First Australians Memorandum of Understanding—South Australia

Removal of Aboriginal children began in South Australia during the 1840s with the boarding of children at a school in Adelaide, set up by the South Australian Protector of Aborigines, Matthew Moorhouse, to instruct and ‘civilise’. The practice of removal escalated in the twentieth century with thousands of First Australian children taken away from their families and placed in government, church and mission institutions or with non-Aboriginal families.

Many of these children—often referred to as the ‘Stolen Generations’—were never to return to their families and the links to their identity and communities were lost.

Aboriginal affairs in South Australia through this period was a state government responsibility and most official records relating to South Australian Aboriginal people are held by the state government. References to Aboriginal people in Commonwealth government records held by the National Archives are likely to be more scattered (which can make the task of locating information more difficult) and will relate to matters such as:

  • employment by government agencies, such as the Commonwealth Railways
  • enlistment and service with the Australian defence forces, and
  • some issues of welfare and education.

Sometimes the files you read may contain distressing or offensive information. They were created by government officials many years ago and were written in the insensitive language of the day.

In 1991 the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that all governments should assist Aboriginal people to access archival records to enable them to re-establish family and community links that were disrupted or broken as a result of past government policies (see recommendation 53).

In response to this recommendation, and the 1997 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report, Bringing Them Home, the National Archives established a working relationship with the Link-Up program of Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia Inc. and adopted arrangements to assist South Australian Aboriginal people to access Commonwealth records. These arrangements are set out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

The Memorandum of Understanding

The Memorandum of Understanding for records in the open access period by South Australian Aboriginal people was signed on 11 September 2002 by the Acting Director-General of the National Archives and the Chairperson of Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia. Similar memoranda relating to records of Northern Territory and Victorian Aboriginal people were signed in 1997 and 2000.

What records are available under the MOU?

The MOU sets out arrangements to assist South Australian Aboriginal people, or SA Link-Up program staff working on their behalf, to access Commonwealth records in the open access period held in any office of the National Archives for the purposes of re-establishing family and community links. Sensitive personal information that would normally be exempt from public access under the Archives Act 1983 is available under the MOU to the subject of the record or, where appropriate, to family members. See Access to records under the Archives Act.

Copies of records accessed under the MOU are provided free of charge.

This MOU does not permit access to National Archives records that are not yet in the open access period or to records of the South Australian government. A separate MOU between State Records SA, the South Australian government archives authority, and Nunkuwarrin Yunti sets out the arrangements for access to state government records.

Applying for access

First Australians, or their agents, seeking access to records under the MOU must first contact SA Link-Up staff at Nunkuwarrin Yunti. Before access to records is granted, the MOU requires that a referral letter from SA Link-Up be sent to the National Archives.

National Archives’ staff will deal sensitively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and will provide information on available counselling services.

Further information

South Australian Aboriginal people seeking access to records under this MOU are welcome to contact:

The Reference Officer
National Archives of Australia
Tel: (08) 8204 8787
Corner North Terrace and Kintore Avenue
(PO Box 3563, RUNDLE MALL SA 5000)

SA Link-Up Program
Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia Inc.
Tel: (08) 8223 5217
182–190 Wakefield Street

Similar MOUs for South Australian Aboriginal people have been adopted between Nunkuwarrin Yunti and

  • the Lutheran Church Archives
  • the South Australian Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages
  • the State Library of South Australia
  • State Records of South Australia.

For more information about the records these memoranda make available, please contact either the SA Link-Up program (listed above) or one of the following:

The Archivist
The Lutheran Archives
Tel: (08) 8340 4009
27 Fourth Street

The Registrar
Births, Deaths & Marriages Registration Office
Tel: (08) 8204 9599
91-97 Grenfell Street
(GPO Box 1351, ADELAIDE SA 5000)

Special Programs Officer
State Library of South Australia
Tel: (08) 8207 7250
Corner North Terrace and Kintore Avenue
(GPO Box 419, ADELAIDE SA 5000)

Aboriginal Access Team
State Records of South Australia
Tel: (08) 8343 6800, Fax: (08) 8204 8777
115 Cavan Road, GEPPS CROSS SA 5094
(GPO Box 464, ADELAIDE SA 5001)