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Research Guides


Collections in Perth: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records


1. Perth Office

History of the Perth Office

In 1950, the then Chief Archives Officer of the National Library recommended that an archives repository be established in Perth but it was not until 1957, more than half a century after Federation, that the Western Australian Repository began operations in a shed opposite Karrakatta Cemetery.

By then, a considerable quantity of Commonwealth records had been created in Western Australia. At that time Commonwealth agencies with overflowing registries solved their storage problems in one of three ways. They either stored their records somewhere convenient (often in a basement or similarly unsuitable storage environment) or sent them to their agency's head office in Canberra or Melbourne. Sometimes they simply destroyed them.

The first Archives repository in Western Australia was a 50-by-15-metre asbestos and cement structure with a rising damp problem and no air conditioning. The condition of the building was gradually improved over the next two decades as archival holdings doubled from 3 100 metres in 1960 to 6 100 metres in 1970.

In 1976, the Perth Office of the National Archives was moved to East Victoria Park. A purpose-built facility was constructed on an 11 000-square metre site. Today it is capable of storing over 30 000 metres of records in environmentally controlled and energy efficient repositories. The complex is designed to provide a secure and suitable environment for the records, Archives staff and the public.

In 1974, only five researchers sought access to the records held in the Karrakatta repository, but by 1989 this number had grown to 540, with over 750 other inquiries. The number of public inquiries continued to grow during the 1990s (eg there were over 2 500 public inquiries in 1995) as the National Archives of Australia focused its attention on encouraging the use of archival records.

Genealogy has always featured as an important and popular area of research. Other research has focused heavily on matters such as Commonwealth property and buildings, migration, defence (eg the loss of HMAS Sydney, aerodromes in the north west, internments, prisoners of war and individual service histories), early metropolitan aerodromes, shipping, postal history, and Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The benefits of electronic guides and microfilming have become available to researchers visiting the Perth Office, helping it to become both a repository for material held in WA and a conduit through which researchers can seek Commonwealth information held outside the State. The Perth Office has evolved from being merely a local repository into a fully integrated – and integral – part of the National Archives.

Western Australian records held in other offices of the National Archives

Other offices of the National Archives hold Commonwealth records relating to Western Australia. Thousands of Commonwealth records about Western Australian issues are held in the Canberra and Victorian repositories of the National Archives because historically the head offices of most agencies were in Melbourne and, later, in Canberra. The records are first and foremost Commonwealth records and this situation is similar for most other 'non-head office' States.

Some of these records were not actually created in WA although they described or directed Western Australian activity. In other cases, records were sent to the head office of an agency as a records management procedure because no safe storage site existed in WA until 1957. Often the head office of an agency amalgamated or consolidated information from a number of State offices into one file or group of files.

Commonwealth records relating to WA but held outside the State include records archived by the Department of Defence. Most Defence records relating to departmental policy and practice in WA are to be found in the repositories of either the Canberra Office or the Melbourne Office of the National Archives. As with other Commonwealth agencies, this anomaly was caused by a combination of the mode of operation of Defence and by the lack of a suitable storage site in WA until 1957.

With few notable exceptions, the only WA-relevant Department of Defence records dated prior to the end of World War II and held in Perth are administrative records relating to enlistments, personnel payments, internments and prisoner-of-war case files. The Perth Office also holds a 1916–20 series of military intelligence records, probably because the ownership of the records was transferred to the Commonwealth Investigation Service.

A similar situation applies to records created by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Tens of thousands of case files are held in WA, but virtually all Immigration policy records are held in Melbourne or Canberra where the department's head office was located. Documented decisions of considerable importance do not appear to have been made outside Immigration's head office.

Other records, such as those about the construction of the national railway from Kalgoorlie, WA to Port Augusta, SA are held in the Adelaide repository, while numerous logs of ships with strong Western Australian connections are now located in Sydney. Moreover the personal records of some prominent Western Australian 'Commonwealth' people are located at the National Archives repository in Canberra.

Some series, however, have been relocated to WA. For example, the series PP214/1, originally located in Melbourne, was forwarded to the Perth Office because it dealt with the disposal of Commonwealth land and buildings in WA. The series PP10/1PP10/2 and PP10/4, which relate to whaling in Western Australian waters, were created in Perth but sent to Melbourne prior to the end of whaling activities. However, in 1984 these series were returned to the Perth Office.

Appendix 1 lists record series held outside Western Australia that contain significant Western Australian material.

Unique Western Australian records

Few Commonwealth agencies are unique to Western Australia, but several have special significance such as the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands administrations, the Watheroo Magnetic Observatory, the Mundaring Geophysical Observatory and the Carnarvon Tracking Station, the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Pearce and the Special Air Service Regiment based at Campbell Barracks.

Outstanding or unique records include the inwards passenger manifests for the Port of Fremantle and for Perth Airport, which date from 1898 through to 1978, and the WA Telecom Museum records, Bureau of Meteorology records – some dating back to 1829 – and the World War I Army Intelligence records.

Below is a list of unique or outstanding Western Australian records located in Perth. The records are listed from the oldest series to the most recent.

WESTERN AUSTRALIAN POST OFFICE HISTORY FILES, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1850–1975
Perth
This series is principally about the opening and closing of post offices in WA, early post office plans and photographs, and details of postal transactions.
Series: K1209
Quantity: 5 metres
Recorded by: 1850–1975: Postmaster-General's Department – Post and Telecom Museum Collection, WA (CA 1035)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1883–1938
Perth
This series contains administrative and general correspondence files for all branches of the Postmaster-General's Department. Subjects covered include the inauguration and extension of letter deliveries, the acquisition of building sites, the erection and acquisition of new buildings, the setting aside of reserves for Commonwealth public buildings, and the erection of telephone and telegraph lines throughout the State.
Series: K1
Quantity: 10 metres
Recorded by: 1883–1926: Postmaster-General's Department, WA (CA 1035)
INWARDS PASSENGER MANIFESTS FOR SHIPS AND AIRCRAFT ARRIVING AT FREMANTLE PORT AND PERTH AIRPORT, CHRONOLOGICAL SERIES, 1898–1974
Perth
The files in these series contain information about people who arrived at the Port of Fremantle and Perth Airport from interstate and overseas.
Series: K269
Quantity: 95 metres
Recorded by: 1898–1945: Controller of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–74: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
1945–74: Department of Immigration, WA Branch
Perth
The albums in this series contain photographs of phosphate mining operations carried out on Christmas Island.
Series: K733
Quantity: 3 metres
Recorded by: 1909–48: Christmas Island Phosphate Company (CA 6799); 1949–69: Christmas Island Phosphate Commission (CA 281)
INTELLIGENCE REPORTS OF INTERNMENTS, REPATRIATIONS, AFFILIATIONS AND GENERAL INVESTIGATIONS, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1915–20
Perth
This series contains reports of investigations made by the WA Police Force at the request of Military Intelligence into the activities, movements and statements of aliens.
Series: PP14/1
Quantity: 8 metres
Recorded by: 1915–19: Headquarters, 5th Military District [I], Commonwealth Military Forces (CMF), WA (CA 4811); 1919–20: Investigation Branch, WA (CA 908)
REGISTER OF ALIENS MAINTAINED UNDER WAR PRECAUTIONS (ALIENS REGISTERED) REGULATIONS 1916, 1916–20
Perth
This register consists of two types of cards: Form A1 – Application for Registration (for aliens resident in Commonwealth), and Form A2 – Application for Registration (for aliens entering Commonwealth in overseas vessels). The cards provide personal particulars and other information.
Series: PP14/3
Quantity: 32 metres
Recorded by: 1916–19: Headquarters, 5th Military District [I], CMF, WA (CA 4811); 1919–20: Investigation Branch, WA (CA 908)
ALIEN PASSPORTS AND TRAVEL DOCUMENTS, 1925–45
Perth
This series contains passports and associated travel documents taken from all aliens in Australia under the provisions of the Immigration Act 1920. This action ceased on 30 December 1950.
Series: PP9/4
Quantity: 13 metres
Recorded by: 1925–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
REGISTER/INDEX FOR CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'DOXI' PREFIX, 1945–57
Perth
This series contains registers and indexes to Christmas Island correspondence files.
Series: N3
Quantity: 0.18 metres
Recorded by: 1945–57: Colony of the Straits Settlements (from 1946, Singapore) District Office, Christmas Island (CA 1323)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'DOXI' PREFIX, 1946–58
Perth
This series contains Christmas Island correspondence and administration files.
Series: N1
Quantity: 1 metre
Recorded by: 1945–57: Colony of the Straits Settlements (from 1946, Singapore) District Office, Christmas Island (CA 1323)
CHILD MIGRATION SELECTION DOCUMENTS – BRITISH CHILDREN, 1947–59
Perth
This series contains selection documents used for the Commonwealth child migration scheme.
Series: PP93/10
Quantity: 2 metres
Recorded by: 1947–59: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 'EG' (EDWARD MILLEN) PREFIX, 1952–80
Perth
This series contains correspondence files from the Edward Millen Hospital.
Series: K641
Quantity: 0.72 metres
Recorded by: 1952–80: Edward Millen Hospital, WA (CA 6765)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (SECOND SYSTEM), 1955–
Perth
This series contains Cocos (Keeling) Islands administration files.
Series: K812
Quantity: 15 metres
Recorded by: 1955–: Cocos (Keeling) Islands Administration (CA 3802)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, ALPHABETICAL PREFIXES AND INFIXES, 1957– (CONTENTS RANGE: 1969– )
Perth
This series contains general correspondence files of the Special Air Service Regiment. Subjects covered include counter-terrorist activities, training, operations and exercises.
Series: K1130
Quantity: 20 metres
Recorded by: 1957–: Special Air Service Regiment, Australian Army (CA 5798)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'ACI' PREFIX, 1958–59
Perth
This series contains Christmas Island correspondence and administration files.
Series: N2
Quantity: 1 metre
Recorded by: 1958–59: Official Representative, Christmas Island (CA 1325)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CHRISTMAS ISLAND ADMINISTRATION, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1958– (CONTENTS RANGE: 1947–94)
Perth
This series contains Christmas Island correspondence and administration files.
Series: N7
Quantity: 23 metres
Recorded by: 1958: Administrator, Christmas Island [I] (CA 1324); 1958–68: Official Representative, Christmas Island (CA 1325); 1968–: Administrator, Christmas Island [II] (CA 1326)
SEISMOGRAMS, CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER WITHIN RECORDING STATION, 1958–
Perth
This series consists of seismograms recording information about the earth's movements. The recordings are used to determine the location and Richter scale magnitude of earthquakes in order to study their faulting mechanisms.
Series: K732
Quantity: 62 metres
Recorded by: 1958–59: Watheroo Magnetic Observatory, WA (CA 3679); 1959–: Mundaring Geophysical Observatory, WA (CA 3539)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1958– (CONTENTS RANGE: 1947–94)
Perth
This is the main correspondence series of the Christmas Island Administration.
Series: N7
Quantity: 22.68 metres
Recorded by: 1958: Administrator, Christmas Island (CA 1324); 1958–68: Official Representative, Christmas Island (CA 1325); 1968–: Administrator, Christmas Island [II] (CA 1326)
PHOTOPRINTS: US NATIONAL AND AERONAUTIC SPACE ADMINISTRATION, 1960–65
Perth
This series contains coloured, sepia and black-and-white photoprints made available by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the American Projects Branch of the Department of Supply for public exhibition.
Series: PP300/1
Quantity: 0.01 metres
Recorded by: 1963–65: Carnarvon Tracking Station (CA 3677)
FILE REGISTER CARDS FOR CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1968–
Perth
This series consists of file registration and movement cards for the agency's correspondence file series (N7).
Series: N9
Quantity: 0.36 metres
Recorded by: 1968: Official Representative, Christmas Island (CA 1325); 1968–: Administrator, Christmas Island [II] (CA 1326)
SUBJECT INDEX REGISTER FOR CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1968–
Perth
This series consists of a subject index showing details of files raised for the N7 correspondence series. The index did not commence until 1968.
Series: N10
Quantity: 0.18 metres
Recorded by: 1968: Official Representative, Christmas Island (CA 1325); 1968–: Administrator, Christmas Island [II] (CA 1326)

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