While it is oversimplifying a complex situation, it is often useful to see the Australian Government as having had a dual role in relation to Papua New Guinea before its independence. Many of the records covered by this guide are in effect those produced by the Australian administration in Papua New Guinea relating to governing Papua New Guinea itself. The Australian Government also dealt with Papua New Guinea almost as it would have treated a foreign country and created many records dealing with aspects of Papua New Guinea as it affected Australia. These other Commonwealth records are those which relate to other normal functions of the Australian government dealing with other countries, such as foreign aid, military and diplomatic ties.
The collection of material held by the National Archives for functions concerning the Australian people, such as social security, would normally include much information including day-to-day administration, particular events and people. Australian Government records relating to other countries such as Papua New Guinea would normally be more likely to be concerned with government policy and programs. However the control exerted by Australia, coupled with the small number of administrative staff working in Papua New Guinea, meant a surprisingly large amount of normal routine administrative work relating to Papua New Guinea was carried out in Australia.
Policy material created by the Australian Government relating to Papua New Guinea, like most policy material, would normally be held by the central office of a Department, rather than a state or regional office. In the case of Papua New Guinea the administrative records tend to be also with the central offices. Both policy and administrative records are mainly held in Melbourne for most Departments before 1927 and, reflecting the move to Canberra, most after 1927 are held in Canberra. The departments most closely involved with Australia's policy towards Papua New Guinea during the period covered by this guide are:
There is no single centralised collection of, or index to, records within the National Archives. Many of the records in the collection are not clearly identifiable as being about a particular subject. The information can range from record items containing incidental or passing references to a particular subject through to detailed case files about specific subjects. Other information might be contained in records on apparently unrelated subjects and will only be identified by checking the record itself. This is a characteristic of archival records everywhere, and it makes research based on archival sources an analytical and labour intensive process.
Archival research involves the study of unique, original documents. Consequently, the storage areas of the Archives, unlike those of most libraries, may not be browsed by researchers wishing to identify records that might be relevant. This means that researchers are entirely reliant on indexes and guides to locate material of relevance to their research.
The Archives' role is to assist researchers to understand and use the indexes and other reference tools. The Archives does not undertake detailed research on behalf of researchers, nor does it interpret the records.
The databases, fact sheets and guides created and maintained by the Archives to help researchers identify relevant records are called finding aids. These are available to all in our reading rooms.
These guides are invaluable starting points for research, but some of them can be complex documents to use. Researchers interested in very specific inquiries, for example, about their families or a particular army unit, pastoral station or person will not normally find the 'answer' in them.
While the Archives has the leading role in regulating access to records over 30 years old, the Archives does not have power to regulate access to records less than 30 years old. Commonwealth records less than 30 years old are known as 'closed period' records, reflecting the fact that they are closed to public access under the Archives Act. Access to these records may be sought by approaching the agency which created the records (or its successor) direct under the Freedom of Information Act, or by seeking permission from the agency for the discretionary release of the records.
Identify the agency which recorded the records you want to examine. A computerised database is available in all reading rooms on which you can search for the agency name and number. With the agency number you can get a list of all record series recorded by this agency. You can get a detailed description of all of these series. Using the series descriptions, identify which series you are interested in and make a note of their series numbers.
You must now identify the individual record items you wish to see. Some material may have been previously access examined and be listed on RecordSearch; otherwise you will need to use the contemporary indexes and listings to locate the items you want to see.
Visit, write, fax, email or telephone the Archives in the State or Territory where the records are held. You will need to cite the series numbers you identified in Step 1. You may identify the record items in either of two ways, depending on whether you write, telephone or visit.
If you visit a reading room
If you cannot visit a reading room
All offices of the Archives provide a copying service. The copies most frequently provided are photocopies although photographic copies, microform and other copying can be arranged. The Archives' copying fees are set to cover costs only (photocopying costs $1.00 for the first three pages and $0.30 for each subsequent page).