Media release: Thursday, 26 February 2015
The future of Australia's 40 million Commonwealth records has been assured, with a contract for a new purpose-built preservation and storage facility announced today.
The National Archives of Australia and developer Doma Group today jointly announced their contract for a 30-year lease of the new environmentally-designed building.
'This is a major milestone for the Archives. This building will provide a modern facility to keep the nation's memory alive for future generations,' said National Archives Director-General David Fricker. 'The preservation and accessibility of these Government records underpins our democratic process and ensures public accountability.
'It's also a milestone for our digital transition. This is the last repository we will see built for the storage of paper, providing capacity to continue transfers of remaining analogue records held by Government agencies as they complete the transition to digital records management.'
Despite increasing numbers of digital records already being preserved by the National Archives, the need to store paper, audio-visual and other analogue records remains high.
'In 2013 a survey of government agencies showed the quantity of records of national significance awaiting transfer to the National Archives had grown to 254 shelf kilometres,' said Mr Fricker.
The new building, to be constructed in Vicars Street, Mitchell has an agreed completion date of 2017. It will be designed, built, owned, furnished, and maintained by the developer Doma Group and then leased on a long-term basis by the National Archives.
'The National Archives' ability to meet its legislative responsibilities – to preserve significant Australian government records for the benefit of all Australians – depends upon us having adequate storage capacity,' said Mr Fricker.
'The records in our care come in many formats, some are quite fragile and prone to deterioration. Controlled environments are necessary to store them, and our professional archivists require specialised facilities to preserve them. The purpose of our work is to provide public access to our collection and we are always thinking about the best way to do that.'
In the early 1970s, the National Archives determined that purpose-built repositories were the first line of defence for the nation's heritage.
In 1971 work had begun on the first of these buildings at Villawood in Sydney. By the time stage 2 was completed in 1975, the building provided air-conditioned accommodation for all permanent records and low-temperature vaults for the extensive film and tape collection.
However, in Canberra, Australia's important historical records were still housed in tin Nissen huts beside Lake Burley Griffin until the late 1970s.
During heavy rains in 1976 there was a real possibility that the lake would flood and destroy archival government records. It was seen as a national disgrace. After this scare, tenders were sought for a long-delayed repository at Mitchell occupied in 1981.
When completed, the contemporary purpose-built facility at Mitchell will hold the equivalent of 25 per cent of the National Archives' current collection. It will include a conservation laboratory, digital archives for classified and unclassified records and cold storage areas.
It will accommodate 150 staff, additional storage for paper and audio-visual archival records and increasing numbers of digital records. Its passive, green design will minimise energy and resource use, greenhouse gas emissions and its environmental footprint.
Artist's impression of National Archives Preservation Facility, Mitchell ACT