Archival secrets and hidden histories

Reasserting the right to public access

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  • Published 20200204
  • ISBN: 9781925773804
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IN DECEMBER 2005, Gough Whitlam was at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra speaking on the occasion of the third and final release of Cabinet records of the Whitlam government. It was hot, mid-summer, and Whitlam was just a few months short of his ninetieth birthday. His speech was vintage Gough Whitlam: an incisive mixture of the performative and the instructive, with just a hint of self-mocking. It was at the same time a sharp corrective to history.

Whitlam’s focus that day was less on the release of the Cabinet records and more on what he saw as a significant and largely forgotten thirtieth anniversary that year: his government’s establishment of the Australian Archives as the permanent national repository of our most significant historical records. This feisty speech, in which Whitlam reiterated his ‘belief in the contemporary document as the primary source for writing and understanding history’, reminds us of his commitment to the preservation of our documentary heritage, to archival research and public access, as fundamental to historical endeavour.[i]

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