are generally available for public access. A change to the public access provisions of the Act in 2011 saw the open access period commence after 20 years – a 10-year reduction from the previous 30 years. This change is being phased in between 2011 and 2020, with the closed period reducing by one year each 1 January. More information on accessing records can be found in Fact sheet 10 – Access to records under the Archives Act.

Under the Archives Act, there is also provision to withhold information from public access if it is considered sensitive. Information withheld from public access falls into two broad areas: sensitive personal information, and information about the security of the Commonwealth and its residents.

Many of the records are available as digital copies on the Archives’ website. Research using the online collection database, RecordSearch, will identify digitised records.

To view original records listed in this guide, a researcher will need to visit the reading room of the state or territory office where the records are located.

Inquiries about accessing records held by institutions other than the Archives should be directed to the institution concerned.

Using this guide

Each section of this guide lists relevant records relating to the subject covered. Records are listed as series (groups of records) or as items (individual records). An explanation of each element is provided below.

1Department of Post War Reconstruction
Series: A9790
3Housing targets, 1944–48 1624
4A report by the National Works Council on housing targets for 1946–47 and correspondence about state housing targets and the dangers of publishing unrealistic targets. The correspondents include JB Chifley, LF Loder and AW Welch.


1. Agency title – the agency responsible for the creation of the series. Where the series was created and maintained by several agencies over time, the most common or longest-lived title is used.

2. Series title – the series title and date range of the records that make up the series. A series is the organisational arrangement used by the National Archives to control and manage records. It may contain one or more items. Some series may contain hundreds or thousands of items. The series number is shown on the right-hand side. It provides the identifying number applied to the series.

3. Item title – the title given to an item within the series. The title is usually applied by the person or agency creating the record. The date of the item contents is included at the end of the title. The item’s identifying number (control symbol) appears on the right-hand side.

4. Where included, this paragraph provides further information on the item.

Wherever there are references to series in this guide, it is likely that a researcher will need to conduct further research to identify particular record items. This research can be conducted online using RecordSearch, or by checking hardcopy indexes or lists (known as ‘finding aids’) in Archives reading rooms. Some series are only described at series level, with no individual items listed in RecordSearch.

In this guide the agency, series and item titles used in RecordSearch may have been truncated. Therefore, when searching for series or items it is recommended that a researcher uses series numbers and control symbols rather than titles.

Citing records

The correct citation of records is important, both when requesting records and referring to them in written or published works. Using proper citations not only helps staff locate records more readily, but also assists other researchers to find material.

The correct form of citation for records held by the Archives is: ‘National Archives of Australia’ followed by a colon and a space, the series number followed by a comma and a space, then the item control symbol. For example:

National Archives of Australia: A1, 1938/1181

‘National Archives of Australia’ may be abbreviated to ‘NAA’ provided the full name has been used in the first citation. Further details about correctly citing records are available in Fact sheet 7 – Citing archival records.

Terminology for currency and measures

In 1966 Australia introduced a system of currency based on dollars and cents to replace pounds, shillings and pence. From the early 1970s the metric system of weights and measures began to replace the imperial system.

No attempt has been made to convert those units expressed in imperial terms. However the following conversion scales may be applied:

  • one pound (£1) = two dollars
  • one shilling (1/–) (or 12 pence) = 10 cents
  • one mile = 1.6 kilometres
  • one acre = 0.4 hectares.

Locating further information

All state governments were heavily involved in reconstruction and most of them set up agencies and committees dealing with aspects of reconstruction. Records will therefore be found in state and university archives. Personal papers of leading figures in post-war reconstruction are held in various libraries and archives; a summary list of collections in the National Library of Australia can be found in Appendix 1.

The National Library published a bibliography on post-war reconstruction in 1981, which remains a useful research tool. It was produced for a seminar on post-war reconstruction held at the Australian National University. Most of the seminar papers were presented by academics and postgraduate students, but a number of leading figures in Australian post-war reconstruction took part in the discussions. They included HC Coombs, Sir Roland Wilson, Sir Arthur Tange, Sir John Crawford, Sir Leslie Melville, LF Crisp, Gerald Firth, Trevor Swan, Noel Butlin, Lloyd Ross, Jim Nimmo, Lady Phillips and Sir Frederick Wheeler. In the 34 years since 1981, those people have all died. The seminar proceedings are held in the National Library on tape, a unique and valuable record of the story of post-war reconstruction.

This guide to post-war reconstruction records in the National Archives of Australia has been compiled as an adjunct to Stuart Macintyre's Australia's Boldest Experiment: war and reconstruction in the 1940s (NewSouth 2015).