You can view National Archives records in our research centres.
We have research centres in each capital city where you can access documents, maps and audio-visual material from our collection.
Before you visit
Identify the records you wish to view. Then check their location and access status.
Before you can view records, we need to examine them to make sure we can give you access. You can see if a record is 'open' or 'open with exception' using our online database RecordSearch.
You need to view records in the research centre where they are held. For example, if you are after a map in the Sydney research centre, you will need to go to Sydney to see it.
Submit your request to view records at least 5 working days before you visit to ensure records will be available in our research centres.
If the records you are interested in are not yet examined, you can submit applications for access by logging into RecordSearch.
You can also use RecordSearch to:
- view a digital copy of a record online, where available
- order digital copies
- register as a researcher, if you wish to view records in a research centre
- request to view 'open' or 'open with exception' records in a research centre
Refer to our Visit us section for information on our research centre locations and opening hours.
Refer to the Viewing records in a research centre section on this page for more details.
Research centre rules
Records made available in our research centres are unique and irreplaceable.
We manage and protect them so future generations can access them. Handle items with care to ensure their survival.
When you arrive at the research centre:
- stow your bags, laptop case, pens, food and drinks in the lockers we provide
- register as a visitor
- present your researcher card, if you have one
If you don't have a researcher card, we will verify your identity and contact details and issue you with one.
To safeguard our collection, do not:
- bring any food or drink, including water, into the research centre
- use pens or ink – we provide you with pencils
- remove any archival records from the research centre
- mark or annotate original records in any way
- take apart, unfasten or remove folios from a file or interfere with papers' original order
Present any items for inspection when you leave.
Refer to the Handling archival records section of this page for more guidance on how to handle archival records.
Research centre etiquette
The research centre is a place for quiet study and research.
While in the research centre:
- sit in the right area for viewing and photographing original records
- consider others using the research centre
- don't talk with others unless you need to and if you do, talk quietly
- only use the internet from our PCs to access websites related to your research
- note where the exits are in case of emergencies
If you ignore these rules, we may deny you access to records.
We use electronic surveillance cameras in our research centres.
Handling archival records
Caring for records
Archival records are unique. Many are old and fragile.
When handled a lot, they are vulnerable to damage and content loss.
Follow our guidelines for handling our records to keep them in good condition.
To avoid staining papers:
- wash and dry your hands thoroughly before touching records
- don't use hand lotions and moisturisers
- don't lick your finger to turn pages
To avoid damage, marks and tears to papers:
- handle all records carefully
- don't lean on or trace from any records or use them as a support for writing
- use the clean coloured paper we provide to mark your place in a page rather than post-it notes or bulky items such as pencils or glasses
- don't underline, highlight or mark archival records in any way
To avoid damage and tears to folios:
- use a finger stall to turn pages and take extra care with thin and fragile folios
- if you are unable to open a folio or tightly bound spine, ask a research centre staff member for help rather than forcing it open
- don't take apart or remove any material from an item’s fastening system
- don't stack open files or place files within other files, as this could lead to one of the files becoming lost or damaged
If you come across an item that is in poor condition, has mould or insect damage, alert a reference officer so he or she can send it to our preservation department for treatment.
To secure and protect records, we limit your access to 5 files or 1 box of records in any one viewing.
If you need access to more records, ask a reference officer on duty. Extra records can be accessed on a case-by-case basis.
Fragile record access
We aim to give you access to original research centre records whenever possible.
However, when the record is too fragile or large to transport, we will provide a reference copy or a research officer may supervise your viewing.
If we can't provide access, we will let you know in writing why you cannot view the record or item.
Using cameras in a research centre
You can use cameras and smartphones to make copies of records in our research centres.
If you wish to do this, you must agree to observe our service conditions.
How to photograph records
You can photograph records you have ordered to view in our research centres. See the reference officer if there are any problems with the records.
When photographing records consider other researchers. Do not:
- use a tripod or flash
- use the camera in any area other than the designated photography area
- disturb other researchers more than needed
Handle the records with care. Don't:
- use any device that touches the record, such as a flatbed or handheld scanner that moves across the face of folios
- damage or mishandle records to get a better photo
- open any sealed envelopes or masks on the file
- take apart or remove any folios from the file pin
You can only use photographed records for research or study.
If you intend to further produce, alter or publish material, you will need to seek the copyright owner's consent.
If the record's format makes it difficult to copy, do not attempt to flatten or dismantle it. This might happen if, for example, a tightly bound volume hides the page edges or a file fastener partly covers text.
Ask the reference officer for help. They can suggest an alternate way or arrange for a digital copy. Normal copying charges will apply.
Please don't ask or expect reference staff to hold files or volumes open for you so you can photograph them.
Revoking permission to photograph records
We will revoke your permission to photograph records if we consider that you have failed to meet these conditions.
Your responsibilities under the Copyright Act 1968
The Copyright Act 1968 governs what you can do with copied archival records.
Taking photographic or digital images of an archival record is defined as reproduction under the Act and as such might affect copyright.
In some cases, people and organisations who are not with the Australian Government might own the copyright for records we keep in research centres. For example, copyright for photographs in our collection may belong to the original photographer.
In most cases, we can grant permission to publish or reproduce records the Australian Government owns the copyright for.
We cannot grant permission to copy records if the Australian Government does not own the copyright.
Make sure you only copy copyrighted material that the Australian Government doesn't own if the Copyright Act permits it. For example, you make a copy under the Copyright Act's fair dealing provisions or with the copyright owner's permission.
You cannot make further copies or publish photographed archival records without the copyright owner's permission.
If you want to publish any photographed records from our collection, please contact us.
When you apply for permission to publish the copied record:
- provide the record's series and control symbol
- tell us what you intend to do with the reproduction
In most cases, we can grant permission to publish copied records when the Australian Government owns the copyright.
We cannot grant permission to publish copied records when the Australian Government does not own the copyright.
You are responsible for getting permission to publish a copied record from the current copyright holder.
Keep accurate records for the files you photograph so you can cite them correctly in published works.
Citing archival records correctly allows others to look at the documents' context.
Viewing records in a research centre
To order records via RecordSearch, first register as a researcher. You can do that online.
- visit RecordSearch
- go to 'Log in' in the top right corner
- select 'Register' and enter your details.
Once you register, you will receive a login name and researcher card number.
When you visit a research centre for the first time, present photo identification to verify who you are. We will then give you your researcher card.
You need to show your researcher card every time you visit a research centre and are issued original records.
Once you have found an item you want on RecordSearch, check the access status.
If this is shown as Open or Open with exception select 'Issue to research centre'.
A Request to view records screen will appear showing your name and researcher card number and the details of the record.
Print this request and give it to the reference officer on duty.
When you submit your request, find out if we hold the record onsite.
With most records stored offsite or in special storage, there may be delays. Refer to our Service standards for expected record delivery times.
If you are using RecordSearch outside a research centre, use our online form to submit a request to view records. If you don't have reliable internet access, you can print and mail the request to view records to us before your visit.
Applying for access
You will need to apply for access if:
- the record you want is not yet examined or closed
- the item is not listed on RecordSearch
Under the Archives Act, we must examine all records before releasing them to the public.
How to apply for access
Submit an access application through RecordSearch and follow the instructions.
If you cannot apply online, please contact us about your request.
Contact our Reference Service to discuss your needs if:
- you are applying to access more than 25 items
- are working on a major academic or publishing research project
Tell us the applications you would like processed first.
'Open with exception' or 'Closed' records
If the record you want is Open with exception or Closed, we can re-examine it to see if it is still exempt.
Discuss these records with one of our staff before submitting an application.
This will help you see if the exempt information relates to your research and is worth examination.
Record examination timeframes
We usually take about a month to examine records, but it might take 90 business days or more. The time frame depends on:
- record types and how many there are
- the amount of exemption information in the records
- whether we need other agencies' advice about potential sensitivities
We will let you know if there are delays.
If we have not given you a decision within 90 business days or within the extended consideration period we have notified you about, it means we have not given you access.
If we deny access to information on a record, we let you know in writing. In most cases, under the Act, you can appeal our decision. Refer to what to do if we refuse you access.
Under the Archives Act 1983 you can apply for access to as many records as you like.
However, as of 25 April 2019, amendments to the Archives Act allow us to extend the 'consideration period' beyond 90 business days when you have have applications for more than 25 items.
For more information on extensions, visit Access to records under the Archives Act.
Viewing audiovisual records
ABC, SBS or Film Australia records
If a digital reference copy already exists, you access it in the Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne research centres.
If your chosen research centre does not store the item, we will charge a postal fee to send it to that research centre. Refer to our copying charges.
If there's no reference copy, you can inspect the original canister or delivery medium.
However, we cannot allow access to the content due to copyright and preservation reasons (under section 40(5) of the Archives Act).
Please approach the relevant agency for access and copies.
Non-ABC, SBS or Film Australia records
If we have a digital reference copy, we will make it available in the Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne research centres.
If your chosen research centre does not store the item, we will charge a postal fee to send it to that research centre. Refer to our copying charges.
If a reference copy does not exist, we will make a copy for a fee. Refer to our copying charges.
Find more information here on Access to records under the Archives Act.
Most research centres have desktop PCs running Microsoft Office.
You can use these PCs for free to:
- search RecordSearch
- request to view records from RecordSearch
- type or paste your notes into Word or Excel
- access and download files from the internet for research purposes
- send and receive emails related to your research using internet-based email services
We charge a fee for printing from one of our PCs. There is no charge to print advance requests.
Your documents on a research centre PC
You can access your documents created in Word or Excel from any PC in the research centre. See our conditions of use below.
Document security and privacy
While you can create documents on our PCs, we cannot guarantee your files' security or privacy.
Any files left on our PCs will be deleted by staff on a regular basis.
Don't read, amend or copy others' documents on our PCs.
Moving documents created on a PC
If you want to move a document created on one of our PCs, you need to attach it to an email using an internet-based email service.
It is free to use our PCs. You may also print a request to view records at the research centre free of charge. All other printing incurs a cost.
We limit sessions to 2 hours if others are waiting to use a computer.
Check copyright information before you download or print material from the internet.
Our staff can provide general assistance but not detailed instructions on how to use Microsoft Office applications.
Conditions of use
You can use our PCs so long as you follow our conditions. If you disregard these, we may deny you access.
Tampering with settings
Don't tamper with the hardware, software or PC settings.
Hardware or software problems
Don't try to fix hardware or software problems yourself. If you have problems with a PC, ask for help.
We reserve some PCs in each research centre so researchers can use the National Archives' database.
We prioritise users who need to use RecordSearch and may ask you to vacate the PC if you are using it for other reasons.
You can only use research centre PCs for study, reference and research that is related to your work in the research centre.
Don't access violent, pornographic, racist or other offensive material via the internet on our PCs. We monitor internet use and you will lose access if you visit sites like this.
Using your own devices in the research centre
You are welcome to bring your own laptop, tablet or other device into the research centre to type notes. Most desks in the research centre are equipped with power points for this purpose.
Accessing our wi-fi
You can access our wi-fi so long as you bring a device that can connect to our network.
When and where wi-fi available
Wi-fi is available 7 days a week, on the ground floor of the National Office in Parkes, Canberra and in all of our research centres, except Darwin.
Wi-fi is free.
Terms and conditions for using our free wi-fi
We closely monitor internet use via our wi-fi.
We ask you to restrict your internet use to research-related material and take care not to infringe copyright when using our internet.
The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 governs use of our wi-fi.
Don't access or download material from the internet that contains pornographic or other offensive material, in compliance with the Act.
A filtering system blocks access to forum, gaming and gambling sites.
Don't purchase anything online, other than purchases from the Archives, using our wi-fi.
We take cyber security seriously but wi-fi is not secure.
You are responsible for any data loss or technical difficulties with our information and communication technology systems, including loss of and unauthorised access to your data.
Other Australian archives
For information about other Australian archives, such as university, school, historical society and business archives, visit the Australian Society of Archivists or browse our list of Australian archival institutions.