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Research Guides


Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


1. The Commonwealth and Tasmania, 1901–2000

Image 1: Map of Tasmania, 1950

Image 1: Map of Tasmania, 1950
NAA: A1200, L13086
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Tasmania is not an island 'entire of itself', it comprises in fact more than 300 islands. Important for our purposes here, Tasmania exists constitutionally within the framework of the Australian federation, thereby setting the outer boundary for this guide.

The records described in this guide were created within a machinery of government framework best understood as having two parts.

The first acknowledges that many Commonwealth records about Tasmania were created at the centres of parliamentary and executive power, from 1901 in Melbourne and after 1927 in Canberra. The variety of agencies and people involved is considerable, of course including Cabinet, members of Cabinet and the key central departments, but also parliamentary committees, Royal Commissions, more permanent commissions, inquiries and councils. The range of relevant bodies is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2, concerning financial relations.

The second part of the records-producing framework, the Commonwealth's Tasmanian entities, are listed in Appendix B. They include the state offices of federal departments. Some were combined with Victoria, but over the century most centred on Hobart alone. Other agencies, pre-eminently post offices, were located throughout Tasmania or, thinking of Australia's most southerly lighthouse on Maatsuyker Island and the weather observers on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, quite remote.

The visibility and operation of this machinery were different. From Parliament with its Tasmanian senators and joint committees, from the metaphoric 'corridors of power' and the Cabinet room, policy and decisions were initiated, influenced and resolved. From the offices of departmental executives and the Treasury flowed both plans to implement government policy and the principal enabling means, money. The Tasmanian-based entities – their buildings and barracks, their employees, actions, administrative processes, services and outward symbols of authority – were more visible and locally more meaningful. And through it all, the red tape piled up, preserved and winnowed influenced by business need and occasionally by more human factors. In time, of course, retention and removal were increasingly shaped by central agencies such as the Public Service Board, and finally an archives agency and its state offices.


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Chapter 1
The Commonwealth and Tasmania, 1901–2000