Opening of National Archives Preservation Facility: Director-General

Speech by David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia,
at the opening of the National Archives Preservation Facility, Mitchell,
9 June 2017.

Attorney-General Senator the Honourable George Brandis QC,

Dr Denver Beanland, Chair of the National Archives Advisory Council,

The Honourable Jane Prentice MP, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services,

Senator Claire Moore,

Advisory Council members,

my fellow national archivists and representatives of national archives from around the world who have travelled so far to share this occasion,

Chris Moraitis, Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department,

members of the ACT Legislative Assembly,

members of the ICA Executive Board – Dr Mercedes de Vega, Normand Charbonneau and Eric Chin,

members of the Diplomatic Corps,

former Director-General of the Archives, Brian Cox,

distinguished guests.

Welcome to the official opening of the National Archives Preservation Facility, on this International Archives Day 2017.

And a particular thank you to Paul House for that most generous Welcome to Country. You are a great friend of the Archives and as always your words are an inspiration. I pay my respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngamberri people upon whose lands Canberra is built, and to Aboriginal Elders past and present.

We are here to celebrate the opening of our new National Archives Preservation Facility. But today, on International Archives Day, we are able to celebrate much more than the construction of a new building. This is no ordinary office building, nor is it just a warehouse. It is by any measure a marvellous construction, superbly designed by Architects May and Russell, with state-of-the-art fit-out and a passive green design that minimises its environmental impact. But its true value far exceeds the sum of all these features.

This new facility, along with the other repositories of the National Archives located in each capital city, provides a timely and much needed boost to the Archives, to our capability to achieve our mission: to provide access to the memory of our nation, connecting Australians with their identity, history and their place in the world.

It is here, and in our other facilities around Australia, that we hold the records of the Commonwealth – the authentic and essential evidence of the decisions and actions of the Australian Government. And we hold quite a bit – over 350 shelf kilometres of documents and photographs, hundreds of thousands of hours of audio and visual, and over 700 terabytes of digital material. A massive accumulation of records created since the federation of Australia. 

We know, however, that in the service of the community, no one is valued just for what they know, or the information they hold. Information is a wonderful thing, but it's no good if it's kept hidden and out of reach. In public service we are valued not for what we know, we're valued for what we do. And with this new facility we can do so much more – substantially increasing our capability to make those records discoverable, accessible and usable by the Australian community, and indeed the international community.

Archives represent the threads that hold together the fabric of our communities. The records that we preserve and make accessible ensure that the deeds and achievements of individuals are not forgotten; they ensure that the rights and entitlements of citizens are recognised and respected; they hold the intellectual capital that fuels our 'information economy'; and they are the evidence of government actions that hold our governments and their officials accountable to the people who they serve.

Santayana famously said, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' If we as a nation are to truly remember the past, accurately and objectively, then we cannot depend only on second-hand accounts or interpretations of published histories. To truly remember, to re-observe the events of the past we must always return to the evidence, and examine the primary sources – the records.

Because history is never finally written. In the words of EH Carr, 'It's an unending dialogue between the past and present', so really every generation should be prepared to re-examine and rewrite its own history by returning to the source – the 'fonds' that is the Archives.

In November 2011, UNESCO recognised the importance of archives when it adopted the Universal Declaration on Archives, produced by the International Council on Archives. The Declaration describes archives as 'unique and irreplaceable heritage passed from one generation to another, managed from creation to preserve their value and meaning'. It recognises the 'vital necessity of archives for supporting business efficiency, accountability and transparency, for protecting citizens' rights, for establishing individual and collective memory, for understanding the past, and for documenting the present to guide future actions'.

Archivists don't keep records because we want to glorify the past.

Nor do we keep records because we want to apologise for the past.

We keep records to remember the past – faithfully, honestly and completely.

But just keeping the records is not enough. Our responsibilities as archivists go much further than this.

We have an obligation, a duty to ensure the archives are promoted, made accessible and used.

And used by everyone – anytime and anywhere.

And of course we know that in this digital world, a hyper-connected global community, of fast-paced news cycles and an abundance of freely available information the role of archives has never been more important.

Our challenge now is to re-engineer everything we do, to preserve the very best traditions of archives and archivists, while embracing every opportunity of new technology to provide our services in the digital world. That's where our constituents in the information society live, and that's where we are most needed.

And this building and the skilled and professional people who work here every day are part of that future for the National Archives of Australia.

Before I ask the Attorney to formally inaugurate this place I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the dedicated and professional team that have worked so hard over several years for this day – to Doma Group, represented here today by Mr Jure Domazet and Mr Gavin Edgar, and also to the magnificent team at the Archives – so ably led by Assistant Director-General Cheryl Watson.

I would also like to thank our superb events team for arranging this celebration today.

So Attorney, it is now my pleasure to invite you to the lectern to address us, and formally open the National Archives Preservation Facility.

Please make the Attorney welcome.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017