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Sound Recordings in the National Archives


The National Archives of Australia

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. Its main focus is on material documenting Federal government activities since Federation in 1901. However, the Archives has significant holdings of nineteenth-century records about functions transferred by the colonies to the Commonwealth Government at the time of Federation and subsequently.

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.

About this guide

In the largest category, Arts and Entertainment, the Australian Broadcasting Commission section has been further divided into General; Entertainment; Interviews, Talks and Current Affairs; Literature; Music; and Sport.

Within each subject category, series are listed by agency in chronological order of the first series created by each agency, except in the ‘Arts and Entertainment’ section where the ABC is listed first, because of the predominance of the material created by it. In the ‘Biography’ section, series are listed alphabetically by the name of the person creating them, with series created by two Commonwealth agencies (ABC and Film Division) listed at the end in chronological order of the first series created by each agency, as for most other sections.

There are many series which do not fit comfortably into a single subject category. For this reason, several series may be listed in more than one category.

Examples within series have been cited where item lists are available. These items are examples only, and researchers can search for further items that may be available. Dates have been quoted where available from Archives lists. In cases where dates are not listed, they may be available on the actual items or as part of recordings.

The original format of material is varied and consists of gramophone discs, cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, micro-cassettes, digital audio tapes (DATs) and compact discs (CDs). The physical formats of the original sound recordings has meant that a degree of deterioration has occurred in the quality of the sound reproduction, in some cases resulting in inaudibility. Some of the original recordings are now over 50 years old and the originals – tapes or discs – were never of archival quality.

Other related paper records series may also be worth investigating, such as transcriptions of broadcasts, musical scores, sound sheets, photographs, registers and indexes. These can be located using RecordSearch.

The majority of series are held in the Sydney Office of the National Archives, with considerable holdings also in Canberra. The present location of the records is noted in the series description in the guide. It is wise always to check the location and availability of items before making a visit to a particular office.

Access to the records

Public access to the records in this guide is subject to the access provisions of the Archives Act 1983. In general, records of the Commonwealth Government are available for public access after 30 years. Records less than 30 years old may be made available earlier if they have been previously published or publicly broadcast. Conditions of access to personal archives may be stipulated by the donor. 

Most series listed in the guide were created more than 30 years ago. Some series are more recent and have been included because they were in the public domain at the time. Many were broadcast, particularly ABC series, or were used to promote particular government initiatives such as the introduction of decimal currency, metric conversion, recruitment to the defence forces and public celebrations such as the Bicentenary and the Silver Jubilee. 

Series created by the ABC can be requested for viewing through the National Archives, but for purchasing copies the ABC should be approached directly as it has a commercial function in this area. This applies to all ABC material of any age. 

Copyright is another factor to be considered. While there is no restriction in obtaining access to items in the reading rooms of the National Archives, researchers should be aware of the provisions of the Copyright Act if they wish to publish or broadcast material.

Access arrangements

The format of original recordings varies considerably. Earlier recordings are on disc or have since been copied onto tape. More recent recordings have been made on audiovisual tapes, CDs and audio tapes to accompany film or video. In most cases, a reference copy will be provided in the reading room rather than risk damage to original material which is often fragile. 

Arrangements to hear sound recordings vary from State to State according to facilities available. To obtain access to these records, follow the steps below. 

Identify relevant items. This should be done in consultation with reference staff, using finding aids such as RecordSearch and this guide. 

Request selected items. Complete the request form as for written records. It is always advisable to contact reference staff prior to a visit to check that items are available. 

Listen to recording in reading room. Procedures for listening to items in the Reading Room vary from State to State (see table below). 

Purchase copies if required. Copying arrangements vary from State to State according to facilities (see table below), and depending on the agency controlling the series. For ABC-controlled series, contact the ABC directly for purchase of copies. Note that there may be some deterioration in quality with copying. Arrangements need to be made in each case with the office concerned. In all cases, researchers should be aware of copyright implications.

Location Listening facilities Copying arrangements
Sydney Tape recorder, CD player.

If a reference copy is not available, one will be made, on tape or CD according to the preference of the researcher.

Tape or CD format, as required. A charge applies. There may be a delay of up to 10 working days but researcher will be advised.
Canberra Listening facilities are available for most formats but prior arrangements need to be made. There may be a delay in providing some formats.

Reference copies may be able to be provided, depending on the original format of the record.

The cost and time required for copying will vary according to the format of the original item.
Melbourne No listening facilities.

Researchers must pay rates charged by an outside contractor to make reference copies.

No in-house facilities for copying recordings. Copies made by a contractor and paid for by the researcher may be retained by the researcher.
Perth Listening facilities for 78, 45 and 331/3 rpm discs, cassettes and video recordings.

Researchers must pay rates charged by an outside contractor to make reference copies.

No in-house facilities for copying recordings. Copies made by a contractor and paid for by the researcher may be retained by the researcher.
Brisbane No listening facilities.

Researchers must pay rates charged by an outside contractor to make reference copies.

No in-house facilities for copying recordings. Copies made by a contractor and paid for by the researcher may be retained by the researcher.
Adelaide Audio cassette and CD player but no vinyl record or reel-to-reel tape players.

Onsite facilities to copy audio cassette tapes for reference purposes, but none for other sound recording formats – these would need to be made by an outside contractor.

No in-house facilities for copying recordings. Copies made by a contractor and paid for by the researcher may be retained by the researcher.
Hobart No listening facilities.

Researchers must pay rates charged by an outside contractor to make reference copies.

No in-house facilities for copying recordings. Copies made by a contractor and paid for by the researcher may be retained by the researcher.
Darwin Tape recorder for listening to cassette tapes. No in-house facilities for copying recordings. Copies made by a contractor and paid for by the researcher may be retained by the researcher.

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