Local and national academics are speaking out as the National Archives of Australia struggles to preserve important historical records from disintegration.
Funding and staffing cuts have led to the archive, which had its beginnings in the Commonwealth National Library 100 years ago and was officially formed in 1961, pleading for increased financial support form the federal government to continue its work in protecting the national historical record, be that film, sounding recording paper documents or other materials.
"Among our urgent priorities are preserving the unique at-risk collections that tell the Australian story, including tens of thousands of deteriorating audio-visual items that could be lost as soon as 2025," the NAA warns.
"The digital records now being created across government in ever growing quantities will be vulnerable to loss through technological obsolescence if not urgently secured by the National Archives and kept for future generations."
Dr Benjamin Mountford is senior lecturer in history at Australian Catholic University and lives in Ballarat.
He says the National Archives are the keeping house for our Commonwealth, which Ballarat has played an important part in creating, and that as much as we might think of records as being dry and removed, they are a part of every one of us as Australians.
"We might be talking about records that relate to, for instance, migration; records that relate to war and war service, or repatriation; records that relate to Indigenous Australians," Dr Mountford says.
"As a historian, one of the really exciting things about history over the last couple of decades is the great growth in in popular interest in history; people doing their family trees and learning about their family history or the history of their community.
"And that's led to a huge increase in demand for access to things like the National Archives records. That's coming at a time when the National Archives has been dealing with increasing funding efficiencies and having to scale back access."
Professor Joy Damousi of ACU says the decline in funding for the Archives has become critical over the past decade, and the funding shortfall has a flow-on effect.
"There's more material being being deposited," Professor Damousi says
"The volume is increasing. And in recent times, there's been increasing neglect. What a number of us have been arguing is, for example, students undertaking work research projects now are choosing topics where they don't have to, or would use the archives in a minimal way, because there's delay in accessing the records. And then the records themselves are starting to deteriorate. So what you're finding is research is not being done."
The urgent conservation work required includes saving highly fragile and flammable film stock, and fragmenting sound recordings on wax, shellac and wire.
Reports additional funding was likely to be allocated to the National Archives to ensure the disintegrating records came over the weekend, but the announcement is months, not weeks away.
"The National Archives provide the absolute core, understanding the absolute core for understanding Australian identity, Australian, Australia's past, present and future," Professor Damousi says.
"And it frames the future, because you can't understand the future unless you understand what's come before, and what is with us now."
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