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Research Guides

More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901–39


The National Archives of Australia

The National Archives of Australia ensures that full and accurate records documenting Commonwealth Government activities are created and kept. From this massive body of information, the Archives selects, cares for and makes available to all those records of continuing value. This collection constitutes the archives of the Commonwealth Government – a vast and rich resource for the study of Australian history, Australian society and the Australian people.

The collection spans almost 200 years of Australian history. The main focus of the collection is material which documents Federal Government activities since Federation in 1901. There are also significant holdings of nineteenth-century records which relate to functions transferred by the colonies to the Commonwealth Government at the time of Federation and subsequently. The records described in this guide are a small but significant part of the collection.

Access to the National Archives collection is provided free of charge in public reading rooms located in each capital city. Researchers are assisted by specialist reference staff and are provided with reference tools to help them identify and use the records in the collection. These reference tools include the RecordSearch and PhotoSearch databases, guides, publications and fact sheets. Researchers unable to visit a reading room may seek information and help by telephone, mail, facsimile or email.

RecordSearch and PhotoSearch provide information about agencies, persons and series as well as descriptions of over two million individual records. They are available for online searching in reading rooms located in all offices of the National Archives, at the Australian War Memorial and on the National Archives website.

The National Archives website provides more information about the Archives, its collection and the services it offers. A visit to the site will help you determine whether the Archives holds records relevant to your research. Fact sheets on various topics are also available on the Archives website.

About this Guide

The scope of the Guide

Particular archival record series are rarely devoted entirely to immigration issues. On the other hand, there are at least 3 500 items listed on the Archives item database for the period 1901–39 which relate specifically to immigration. The database is available on the Archives website.

In view of the sheer volume of relevant records held, it has not been possible in this Guide to describe them all at item level. Rather, the Guide aims to provide an indication of fruitful areas of research, with a description of a random selection of files under broad subject areas in order to illustrate the range, nature and richness of the collection. The selection has been made as a result of extensive use of the National Archives collection by the author.

Individual cases files themselves are not dealt with in this Guide. For details of where to find records dealing with individual cases see Finding Families: The Guide to the National Archives of Australia for Genealogists.

The structure of the Guide

This Guide is concerned not so much with prohibited immigrants to Australia, although these records are listed, but with those who actually arrived and settled in the country from 1901 to 1939. Immigrants who were encouraged and assisted during these years were mostly British, although on rare occasions, Northern Europeans such as Scandinavians, Dutch and Swiss were assisted and skilled irrigators from France and Northern Italy were actively sought. Land settlers, farm labourers and domestic servants were most favoured, especially experienced farmers with capital. The various states and the Commonwealth government were all involved in immigration encouragement as were several non-government organisations.

The Guide is arranged into 12 chapters and 9 appendixes. Chapters 1 to 11 describe records which reflect the major policy preoccupations and themes of the period 1901–39. The series and items described are held largely, but not exclusively, in the National Archives in Canberra. Chapter 12 lists records held by the National Archives in cities other than Canberra, which deal primarily with the operation of the Immigration Restriction Act and with genealogical and shipping records, rather than with the broad outlines of policy.

The main debates over immigration from 1901–39 revolved around issues such as who should be prohibited from entry to Australia, who should be allowed entry, how many immigrants should come, and who should receive government assistance. Each chapter contains its own brief explanatory introduction in order to provide a historical context for the section. Records have been placed in chapters according to the subject which they predominantly address, although there is obviously some overlap, for example between juvenile immigration and voluntary organisations, and between female and vocational immigration. Where possible in these cases, cross references have been given. It should be noted that descriptions do not cover every item in a series or every page within a single file but an attempt has been made to give a general indication of the scope and nature of the collections.

Description of the records

2 Canberra

This series consists of correspondence fil;es which cover the wide range of subjects that came to the Prime Minister’s attention. The series also contains constittional material dating back to 1901.
Series: A461
Quantity: 5 metres
Recorded by: 1934–50 Prime Minister’s Department (CA 12)

4 Immigration Encouragement. Visual standard [83 pages, 1922–29] A461, C349/1/10
5 Although headed 'Immigration Encouragement', this file concerns restrictions on the visually impaired. It contains a cable from Percy Hunter, Director of the Migration and Settlement Office in London, to the Prime Minister's Department, 1922, regarding the frequency of one-eyed people being nominated as immigrants and asking…  


  1. This information gives the series title and the date range of the records which make up the series. The series number is shown on the right-hand side.
  2. This shows the location of the series (ie the office of the National Archives where it is held) is also shown.
  3. This gives a brief overview of the contents of the series, the series number, the total volume of records in the series (In some cases only several items within a series will relate to the topic, but in other instances the entire series will be devoted to it), the department or agency which created the series, and the period during which this department or agency was in existence. The 'CA' (Commonwealth Agency) number is a unique identifier allocated by the Archives to each agency. This number can be used to retrieve more information about the agency and the records it created from RecordSearch.
  4. This shows the title given to an item from this series by the creating agency. Sometimes additional information appears in square brackets. This indicates information that has been added by the Archives to clarify the meaning of the title. The dates of the earliest and latest document on the file are also shown. The item’s series number and identifying number appear on the right-hand side. These numbers must be quoted if a copy of the record or access to it is requested.
  5. Where included, this describes the main contents of each item. Note that it does not describe every document on the file. Because of the number of records listed in this guide, contents description has had to be limited. However, where possible, an attempt has been made to describe those items assessed as having special significance.

How the records are described

The records described in the guide include the original item number allocated by the creating agency together with the series number, and these must be cited in any inquiry about the records. Together the series and item numbers provide a useful shorthand way of referring to a specific record item. Details about how to cite the records described in this guide are given under Citing the records.

Individual files can be located electronically by file number or by keyword-in-title searches using the RecordSearch database, which is available in all Archives reading rooms, at the Australian War Memorial, and on the Archives website.

Access to the records

Descriptive information about government agencies or departments and the records which they created is available at series level on the Archives database, which is also available in reading rooms and on the Archives website. RecordSearch can be searched by function or more directly by agency control numbers.

Subject guides and Fact Sheets on various topics are also available in reading rooms and on the Archives website.

Researchers are welcome to visit the National Archives reading rooms and examine the records described in this guide. Before you visit, please make sure that the record is held by the reading room you plan to visit. There is no equivalent of the inter-library loan system for archives. To safeguard the records, they are not moved between the Archives offices and to see the records you will need to visit the reading room in the city shown as the location of the records.

In addition, given that the reading rooms of some of the Archives offices are separate from the main repository area, it may also be beneficial to pre-order any material you wish to see to ensure that it is ready upon your arrival. The turnaround time for the issue of records in each reading room is given in Fact Sheet 20 (Standards of Service). To pre-order records please telephone, write to or email the reading room listed as holding them. Contact details of all offices of the National Archives are given in Fact Sheet 1.

If you cannot visit a reading room you may arrange for a representative to do so on your behalf (see Fact Sheets 40–45 – Research Agents), or alternatively you may wish to obtain a photocopy of the record. To obtain a copy you may telephone, write to or email the relevant reading room. Staff are happy to give photocopy quotes for specific items, but please be sure you have the specific series and item numbers for the records you wish to have copied.


No charges apply to the services described above unless photocopies of records are requested. Copy charges are set out in Fact Sheet 51.

Citing the records

The correct citation of archival records is important both when requesting them from the Archives and when referring to them in written or published works. The correct method of citation will not only help staff of the Archives to more readily locate the records you are seeking, but will also help other researchers to find the material you have used if they wish to examine it for themselves.

The correct form of citation for records held by the National Archives is expressed as follows: the name National Archives of Australia followed by a colon, the series number followed by a comma, and then the item number. An example is:

National Archives of Australia: A461, C349/1/8

The name National Archives of Australia may be abbreviated to 'NAA' provided the full name has been used in the first citation.

Where to obtain more information

If you are unsure about how to request access to any of the records described in this Guide, or if you have any other questions, please contact the reading room in your State or Territory by mail, telephone, facsimile or email.

All contact numbers and addresses are given in Fact Sheets 1 and 2.