Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory


Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory has been produced to commemorate the centenary of the naming of Canberra as Australia's national capital on 12 March 1913. It is a joint project commissioned by the National Archives of Australia and ArchivesACT.

The guide focuses on government administration of Canberra covering specific periods and events over the past century and uses archival records as its foundation. These records are in the custody of the National Archives and ArchivesACT, as well as other institutions including the National Library of Australia, Australian War Memorial and Australian National University Archives. This guide is not exhaustive in that it does not include every record associated with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). It does, however, aim to inform and highlight areas for further research.

Following self-government in 1989, a number of administrative functions passed from the Commonwealth to the ACT Government, for example, electricity and water, health, education and community services. The records dealing with those subjects that had previously been in the custody of the National Archives were transferred to ArchivesACT, in accordance with the archival principle that 'records follow function'. That is, if a particular administrative function moves from one level of government to another, the records dealing with that function are also relocated.

The guide is divided into two parts. Part 1 – Canberra: the national capital – is arranged in chronological order and deals primarily with functions that were (and generally still are) the responsibility of the Commonwealth. Part 2 – Canberra: a community – is arranged thematically and covers a range of subjects that may once have been the responsibility of the Commonwealth but are now mostly the responsibility of the ACT Government.

National Archives of Australia

The National Archives preserves and cares for a diverse archival collection documenting the relationship between the Australian Government and the Australian people – a rich resource for the study of the nation's history, society and people.

The collection spans almost 200 years of Australian history. Its main focus is material documenting Australian Government activities since Federation in 1901. The National Archives also has significant holdings of 19th-century records about functions transferred by the colonies to the Australian Government at the time of, and subsequent to, Federation.

Territory Records Office and ArchivesACT

Image 1: Topographical map of the Federal Territory Australia, circa 1910.

Image 1: Topographical map of the Federal Territory Australia, circa 1910.
NAA: A811, 1/4 part 1 and part 2
Enlarge image - View image gallery

The Territory Records Office was established in 2002 to assist ACT Government agencies to encourage open and accountable government by ensuring that Territory records are made, managed and preserved for the benefit of present and future generations. ArchivesACT is the Territory Records Office's public face, and works to promote the use of government archival records and assist the public to access them.

ACT Government archives document the administration of the Territory since self-government, and also span issues relevant to the local Canberra community before self-government. These records document the Territory's heritage, history, social and political life, the rights and entitlements of Territory citizens, and the actions, decisions and interactions of the ACT Government.

The ArchivesACT website ( provides further information about ACT Government archives, including digital copies of some records, indexes and publications. Researchers can also lodge research questions through the website.

Using this guide

Most sections of this guide contain tables listing relevant records relating to the subject covered. Records are listed as series (groups of records) or as individual items, and are arranged by the institution in which they are located. A sample table, with an explanation of each element, is provided below.

1Selected series relating to high schools
2National Archives
3Telopea Park School
4School at Telopea, 19225 A192, FCL1922/283


1 Table title – describes the subject area of the series listed in the table.

2 Location – indicates the Archives office in which the records are located.

3 Subject sub-heading – groups the records relating to one aspect of the table subject.

4 Series or item title – a series is the organisational arrangement used by the creators of records to control and manage the records. It may contain only one record item or up to thousands of items, The date range of the series contents is provided at the end of the title. A record item is usually a file or a volume (it may also be a photograph, map or other format). The date range of the item contents is included at the end of the title. Note that because of differences in the way ACT Government records are managed, it is not always possible to provide a date range for series and items.

5 Series and item number – provides the combination of series number and item control symbol necessary to identify a record item and allow for its storage and retrieval.

Wherever there are references to series in this guide, it is likely that further research will be required to identify individual items. This research can be conducted online using the National Archives' collection database RecordSearch, or by checking hardcopy indexes or lists (known as 'finding aids') in both National Archives and ArchivesACT reading rooms. Some series are only described at series level, with no individual items listed on RecordSearch.

In this guide, the agency, series and item titles may have been truncated. Therefore, when searching for series or items it is recommended that a researcher use series numbers and control symbols rather than titles.

Commonwealth Cabinet records

The guide makes frequent reference to Cabinet records comprising submissions and decisions, Cabinet being the formal policy and decision-making arm of government. A properly organised Commonwealth Cabinet recordkeeping system did not begin until 1919, with the Ministry of Prime Minister William Morris (Billy) Hughes. The records became more extensive as the years progressed.

The principal series of Cabinet submissions held by the National Archives are as follows:

  • Hughes ministries, 1919–23: A2717
  • Bruce ministries, 1923–29: A2718
  • Scullin ministry, 1929–31: A3264
  • Lyons and Page ministries, 1932–39: A2694
  • Menzies and Fadden ministries, 1939–41: A2697
  • Curtin and Chifley ministries, 1941–49: A2700.

With the election of Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1949, Cabinet recordkeeping became more extensive. The principal record series from 1949 onwards are as follows:

  • Menzies ministries, 1949–66: A4639, A4905, A4906, A4926, A5818, A5819, A5827
  • Holt ministries, 1966–67: A5841, A5842
  • Gorton ministries, 1968–69: A5867, A5868, A5869
  • McMahon ministry, 1969–72: A5908
  • Whitlam ministries, 1972–75: A5915
  • Fraser ministries, 1975–83: A12908, A12909
  • Hawke ministries, 1983–91: A13977, A14039.

ACT Government Cabinet records

Image 2: Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, Canberra, 1964. Construction of the bridge began in March 1961 and it was opened in November 1963.

Image 2: Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, Canberra, 1964. Construction of the bridge began in March 1961 and it was opened in November 1963.
NAA: A1200, L47601
Enlarge image - View image gallery

The ACT Government Cabinet usually meets weekly and, while actual Cabinet documents are not released for 10 years, summaries of Cabinet outcomes are posted online within days of each meeting. This initiative forms part of the open government agenda, designed to make government information more readily available to the wider community. Cabinet outcomes can be found at government/inform/cabinet.

Access to records

National Archives of Australia

Access to records held by the National Archives is regulated by the Archives Act 1983. Under the Archives Act, records in the open period are generally available for public access. A change to the public access provisions of the Act in 2011 saw the open period commence after 20 years – a 10-year reduction from the previous 30 years. This change is being phased in between 2011 and 2020, with the closed period reducing by one year each 1 January. More information on accessing records can be found in Fact sheet 10 – Access to records under the Archives Act, available on the National Archives' website (

Under the Archives Act, there is also provision to withhold information from public access if it is considered sensitive. Information withheld from public access falls into two broad areas: sensitive personal information, and information about the security of the Commonwealth and its residents.

Many records are available as digital copies on the National Archives' website. Research using the online collection database, RecordSearch, will identify such records.

To view original records researchers will need to visit the reading room of the state or territory office where those records are located. Special conditions are applied to certain types of records, such as audiovisual items. It is recommended that a researcher contact the state office where the items are located in order to discuss access conditions.


The Territory Records Act 2002 makes most ACT Government records available to the public once the records are 20 years old. Executive documents – those records produced by the Cabinet of the ACT Government – are released after 10 years. The Territory Records Act allows some records to be withheld from public access for longer periods, usually to protect personal privacy or public safety. A list of categories of records that are not available for public access – known as 'Section 28 Declarations' – is published on the ArchivesACT website. The website also provides information about how to request a record, descriptions of some of the archives held, indexes to records, scanned publications and other tools that may assist researchers.

To view original records, researchers will need to make an appointment to visit the ArchivesACT reading room at Woden Library. ACT Government archives are held in many locations in Canberra, and it may take time to retrieve records and make them available for researchers.

ArchivesACT is usually able to supply photocopies or digital copies of records, and can help with arrangements to make copies of other records such as large-format documents or audiovisual materials. There may be a charge for some types of copies.

Citing records

National Archives of Australia

The correct form of citation for records held by the National Archives is: 'National Archives of Australia' followed by a colon and a space, the series number followed by a comma and a space, then the item control symbol. For example: 'National Archives of Australia: A1, 1938/1181'.

'National Archives of Australia' may be abbreviated to 'NAA' provided the full name has been used first. Further details about correctly citing records are available in Fact sheet 7 – Citing archival records, available on the National Archives' website.


ACT Government archives often do not include series numbers, but still use item numbers. To cite these records, the following details are required:

  • name of the agency currently responsible for the records, for example, Territory and Municipal Services Directorate
  • name of the agency that created the records, for example, Department of the Environment, Land and Planning, ACT Office of Sport and Recreation
  • item number, for example, 92/18160
  • item title, for example, Sport and Recreation Facilities, Erindale Leisure Centre.