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Research Guides

The Sinking of HMAS Sydney: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records

Access to records in the National Archives

Many series described in this guide are listed in RecordSearch, the National Archives' online catalogue, which is available in the reading rooms of all offices of the Archives, at the Australian War Memorial and on the Archives' website ( Indexes and inventories, available in reading rooms, may also be useful. Reference staff can assist researchers to use these lists.

Access to archival records is governed by the Archives Act 1983, which gives a right of access to most Australian Government records that are over 30 years old. Records over 30 years old are said to be in the 'open' period. In rare instances, the government may release records less than 30 years old, under the accelerated release provisions of the Archives Act.

Some records are exempt from these access provisions (eg court records, some parliamentary records and some records of governors-general). Researchers are able to access all other open period records, including those held by agencies, unless those records contain information that falls into certain categories, called 'exemption categories', which are defined in section 33 of the Act. There are 15 exemption categories, and information that falls within them is said to be 'exempt information'. Before the Archives releases records for public access, it examines them to ensure that they do not contain exempt information (see Fact Sheet 46).

Most records (97.5 per cent) are wholly released for public access, while 2 per cent are released with some exempt information deleted. Only 0.5 per cent of records are wholly withheld because they consist entirely of exempt information. Most exempt information is withheld to protect personal privacy, but defence, security and intelligence sensitivities are the next most common reasons for exemption.

Officers of the Archives are delegated under the Act to examine records and make decisions about whether they can be released. This is done in consultation with departments and agencies. Examination of records may often take a day or less, but if they require referral to agencies or overseas, it may take weeks or months. The Archives informs its clients of delays in this process.

If a researcher applies to see a record that is exempt from public access, the Archives will provide a written statement giving the reasons for the decision and identifying the exemption category that applies and why it applies. Details of all records containing exempt information are available on RecordSearch. The access status will show OPEN, OPEN WITH EXCEPTION, CLOSED, or NOT YET EXAMINED while the reason for restriction will show the category or categories under which the information is exempted.

A researcher may appeal against an exemption and the Archives will review its decision, but if it is confirmed, the researcher may then appeal to the independent Administrative Appeals Tribunal (see Fact Sheet 12). There is no charge for obtaining access or for applying to the Archives to review its decision, but an application fee applies for appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Regardless of the type of research they undertake at the National Archives, researchers will only be able to examine open period records (ie 30 years of age or older) that do not contain sensitive information or those released under the accelerated release provisions of the Archives Act.

RecordSearch and PhotoSearch

The National Archives has two principal electronic catalogues to assist researchers to access its collection. RecordSearch is the National Archives' collection database. It contains descriptions of 60 000 collections (called series) and 7.5 million record items as well as details of about 9 000 creators and depositors.

The National Archives continues to add item entries to RecordSearch at a rate of several hundred thousand each year. More digital copies of records are being added daily to RecordSearch. Digital copies can be accessed from the RecordSearch item display screen by clicking on the 'R' icon. Most items listed in this guide have been digitised and can be viewed online.The database currently describes about 10 per cent of all items in the collection, so to ensure that their search is comprehensive, researchers should also contact reference staff and search other finding aids. PhotoSearch is an online catalogue containing a selection of digital images from the National Archives' photographic collections. PhotoSearch currently contains more than 200 000 online images. Several thousand images are added to PhotoSearch each year.

Record descriptions

Each entry in this guide describes a group of records maintained together as a series. A series is made up of items, which are often individual files (sometimes volumes, sets of cards, photographs and other types of media), received into custody by the National Archives from a creating agency or person. Series usually consist of many items, but occasionally they may consist of just a few items or even a single item.

The description for each series gives its content and function. The entry concludes with a list of items selected from the series. Some series may not have items listed on RecordSearch. The full description of each series is given only on its first appearance in each chapter.

The following example demonstrates how a series and its items are typically described in this guide.

2Recorded by: 1939–50 Navy Office, Department of the Navy (CA 38)
3Quantity: 57.82 metres Location: (Melbourne)
4This series contains correspondence files, some of which were part of B5573.
5Interrogation of German survivors ex raider Kormoran, 1941MP1049/5, 2026/19/6
6This item deals mainly with the information obtained from the German prisoners of war before they were transferred from Western Australia to Victoria where they were interned for the remainder of the war. The file includes …
  1. This information gives the series title and the date range of the records that make up the series. The series number is shown on the upper right-hand side. Please note that most series and item titles in this guide have been edited for brevity, descriptive value and consistency.
  2. This shows the person or government agency that created the series. It also shows the date range during which each series was created or recorded. This date range does not necessarily correspond to the contents date range of the records, which appears in the series title. The CP (Commonwealth person) and the CA (Commonwealth agency) numbers are unique identifiers allocated by the Archives to each person or agency. These numbers can be used to retrieve more information about the person or agency, and the records they created, from the Archives' online database, RecordSearch.
  3. This shows the total volume of records in the series. The state or territory office of the National Archives at which they are held is shown in brackets. If copies of records are held in other locations, this is indicated here.
  4. This is a brief description of the series.
  5. This shows the title given to the item by the person or agency that created it. The dates of the earliest and latest document on the file are shown. The item's identifying number appears on the right-hand side of the description. This number must be quoted when requesting a copy of the record or access to it.
  6. This describes the main contents of an item. Note that it does not describe every document on the file.

This guide identifies and describes rather than analyses the records. Researchers must make their own assessment and place their own interpretation on the informational content of the records.

Some series are very large; however, a series may contain only one or two items that have any relevance to the Sydney. Also, series spanning a large number of years will often have been recorded (ie created) by a number of successive agencies (eg MP1074/4). If this is the case, only the agency or agencies that created records spanning the period of relevance to the Sydney's loss are given, to limit the size of the entries. In other cases (eg A5954) it has been necessary to give all the recording agency details, since they all cover the relevant period.

More detailed information about the series and items described in this guide is available on the RecordSearch, available in each of the Archives' reading rooms, at the Australian War Memorial and on the Archives website (

Wildcard searches and digitised records

RecordSearch allows users to search using wildcards. To search using wildcards, use the initial letters of the desired search term and add an asterisk ('*'). For example, 'crui*' will search and retrieve all keywords beginning with the letters 'c–r–u–i', such as 'cruiser and 'cruising.

Users can also search for items within series by using a wildcard – for example, a wildcard search on 'MP1049/5, 2026/*' will retrieve all items in series MP1049/5 starting with '2026/'.

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 locate records more readily, but will also help other researchers find cited material.

The correct form of citation for records held by the National Archives of Australia is as follows: the name 'National Archives of Australia' followed by a colon, the series number followed by a comma, and then the item number. The name 'National Archives of Australia' may be abbreviated to 'NAA' provided the full name has been used in the first citation:

National Archives of Australia: MP1049/5, 2026/19/6

NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/19/6

Citations for records in the private records collection of the Australian War Memorial should include the name 'Australian War Memorial' (AWM), the collection number and name and the item number and details. For example:

Australian War Memorial: PRR88/178. Records of Capt J L Hehir, Australian Intelligence Corps, 1941, Interrogation reports from the crew of the raider Kormoran

AWM: PRR88/178. Records of Capt J L Hehir, Australian Intelligence Corps, 1941, Interrogation reports from the crew of the raider Kormoran


Copyright applies to many records in the Archives' collection – see Fact Sheet 8, available from National Archives' reading rooms or on the Archives website. To obtain information about copyright permission in order to use these images, please contact the National Archives by telephone (1300 886 881) or email (

Charges for copies

Viewing records at any office of the National Archives is free, but various charges apply for copying or digitising items or photographs. For a list of these charges, please refer to Fact Sheet 51, which can be viewed online. Photographic prices are available on the Imaging Services order form, which is available via a link on the PhotoSearch main page.

Locating further information

More information can be found by searching, RecordSearch. Reference inquiries can be made at any National Archives' office or by contacting the Archives' reference service by phone, fax or email. Contact details and addresses for the National Archives and other archives are found in appendix 8.

Location of records

Records described in this guide are held in 7 different locations:

National Archives National Office, Canberra

National Archives, Melbourne

National Archives Perth

National Archives Sydney

Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Naval Historical Section, Department of Defence, Canberra

Directorate of Sailors’ Career Management, Department of Defence, Canberra

Directorate of Naval Officers’ Postings, Department of Defence, Canberra

RAAF Historical and Archives Section, Department of Defence, Canberra

RAAF Personnel










RAAF Personnel

Records held by the Department of Defence

Where the records are held by the Naval Historical Section (NHS) or by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Historical and Archives Section in the Department of Defence requests for access to, or for copies of, these records should be directed to them.

Contact numbers and addresses for the National Archives and the other archives referred to in this guide are given in appendix 8.

Notes on time zones

In this guide four international time zones are used in the quotations and extracts taken from the records themselves. The most commonly used time is Greenwich Mean Time or GMT (also known as Zone Zulu or Z time). The Sydney and other Navy, Army and Air Force units in and around Fremantle kept H (Hotel) time, calculated as GMT + 8 hours; the eastern states of Australia kept K (Kilo) time, which is GMT + 10 hours; and the Kormoran kept G (Golf) time, which is GMT + 7 hours.

Times given in the introductory narrative to each chapter are given in local Western Australian time.

Notes on spelling

Some names are spelt in a variety of ways in the records: Cormoran, Comoran, Cormorant, and Kormorant, occur, as do Dettmers, Dietmers and Dietmars, and Straat Malakka and Straat Malacca. Except where information is being quoted directly from the records, the spellings used in this guide are Kormoran, Detmers and Straat Malakka.

Note also that the vessel that became Kormoran was previously known as Steiermark and some records use that earlier name when referring to the Kormoran.