Why Has Australia’s History Been Left To Rot?Breaking News
tags: historic preservation, Australia, archives
Historians are calling it an international embarrassment for Australia and saying it is “inconceivable that it has come to this”, as they preemptively mourn the loss of “irreplaceable national history”.
The National Archives of Australia doesn’t often make headlines, but when it does, it’s rarely good news.
Last year, it famously lost a years-long legal battle to keep secret the Palace letters – a trove of correspondence between Australia’s governor-general and the Queen’s private secretary in the lead up to the dismissal of Australia’s then prime minister, Gough Whitlam, in 1975.
As the institution – which is required by legislation to preserve records from Australian government agencies – was licking its financial wounds from the costly legal battle, it was dealt a further blow in this month’s federal budget, which largely ignored a “digital cliff” the archives was facing.
Last week, it was revealed the archives had resorted to launching a crowdfunding site in a last ditch attempt to raise tens of millions of dollars to digitise disintegrating historical materials.
The crowdfunding push has outraged Australia’s archivists and historians, and raised questions about the value Australia places on its national history.
In March, an internal review of the archives found it was failing to meet its legal obligations due to underfunding. The Tune review found there was 361km of at-risk audio-visual material – including magnetic tape, cellulose acetate subject to vinegar syndrome, and film negatives – some of which will be beyond recovery as early as 2025. That figure has since grown to 384km.
At the archives’ current digitisation rate of 0.26km per year, it would take 1,400 years and $5.2b to digitise the entire collection.
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