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Research Guides

Royalty and Australian Society: Records relating to the British Monarchy held in Canberra


The National Archives of Australia

Image 1: 75 percent of Australians saw Queen Elizabeth at least once in 1954.

Image 1: 75 percent of Australians saw Queen Elizabeth at least once in 1954.
NAA: A1773, RV1283
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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.

The impact and meaning of the monarchy

The influence of British royalty upon Australian society and culture is both widespread and profound. The monarchy is not only at the foundation of our major political institutions, it is also a social and cultural phenomenon. Kings and queens affect our dress, our conversation, and the currency in our pockets. We live in streets, towns and states named in their honour and are born and die in hospitals bearing their names. But greater than that, the existence of royalty over the past one hundred years has affected notions of who we are and the responsibilities we have. Do we die for King and Country? Shall God save the Queen?

In contemporary society, the importance of royalty to Australia is often rejected or repudiated. Healthy scepticism for institutions such as the monarchy and the continual run of 'royal scandals' documented in the tabloids make it hard today to believe in the importance of a king or queen.

But to generations of Australians the monarchy and the system it represents have been of profound significance. While the depiction and analysis of royalty are now perceived to be chiefly the domain of women's magazines, this view denies the importance of royalty to Australian society as a whole.

From Prime Minister Robert Menzies, pledging in 1963 to love the Queen until he died, to the reaction of ordinary Australians, the emotional impact of royalty has been widespread:

The expressions on the faces of people as they passed the Prince should indeed have been a field day for the psychologist. Many women came away from the Royal dais with tears streaming down their faces. Others, men and women, came past radiant with smiles bubbling over in laughter with their enthusiasm1.

Mr Alan Treloar, of Glenferrie Road Malvern and ex Tobruk Rat, cried when he saw the Queen at the MCG ex-service rally yesterday. 'I just couldn't help it,' he said afterwards. 'The sight of our young queen makes you realise that everything you've ever fought for is worthwhile.2'

Polls taken at the time of Queen Elizabeth's royal tour in 1954 indicate that seventy five percent of Australians saw her at least once during the tour3. For Australia's disparate and widespread population, this huge percentage is indicative of the interest generated by royalty and its importance to the community.

In contemporary Australia, where some now regard the Queen as 'a foreigner with embarrassing children'4 these responses may seem difficult to understand. But the devotion to the monarchy felt at the personal level has traditionally been reinforced at the highest official levels.

Former Prime Minister Robert Menzies described the importance of the monarchy to the Australian nation in the following manner:

It is a basic truth that for our Queen we have within us, sometimes unrealised until the moment of expression, the most profound and passionate feelings of loyalty and devotion. It does not require much imagination to realise that when eight million people spontaneously pour out this feeling they are engaging in a great act of common allegiance and common joy which brings them closer together and is one of the most powerful elements converting them from a mass of individuals to a great cohesive nation. In brief, the common devotion to the Throne is a part of the very cement of the whole social structure5.
Image 2: Crowds along Swanston Street in Melbourne to see the Queen Mother, 1958.

Image 2: Crowds along Swanston Street in Melbourne to see the Queen Mother, 1958.
NAA: A1766, QMV341
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Societal change wrought by decades of immigration and the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975 are but two of the factors that have changed dramatically the meaning and significance of the monarchy for many Australians. However, its significance at the Constitutional and political levels endures, as does the emotional attachment which many individuals still feel towards the institution itself, as well as to the reigning Queen.

The records described in this Guide illustrate that while the British monarchy today may mean little to many Australians, for most of the twentieth century the nation has been imbued with a sense of loyalty, devotion and even fervour towards the monarchy the strength of which can only be appreciated by reference to the records which document the nature and closeness of the relationship between Australians and their monarch.

It is through the records described in this Guide that one develops a sense of what it meant as an ordinary Australian, forty, fifty, or ninety years ago, to mourn the death of a monarch, to rejoice at the coronation of new king or queen, or to celebrate the many royal visits to Australia this century.

In particular, it is though the immense popularity that surrounded each royal visit that the popular sentiment of both the individual and the political establishment was most effusively expressed. Through the records it describes, the Guide attempts to create an understanding of the role the monarchy has played in shaping Australia socially, culturally and politically.

About this guide

The scope of the Guide

The breadth of records relating to royalty held by the National Archives shows how significant the monarchy has been to the past one hundred years of Australian history. This guide seeks to document, through describing a selection of relevant records, the impact of the British monarchy on Australia.

The last century saw six monarchs on the British throne:

  • Victoria (1837–1901)
  • Edward VII (1901–10)
  • George V (1910–36)
  • Edward VIII (1936)
  • George VI (1936–52)
  • Elizabeth II (1952–)

This Guide describes records relating to each of these monarchs and the members of the royal family listed in the table below. This material includes records documenting the preparation for and reaction to royal visits to Australia, and general correspondence relating to events such as royal births, weddings and funerals, as well as correspondence concerning accessions and coronations. The Guide also lists records relating to proposed royal visits to Australia which, for various reasons, never eventuated. Special attention is also given to ways in which the monarchy has affected the Australian political system, such as the abdication of Edward VIII or the Governor-Generalship of the Duke of Gloucester.

Royal visits to Australia

Between 1901 and 1968, the following members of the royal family visited Australia:

Member of the Royal Family Date of Tour
Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later George V and Queen Mary) 1901
Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) 1920
Duke and Duchess of York (later George VI and Queen Elizabeth) 1927
Duke of Gloucester 1934
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh 1954
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh 1956
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother 1958
Princess Alexandra 1959
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh 1960
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh 1962
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh 1963
Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent 1964
Duke and Duchess of Gloucester 1965
Elizabeth the Queen Mother 1966
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh 1968

The records

Major departmental files

Records relating to royalty are concentrated within the collections of four major government departments – the Prime Minister's Department (today the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet), the Office of the Governor-General, the Department of External Affairs (today the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), and the Department of Defence.

Since its inception, the Prime Minister's Department has traditionally taken responsibility for the planning and organisation of royal tours, and the bulk of the records relating to the inception, planning or reaction to any one tour were created by this agency.

Numerous references throughout the Guide are also made to records of a general nature about members of the royal family. These more general records tend to have been created by the Department of External Affairs or the Office of the Governor-General and often concern the birth, death or accession of particular members of the royal family and the change in protocol that this necessitated.

In particular, records relating to the death of a monarch are quite numerous. This is because the death of a king or queen was not only significant at a personal and emotional level, but because the death had a widespread effect administratively. Coinage, oaths, naturalisation certificates, official protocol all had to be altered to accommodate the new monarch. Official mourning periods had to be set and observed and black bordered stationery had to be purchased for use during the official mourning period. Therefore the death of a monarch was significant in terms of Commonwealth administration and this is reflected in the surviving records.

The Department of Defence also had responsibility for many areas of royal visit administration. In particular it took responsibility for arranging transport and staffing for many of the later tours. Records documenting these actions are represented throughout the following chapters.

Miscellaneous departmental files

Royalty, however, has not solely been the preserve of the major government departments. Since its inception, the Commonwealth Government has had responsibility for a wide number of disparate and wide ranging activities, in addition to the more traditional responsibilities such as defence and international relations. Records relating to royalty created by these smaller, specialist agencies are also included in this Guide and provide a different perspective on the history of royalty in Australia.

As an example, from 1907 through to 1968, all applications for artistic and literary copyright in Australia had to be submitted to the Copyright Office. As a result, the National Archives holds a large number of applications for artistic and literary copyright, and among these are numerous applications inspired by royalty or documenting a particular royal visit.

These records reflect the public perception of royalty and are an interesting supplement to the administrative histories represented in the major departmental files.

In a further example, the records of the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board are held by the National Archives' Sydney office. Certain records from this agency's collection are very telling in what they divulge about the official reaction to revelations about Kind Edward and his relationship with Mrs Simpson. As is discussed in the section of the Guide relating to the abdication, the deletion of film footage concerning the relationship of King Edward and Mrs Simpson was extensive. The Film Censorship Board's records are therefore useful in demonstrating the atmosphere of secrecy and restriction that existed at the time of the abdication.

One final example of the different perspective on royal events provided by the records of smaller agencies comes from the holdings of the Commonwealth security agencies. A number of files involving arrangements for security procedures and security issues of concern to the government are included in the relevant sections of the Guide.

Photographic holdings

The collection of the National Archives includes a vast number of photographic images, many of which document the royal visits to Australia from the early twentieth century.

One of the Archives' most significant photographic collections, the Mildenhall collection of photographs of early Canberra, contains a large number of images of the royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1927. The royal couple visited Australia for the purpose of opening Parliament House in Canberra and photographs of the event were taken by the official photographer of the Federal Capital Commission, William James Mildenhall. These images are now held within Mildenhall's larger collection of photographs which documents the evolution of Canberra between 1921 and 1935. Several of Mildenhall's photographs are reproduced though this Guide and reference is made to other relevant items contained within his collection in the appropriate sections of the Guide.

Photographic records of later royal visits are also held by the National Archives. In 1950 the Australian News and Information Bureau (ANIB) was established as the successor agency to the Department of Information. The principal aim of ANIB was to encourage migration to Australia but it also sought to publicise Australia's diversity, growth, achievements and significant activities both within the country and to the overseas community.

ANIB and its successors therefore became responsible for recording photographically the various royal visits to Australia, from 1950 onwards. This agency's records are now held by the National Archives and information about them is included within the appropriate chapters of this Guide. Related captions and images are also available on the PhotoSearch – search under the subject heading Royalty.

Identification of the records

Although records relating to various members of the royal family are held in the National Archives' offices across the country, the Guide principally describes records held by the Archives in Canberra.

The Guide focuses virtually exclusively on records held by the Archives in Canberra because at the Commonwealth level it was in Canberra that planning and administration of matters and events involving the monarch and the royal family were principally undertaken. The preparation for each royal visit was traditionally co-ordinated by the Prime Minister's Department, and as this Department has long been located in Canberra, the bulk of its records are held there. Consequently, the records provide a good overview of the government's relations with royalty and administration of royal events.

While records relating to royalty are held in each of the Archives' offices, this material has usually been created by the state offices of departments which have their central offices in Canberra. Details of these state office activities is often documented on central office files. In addition, the activities undertaken by departmental state offices in conjunction with a royal visit were often single occurrences within the larger tour.

However, a number of records held in offices other than Canberra are listed in this Guide. These records have been included because they represent an aspect of a tour or a reaction to a member of the royal family that is not documented within the collection in Canberra. In the Guide, where a record held in an office other than Canberra is referred to, reference to its location is made in its item description.

It should also be made clear that although all royal visits were to a large extent co-ordinated at the Federal level, the various state governments across Australia were responsible for the organisation of events occurring within their jurisdiction. Therefore, records relating to each of the royal tours should also be held by the various state archives. Contact details for these institutions are given in Fact Sheet 2.

For the period represented by this Guide, however, both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory were administered by the Federal Government, and so records relating to royal events in these two Territories are held in Canberra.

This Guide identifies and describes rather than analyses the records. It is for researchers to make their own assessment and to place their own interpretation on the informational content of the records.

The selection of records for inclusion

The information listed in this Guide is not a complete account of all records held by the National Archives relating to British royalty. Because the Archives collection of such records is so extensive, what is represented here is often merely an indicator of the variety of material held in the collection.

Given the scope of the task, in compiling this Guide it was decided to list the material which possessed either the greatest significance or potentially the greatest research interest. This has lead to the inclusion of a large number of items concerning each significant member of the royal family and each royal tour through to 1968, but it should be remembered that no listing within this Guide is necessarily definitive.

This Guide only documents royal visits from 1901 to 1968 and members of the royal family who were prominent in Australia during this period. As mentioned above, the National Archives holds records created by the Commonwealth Government, and as this government only came into being in 1901, this is the date from which the bulk of the collection dates. Given that the momentous events of 1901 could not have occurred without royal sanction and were commemorated with a royal visit, 1901 therefore seemed a logical place to begin the Guide.

The year 1968 was chosen as an end point because of the restrictions on access to archival material imposed by the thirty year rule. The Archives Act 1983 which governs access to Commonwealth records only allows public access to this material after thirty years. Material created in 1967 became available on 1 January 1998, and material created in 1968 will become available on 1 January 1999. The vast majority of records described in the Guide are wholly available for public access.

Most of the records that remain withheld from public access are those relating to the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. Details of the restrictions still applying to these records are given below under 'Access to the records'.

Description of the records

Arrangement of material within the guide

Information in this Guide is arranged (roughly chronologically) by the names of the members of the royal family who are well documented in the collection. Within this division, the records are arranged chronologically and according to whether they are general files concerning the individual, or records relating to a specific royal visit.

Information about the records in the collection for each individual or each royal tour is arranged hierarchically, in the following fashion. If a government agency was directly involved in the administration of a royal event, a description of this agency appears first. Following this is a description of all the record series, or groups of records, that relate to the person or event. Finally, a description of selected individual items is given.

Contextual information

To fully understand a record it is often helpful to know certain things about it in addition to its contents. For example, it helps to know who created the record, when it was created and what other records exist that deal with the same general subject or issue. This information provides the context of the record, which helps researchers to interpret what the record is really about, determine its relevance, and decide how accurate or complete it might be. The National Archives documents this contextual information for each record in the collection using the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System.

Under the CRS System records are described and controlled as series. A series is made up of items, which are the individual files, volumes, maps, cards, diaries, etc that were received into custody by the Archives from the creating department, agency, or individual. Series usually consist of many items, but can occasionally consist of just a few or even a single item.

When the Archives registers a series it gives it a (CRS) series number and describes the creating agency, the subject matter of the series, its date range, the format of the individual items making up the series, their quantity (expressed in shelf metres), where they are held and details of related series.

The records described in each chapter of this Guide are listed in alpha-numeric order according to their series number. Most items also have the original item number allocated by the creating agency, and this, together with the CRS number must be cited in any inquiry about the records. Together the series and item numbers provide a useful shorthand way of referring to a specific record item. Details of how to cite the records described in this Guide are given below under Citing the records.

2Recorded by: 1953–1954 Royal Visit Organisation 1954, Director-General, Sydney (CA 1705)
3Quantity: 1.98 metres Location: Canberra
4This series consists of correspondence files of the Sydney Office of the Royal Visit Organisation, 1954, relating to general matters.
5Fly and Mosquito ControlA9708, RV/CD
6Control of pests was of concern to visit organisers and a report was commissioned from the CSIRO to advise about the best means of curbing the numbers of flies, particularly while the royal party was in Canberra…
Key 1

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 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 the Archives' online database.

3 This shows the total volume of records in the series. In some cases only several items within a series will relate to royalty or a particular royal visit, but in other instances, the entire series will be devoted to royal affairs. The location of the series (ie the office of the National Archives where it is held) is also shown.

4 This gives a brief overview of the contents of the series.

5 This shows the title given to the item 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 identifying number appears on the right hand side. This number must be quoted if a copy of the record or access to it is requested.

6 Where included, this describes the main contents of each item. Note that it does not describe every document on the file. Because of the large 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.

Searching for additional records

Most records relating to royalty held by the Archives are listed on the Archives' national database, which is available for online searching in each of the Archives' reading rooms, and at the Australian War Memorial – information about series can be accessed on the Archives' database RecordSearch.

Any material not listed in this Guide can usually be readily accessed by keyword or series searches via the database. Please ask your reference officer if you have any queries about how to conduct such a search.

In conducting searches it is most useful to search within the various record series created by the Prime Minister's Department, but because there was no standard terminology used to name records relating to the royal family or royal visits, it is necessary to use a variety of keywords to achieve a comprehensive search result. Some useful keywords include the name of the particular royal person, the terms 'majesty' and 'royal visit'. Departmental index cards are also useful and are listed where appropriate within the Guide.

Access to the records

The access status of the records

Most of the records listed in this Guide are available for public access under the Archives Act 1983. Access to a significant number of the files, however, have never been sought by researchers, and an access application will need to be submitted before public access to this group of records can be granted.

The records that have been examined have generally been opened without any restrictions. The exceptions are those records relating to the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. The British Government has requested that some material concerning the abdication remain withheld from public access until 2037, one hundred years after the abdication itself. This restriction also applies to British Government records held by the UK Public Record Office. The records affected are described in Chapter 4.

Obtaining access to the records

Researchers are welcome to visit the National Archives reading rooms and examine the records described in this Guide. Before you visit, please make sure that the record is held by the reading room you plan to visit. There is no equivalent of the inter-library loan system for archives. To safeguard the records, they are not moved between the Archives' offices and to see the records you will need to visit the reading room in the city shown as the location of the records.

In addition, given that the reading rooms of some of the Archives offices are separate from the main repository area, it may also be beneficial to preorder any material you wish to see to ensure that it is ready upon your arrival. The turnaround time for the issue of records in each reading room is given in Fact Sheet 20 (Standards of Service). To preorder material please telephone or write to the reading room listed as holding it. Contact details of all offices of the National Archives are given in Fact Sheet 1.

If you cannot visit a reading room you may arrange for a representative to do so on your behalf (see Fact Sheets 40–45: Research Agents), or alternatively you may wish to obtain a photocopy of the record. To obtain a copy you may telephone or write to the relevant reading room. Staff are happy to give photocopy quotes for specific items, but please be sure you have the specific series and item numbers for the records you wish to have copied.


No charges apply to the services described above unless photocopies of records are requested. Photocopy charges are set out in Fact Sheet 51.

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 more readily locate the records you are seeking, but will also help other researchers to find the material you have used if they wish to examine it for themselves.

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

National Archives of Australia: A6680, DY38/40

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

This form of citation should be used for all records listed in this Guide.

Where to obtain more information

If you are unsure about how to request access to any of the records described in this Guide, or if you have any other questions about the records, please contact the reading room in your State or Territory by mail, telephone, facsimile or email.

All contact numbers and addresses are given in Fact Sheets 1 and 2.


Chapter notes | All notes

1 Discussion of the 1920 visit of the Prince of Wales to Sydney in The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1920, p.13

1 Discussion of the 1920 visit of the Prince of Wales to Sydney in The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1920, p.13

2 Extract from The Age, 26 February 1954 quoted in Jane Connors, 'Betty Windsor and the Egg of Dukemburg – Men, women and the monarchy in 1954', Journal of Australian Studies, No 47 1996, p.74

3 Peter Spearritt, 'Royal Progress: The Queen and her Australian Subjects' in John Arnold, Peter Spearritt, David Walker (eds) Out of Empire – The British Dominion of Australia, Mandarin Australia, Melbourne 1993, p.212

4 Tony Abbott, The Minimal Monarchy, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA 1995, p.24

5 Article prepared for 24 January 1954 for The Sydney Morning Herald, quoted in Abbott, p.147