The Guardians of Australia’s Memory Try Crowdfunding

The National Archives’ funding crisis has sparked discussion about whether we underestimate our country’s history.

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Australia’s pre-eminent repository of government records declared on its website and social media, “We are in a race to preserve and digitize precious Australian records before they are lost forever – and we need your help.” “donate Now.”

For the first time ever, the National Archives is asking for public donations as it tries to save thousands of records from desecration. After what experts describe as decades of funding cuts, the last straw came last month, when the archives were given a just $700,000 increase in the federal budget. That was a drop in the bucket compared to the $67 million it says it needs to digitize its rapidly deteriorating audiovisual collection by 2025, when most of the equipment used for playback could fail.

The spectacle of an institution that, in its own words, “preserves the memory of the nation” by resorting to crowdfunding, is called “national humiliation” And a “international embarrassment“By Historians.

There seems to be something deep in Australia’s cultural DNA – or at least in its political class – that makes the country’s past difficult to preserve and discover. Much has been said about how, in contrast, the National War Memorial has been given $500 million for renovations – or at least parts of it.

Even Prince Charles has been drawn into the matter, a prominent British historian wrote to his office to alert him that Rebellions on the Bounty were disintegrating. (Prince Charles has not made any public comment on the matter.)

Also at risk are, according to the archives, tape recordings of the prime minister’s wartime speeches, recordings that document indigenous languages ​​and ceremonies, and Australian Security Intelligence Organization footage from years of surveillance of trade unions and leftist groups.

The archives have had their fair share of controversies, including a lengthy and costly legal battle to keep the “Palace Papers” secret, including the 1975 dismissal of Gough Whitlam by the then-governor-general, and historians’ complaints about was. Up to a decade to gain access to the documents.

The assistant minister in charge of the archives, Amanda Stoker, defended the decision not to allocate additional funds, saying the government was at a point where it needed to decide whether to maintain the current record-keeping system or invest in new ones. The more cost effective way to do it. She added that “when that is done we will all be happy that we put money in the system.”

“Time moves on, and all sources decrease with time,” said Ms. Stoker Recent Senate hearings.

But David Fricker, director general of the archives, said when we lose government records, we damage the integrity of its processes and people’s trust in their leaders.

“If governments know and government officials know they will be accounted for because these records will one day be made available, it gives us little impetus to make sure that we are doing the honest thing and we do the best job.” are in the public interest,” he said In a radio interview.

Nicholas Brown, Professor of History at Australia National University, said that much of what we see about politics now focuses on the day-to-day business of humiliation on the floor of Parliament. The historical records contained in the archives are important for creating a more nuanced and longer-term understanding of politics, including the work that goes on behind the scenes and decision-making, he said.

“If we don’t have access to that material, we have a narrow understanding of what politics used to look like,” Professor Brown said. “And if we don’t have that, we’re not going to be able to engage seriously with the politics we’re doing now.”

Michelle Arrow, an associate professor of modern history at Macquarie University, notes that it is not only government records that are at risk. Also at risk are the records of ordinary Australian lives that have just happened to brush against government institutions.

Another issue is that we do not know exactly what is in the archives. If records continue to deteriorate, “we won’t know what we’ll lose until a researcher tries to find them in 20 years’ time and discovers they’re worn out,” Professor Arrow said.

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