When the Overseas Telecommunications Commission was producing the OTC Video Show for staff in the mid-1980s, it felt like videotapes and VHS machines would be around forever.
But just a few decades later, thousands of important videotapes in our collection are at risk because the VHS machines needed to play them are no longer being manufactured.
Many other magnetic media formats are at risk for the same reason, including audio recordings on cassette and quarter-inch tape.
Archives and museums around the world are figuring out how to save their precious items on these formats before it’s too late.
The clock is ticking
2025 is regarded as the date where it will become significantly harder to digitise these collections because equipment and skilled staff will no longer be available.
At the National Archives we have been digitising our audio and videotapes for several years. It’s a specialised job, whether we do it in our state-of-the-art facility or outsource them to commercial providers. But our audio and video staff are experts in assessing and transferring the recorded content to digital files, which are then saved into our digital archive.
Digitisation is a time-consuming task – if a tape is one hour long, then it takes us longer than one hour to digitise it. And there are still over 185,000 audio and videotapes that still need to be digitised.
In 2020, a new project called Future Proof signals our continuing efforts to save the nation’s significant audiovisual heritage so future generations can see and hear our history. We will be spending $3 million dollars to ensure that another 30,000 of our most critical recordings can be digitised.
Reconciling Australia’s past
We hold collections of great significance and importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.
These records are a sobering reminder of Australia’s history, including testimonies from the Stolen Generation, native title land claims, royal commissions and enquiries.
While the recordings themselves often relate to tragedy and heartbreaking traumatic experiences, they also capture many different languages, stories and oral histories that belong to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.
Our greatest priority is ensuring that these recordings can be preserved for future generations. We take the utmost care to digitise content respectfully, appropriately and in accordance with our protocols.
From Antarctica to Australia Post, and everything in between
Featuring 100 years of Australian history and culture, our audiovisual collection covers it all, including:
- expeditioners at Australia’s Antarctic research stations
- vintage Australia Post advertisements
- rockets being launched at Woomera
- the construction of the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme
Take a look at our YouTube channel for more highlights from the National Archives’ extensive audiovisual collection.