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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania

Roles and government

The National Archives' collection just might have some information on the person you are interested in. To state the possibility any stronger would be dishonest. The plain truth is that information about individuals in archives, at least in government archives, tends to be concentrated around specific areas of public life and administration. Famous English historian VH Galbraith once quipped that, 'In so far as a man could keep clear of the king, his history escapes the records'. The observation relates to a century long passed, but it rings true even today. For example, there tends to be more information about a soldier who was killed in action – and the information tends to be kept longer – than one who survived a war unscathed or was never in the front line. And usually, there is more information about a soldier who was court martialled, or achieved many promotions, or received an award for bravery.

Another important point to make about people and government bureaucracies is that usually it helps to know what different roles the person played in life: what 'hats' they wore. 'Soldier' or even 'member of the Australian Defence Force' are examples of a role. In her much praised article for Archives and Manuscripts, 'Evidence of me ...', Professor Sue McKemmish talked about the link between a person's roles and the resulting documents:

Spouse, lover, long-time companion, partner, parent, sibling, child, grandchild, godparent, friend, employee, taxpayer, flatmate, customer, ancestor, descendant ... all these words place individuals in relation to others and in society. Such relationships carry with them socially conditioned ways of behaving and interacting that extend also to recordkeeping behaviour.

The advantage in asking yourself who your person was and what they did, is that if this was of interest to government, files will tend to match or align with this information. For example, to recognise that one of your grandparents was a woman and a Quaker will not be as advantageous in seeking Commonwealth records as discovering that she was an immigrant and a communist. Thus, if someone immigrated to Tasmania, they might well be recorded in the 229 metres of files created by the Tasmanian Branch of the Department of Immigration, which is listed in the National Archives' finding aid system as P3, 'Personal case files, annual single number series with T (Tasmania) prefix, 1951– '. And if someone was active in the Launceston Branch of the Communist Party of Australia, they might well have come to the attention of the Tasmanian Branch of ASIO (CA 1560).

This chapter summarises the main series which include information about individual Tasmanians in particular roles in relation to the Commonwealth Government. They are presented in four broad categories, directly or indirectly reflecting some of the major functions of government:

  • government employees, agents, contractors
  • servants of the Crown
  • recipients of government services
  • subjects of regulation, control and monitoring.


Chapter 7
Finding Tasmanians