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Research Guides

Collections in Perth: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records


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.

Using this guide

This guide is designed to assist researchers in accessing records held in the Perth Office of the National Archives. It brings together descriptions of records about a wide range of topics, including communications, customs, defence, immigration, meteorology, primary industry, scientific research and transport. The series are listed chronologically from earliest to most recent within each section.

Although the guide attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the Perth holdings, with an estimated 23 shelf kilometres of records in the collection only a proportion of them can be described.

Record descriptions

Each entry in this guide describes a group of records maintained together as a series. A series is made up of items, which are often individual files (sometimes volumes, sets of cards, photographs, etc) received into the custody of the National Archives from the agency or person who created them. Series usually consist of many items, but occasionally they may consist of just a few items or even a single item.

The content and function of each series listed in this guide is described and some entries conclude with a short list of items selected from the series. As a general rule, this guide identifies rather than analyses the records.

2 Perth

This series consists of records dealing with activities of the Quarantine Office, Fremantle. The files contain information on navigation, ship inspections, newspaper clippings, organisations, staff movements and training, diseases and deaths.
Series: K133
Quantity: 5 metres
Recorded by:1929–91: Australian Quarantine Service, Fremantle, WA(CA 5650)

4 Insects, 1942–83 K133, 12/1
5 Item descriptive text.  


  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.

RecordSearch and PhotoSearch

The two principal National Archives databases, RecordSearch and PhotoSearch, provide information about agencies, persons and series as well as descriptions of over two million individual items. 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.

Genealogical research

Although the National Archives of Australia contains a wealth of information of interest to family history researchers, it is important to remember that most records in its collection were created after Federation in 1901.

The National Archives does not hold records of convicts, colonial migration or nineteen-century Australian history such as the gold rushes, exploration or colonial administration. It does not hold information about functions administered by State and Territory governments, such as births, deaths and marriage registers. If you wish to obtain further information about these subjects, contact the registrar of births, deaths and marriages in the State or Territory relevant to your research.

The records held by the National Archives reflect the growing involvement by government in the lives of individuals throughout the twentieth century, and researching the material described in this guide will yield a substantial amount of genealogical information.

Passenger manifests, for example, contain details of how and when migrants came to WA. Records created by various government agencies that contain information about employees or about departmental interaction with members of the public may be useful sources of family history information. Other valuable research resources include the Hansardrecord, government gazettes, lists of permanent public servants and electoral rolls.

Information about one's family provided by relatives can be verified or corrected with the use of archival documentation. Genealogical societies (such as the Western Australian Genealogical Society) can assist with planning and organising research, suggest publications and institutions that might be relevant and provide general support and encouragement.

The National Archives has also published Finding Families: The Guide to the National Archives of Australia for Genealogists to help genealogical researchers access its records. It can be purchased online or at all offices of the Archives, and copies can be found in most major libraries.

Doing the research

To determine the possible genealogical value of the National Archives collection to you, it is important to consider where, when, why and how members of your family may have had contact with the Commonwealth. Was it an 'interaction' with Commonwealth officials that was likely to have been formalised into immigration documents, contracts, reports, personnel files, licenses or authorisations? Could such interaction have generated correspondence of an ongoing or a one-off nature? Was it a routine matter or something unusual or unique? Do you have any references such as file numbers that might help to locate the relevant records?

Access to the records

Regardless of the type of research you undertake at the National Archives, you will only be able to examine open period records (ie 30 years of age or older) that are no longer considered to contain sensitive information.

If individual items within a series have not been examined, you may apply for access to them. There may be a delay while the material is examined. If items are withheld from public access following this examination, reference staff will explain the nature of the information, why it has been withheld, and how to appeal against the decision. You will also find that not all types of records are considered valuable enough to be retained permanently.

Citing the records

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

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

National Archives of Australia: K1184, 240
NAA: PP168/1, W57/2603

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