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Research Guides

Papua New Guinea Records 1883–1942: Microfilm Collections


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 documents all Federal government activities since Federation in 1901. There are also significant holdings of nineteenth-century records which relate to functions that were 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 collection is provided free of charge in public reading rooms located in each capital city. Researchers are assisted by specialist reference staff and also have available to them a range of reference tools to help them identify and use the records in the collection. These reference tools include databases, guides, publications and fact sheets. Researchers unable to visit a reading room may seek information and assistance by telephone, mail, facsimile or email.

More information about the Archives, the collection and the services provided to researchers is provided on the Archives' Internet site. The site contains descriptions of some of the most frequently used records in the collection and includes images of some original documents and photographs. It also provides online access to the Archives' RecordSearch database, which can be used to search detailed descriptions of the collection as well as descriptions of over 2 million individual items and many photographs. A visit to the site will help a researcher determine whether the Archives holds records that may assist with their research. The site also provides links to other archives in Australia. The site is located at

About this guide

This guide lists a collection of Papua and New Guinea records mainly recorded between 1883 and 1942, the great majority of which have been microfilmed. The records include material from the German administration of New Guinea before 1914. Almost all the original records have been returned to The National Archives and Public Records Services of Papua New Guinea and are no longer in the possession of the National Archives of Australia.

Records from Papua and New Guinea arrived in Australia at different times and for a number of reasons. The German records were initially held due to Australia's invasion of the German colony of Papua in 1914 and the subsequent Australian Military's administration of German New Guinea until 1921. Many of these records were held in Rabaul and were sent to Australia in 1937 after a volcanic eruption. Other material from Papua was sent to Australia in 1942 to escape the Japanese invasion. A history of the records is given in Appendix 4.

The main body of the guide provides some descriptive and other information about each of the Papua New Guinea record series which have been copied and a few other related series.

The guide is divided into a number of chapters, each of which deals with all the records of a particular period and area. As an example, all the records which relate to German New Guinea from 1885 to 1914 as well as the Military Administration records from 1914 to 1921 are grouped together in Chapter 1.

The guide concludes with several appendixes. These provide, for example, more detailed information about the PNG administration and the records themselves, list such information as relevant acronyms and abbreviations, give an index to the series by page number and also give the National Archives contact addresses.

German language records

Germany administered New Guinea from 1884 to 1914. German traders had effectively dominated the eastern side of New Guinea from as early as 1873. The German Government feared England would destroy these commercial interests by annexation of the area. This led, in 1884, to Germany annexing the north-eastern part of the island and some offshore islands. The German Government at this time did not plan to administer the area directly. It was prepared to allow administration by the Neu Guinea Kompagnie provided the Kompagnie met appropriate obligations to the native inhabitants. Problems with land and labour led the German Government to assume direct control in 1899.

The German Government realised a large investment in infrastructure would be needed and began long-term planning for development. Many of the improvements, such as an effective radio station, were just beginning to bear fruit by the time war began in Europe in 1914. Australian troops occupied German New Guinea in 1914 and the administration formally became the British Administration of German New Guinea. At this time international law agreements meant that the German administrative procedures would be followed until a formal peace treaty was signed. This would have meant, for example, that the language of administration would have continued to be German. Pointing out significant violations of the agreement by the Australian Army, all German officials resigned in December 1914.

The administration then was effectively run by the Australian Army with the Administrator reporting to the Australian Department of Defence. The formal signing of the peace treaty in Europe led to the end of this regime and the granting of the Australian mandate in May 1921. The majority of records held by the Archives are administrative, financial and legal; a small quantity dating from as early as 1885.

Papua and New Guinea records

The British New Guinea records begin in the early 1880s. England was pushed into annexing the region largely by the concern of the Australian colonies that another major power would establish a colony in the area. Queensland had annexed south-east New Guinea in 1883 but the British Government repudiated this unless the Australian colonies were prepared to pay for the cost of administration. In 1887 Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria agreed to provide funds and in 1888 Britain formally annexed the south-east part of the island as British New Guinea. It became known as Papua from 1906 when it effectively came under Australian control.

The early British administration was concerned about maintaining the supply of native labour for the gold mines, the main earner of export revenue. Control was exerted mainly by the 'armed native police' initially recruited from the Pacific Islands and later from the mainland. The administration in German New Guinea was more formal and more concerned with native development than the administration in British New Guinea. After the military occupation by Australian troops in 1914 observers noted the significantly greater development in German New Guinea. Military administration followed in the north until the Australian League of Nations mandate in 1921.

From 1921 to 1939 lack of policy direction and the Great Depression meant little development occurred in Papua or New Guinea under the Australian mandate and Australia was regularly criticised by the League of Nations. In 1937 a volcanic eruption destroyed much of Rabaul and led to serious administrative problems with most records being sent to Australia. Normal administration had not resumed before the Japanese invaded in 1942. The fighting over the next three years led to further records being sent to Australia, or destroyed.

Papua New Guinea records since 1945

The records in Australia were not returned to Papua New Guinea immediately after the war. Certainly, the effects of the Japanese invasion and the United Nations mandate after the 1939–45 War made many of the policies current before the war no longer appropriate. The records were held in storage in Australia awaiting a decision on their fate now that new policies meant that the records had only historical significance.

Most of the material was sent to the National Archives in 1963. Planning for the microfilming of the material began when the decision was made to return the original material to Papua New Guinea in the same year. After a number of tests over the next few years a significant quantity of material was filmed and this filmed original material was returned to Papua New Guinea between 1968 and 1977. A number of constraints after 1977, including financial, led to a much reduced rate of filming but almost all of the material was filmed by 1994. In mid 1997 the final delivery of original material and microfilm copies was made.

Description of the records

The records described in each of the chapters of the guide are listed in date order, from the date the first item in the series was recorded.

They are controlled and located by their CRS (Commonwealth Record Series) number. The CRS number is derived from the CRS system, which is the main system of arrangement and control used by the Archives to identify and describe Commonwealth records. Under the CRS system records are described and controlled as series (groups of related record items), with each series being given a unique CRS number, title and description. The CRS number must be cited in any inquiry about the records. It provides a useful shorthand way of referring to a specific series. For example, the group of records identified by the Archives as CRS G254 is known as 'Administrative records of German New Guinea, 1899–1914'. This series contains about 200 files mainly dealing with legal matters dealt with in the German Courts in different administrative districts. It may be referred to simply as G254.

The descriptive information provided about each series includes:

  • its CRS (series) number
  • its title
  • the date range of the records in the series
  • the number of rolls of microfilm
  • a short description of its contents
  • the location of copies

Most of the items in these series are described at item level in our online database, RecordSearch, which is available in our reading rooms and on our website at Descriptive information at series level is also available on RecordSearch.

Microfilming records

The use of copies not only preserves original items from the wear and tear of reference use, but can also increase the public accessibility of frequently used genealogical and historical material. However, microfilming is expensive and only a very small percentage of records is sufficiently unique, fragile or in demand to be worthwhile microfilming. The Papua New Guinea material is unique in that most of the original material is no longer in Australia and the microfilm is the only method of accessing these records in Australia.

Public access to the records

No access restrictions apply to the PNG microfilm. Most of the documents recorded on the PNG microfilm are not Commonwealth records as they do not document functions which are the responsibility of the Australian government.

Access to Commonwealth records relating to Papua New Guinea, for example those listed in Chapter 5 and discussed in Appendix 1, is provided in accordance with the provisions of the Archives Act 1983.

To locate and access the records listed in this Guide

Using the series descriptions provided in this guide, identify which series you are interested in and make a note of their series numbers (these are the numbers which appear on the right-hand side of each series title).

A copy of all the microfilm is held by the Archives in Canberra. For some of the series listed in this guide copies of the microfilm are held by our reading rooms in all capital cities. A few of the series were found on examination to be Commonwealth records. These have not been copied as these originals will not be sent to Papua New Guinea.

If the microfilm is held by the reading room you are visiting it may be shelved in the reading room on a 'self help' basis, or it may need to be retrieved from a secondary storage area. Ask a reference officer if you have any problems locating or using the material.


No charges apply to the services described above unless copies 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: G254, 68. The name National Archives of Australia may be abbreviated to 'NAA'.

In this guide, the series and item numbers appear on the right-hand side of the page, and should be cited when ordering records.

Where to obtain more information

If you have other questions about the records we suggest that you contact the Archives in your State or Territory by mail, telephone, facsimile or email. Our addresses and contact information are given in Appendix 6.