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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia


National Archives of Australia

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

While the collection covers almost 200 years of Australian history, its main focus is Commonwealth Government activities since Federation in 1901. The Archives also has significant holdings of 19th-century records transferred by the colonies to the federal government.

Archival resources about South Australia

Image 1: The Chrysler Royal, 1957. This car was manufactured at the Chrysler Australia Ltd plant in Keswick, South Australia. The Archives holds many records relating to manufacturing in South Australia

Image 1: The Chrysler Royal, 1957. This car was manufactured at the Chrysler Australia Ltd plant in Keswick, South Australia. The Archives holds many records relating to manufacturing in South Australia
Photographer: Neil Murray.
NAA: A1200, L23411
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The aim of Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia is to help researchers of South Australian history locate and use government records about the state and its people. It describes the principal records in the Archives' collection that relate to South Australian issues, people and events. While these records are held in Archives offices around the country, the majority can be found in Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney. Relevant information held in other institutions, such as the Australian War Memorial, State Library of South Australia and State Records of South Australia, has also been included.

Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia is structured according to key functions and activities carried out by the Commonwealth Government in South Australia. Each chapter describes selected Archives holdings on relevant subjects and topics. This guide is not exhaustive; it does not seek to include every record associated with South Australia. However, it does highlight areas for further research.

South Australia's settlement as a British colony dates from 1836, with the arrival at Kangaroo Island of four ships chartered by the South Australia Company: Duke of York, Lady May Pelham, John Pirie and Emma. The only Australian colony not to accept convicts directly from Britain, South Australia took on its own identity, shaped by the ambitions of its settlers and diverse natural resources of its landscape.

At Federation South Australia passed on to the new Commonwealth Government a very similar range of functions as those passed on by other colonies – including customs, immigration, defence, copyright and trademarks, lighthouses and communications.

Commonwealth agencies and activities unique to South Australia

Many Commonwealth Government agencies and activities carried out in South Australia are similar to those in other states. However there are a small number of agencies and activities unique to South Australia, including the:

  • Anglo–Australian Joint Project, which undertook weapons research and testing at defence facilities at Salisbury and Woomera
  • supporting role for British nuclear testing at Maralinga and Emu Field
  • Australian National Rail, which was responsible for the Central Australian, Northern Australian and Trans-Australian railways
  • wine industry agencies, including the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation and Wine Overseas Marketing Board.

Access to records

Access to records held by the 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 access 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 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 of the records are available as digital copies on the Archives' website. Research using the online collection database, RecordSearch, will identify digitised records.

To view original records listed in this guide, a researcher will need to visit the reading room of the state or territory office where the 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. In Adelaide, for example, certain Defence Science and Technology Organisation material is held by the agency itself. To view these items, access must be arranged through the Adelaide Office, allowing sufficient time for the clearance, retrieval and transfer of the records.

Inquiries about accessing records held by institutions other than the Archives should be directed to the institution concerned.

Using this guide

Each section of this guide contains tables listing the most relevant records relating to the subject covered. Records are listed as series (groups of records) or as items (individual records), and are arranged by the institution in which they are located. Sample tables, with an explanation of each element, are provided below.

1Selected series relating to quarantine in South Australia
3Quarantine Station, Torrens Island, South Australia
4Unregistered files relating to inspection of ship's crew accommodation, 1943–635 D2243
6Selected items relating to quarantine in South Australia
7Quarantine Station Torrens Island – sites and survey, 1911–288 A1928, 878/5


1 Series 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 Agency title – refers to the agency responsible for the creation of the series. Where the series was created and maintained by several agencies over time, the most common or longest-lived title is used. Occasionally two agencies are used, where both are either common or equally responsible for the creation of the series.

4 Record series title – provides the name of the series. A series is the organisational arrangement used to control and manage records. A series may contain only one record item; others may contain thousands of items. The accumulation date range of the series is included at the end of the title.

5 Series number – provides the identifying number applied to the series. This number is necessary to locate records for storage and retrieval purposes.

6 Item table title – describes the subject area of the items listed in the table.

7 Item title – refers to the name of the item. A record item is usually a file or volume, but it may also be a photograph, map or other format. The item title is usually applied by the person or agency creating the record. The date range of the item contents is included at the end of the title.

8 Series number and item control symbol – provides the combination of series number and item control symbol necessary to identify a record item and allow for its storage and retrieval. This information about an item is almost always required for it to be retrieved from storage. (In cases where a series consists of a single item, the series number will be sufficient information to allow for its retrieval.)

Wherever there are references to series in this guide, it is very likely that a researcher will need to conduct further research to identify particular record items. This research can be conducted online using RecordSearch, or by checking hardcopy indexes or lists (known as 'finding aids') in Archives reading rooms. Some series are only described at series level, with no individual items listed in RecordSearch.

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

Citing records

Image 2: Map showing settled portion of South Australia, 1885

Image 2: Map showing settled portion of South Australia, 1885
NAA: AP476/4, B201
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The correct citation of records is important, both when requesting records and referring to them in written or published works. Using proper citations not only helps staff locate records more readily, but also assists other researchers to find material.

The correct form of citation for records held by the 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 in the first citation. Further details about correctly citing records are available in Fact sheet 7 – Citing archival records, available on the Archives' website.

Correct forms of citations for other institutions should be checked with the relevant institution.

Terminology for currency and measures

In 1966 Australia introduced a system of currency based on dollars and cents to replace pounds, shillings and pence. From the early 1970s the metric system of weights and measures began to replace the imperial system. This guide refers to both imperial and metric units of currency and measures according to which is used in the sources cited.

No attempt has been made to convert those units expressed in imperial terms. However the following conversion scales may be applied:

  • One pound (£1) = two dollars
  • One shilling (1/–) (or 12 pence) = 10 cents
  • One mile = 1.6 kilometres
  • One acre = 0.40 hectares.