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History
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The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia had its beginnings in the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library, created by Federal Cabinet in 11 December 1935 “to secure and permanently preserve within the Commonwealth National Library approved historical films and sound recordings”. It was to operate under the joint administration of the Library and the Department of Commerce Cinema Branch, and collection development was to be controlled by a committee comprising the heads of both bodies and a representative of the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association.

World War II disrupted activities, and in 1945 the collection gravitated to the Library’s newly established Film Division, primarily a 16mm film lending library. The “historical collection”, as it became known, was an unstaffed activity of the Division until 1972, when a dedicated National Film Archive unit was established.  Advocacy for a separate institution to manage the nation’s audiovisual heritage grew during the 1970s and culminated in the creation of the National Film and Sound Archive by Cabinet decision on 26 March 1984. The film and sound archiving responsibilities of the National Library were thereby transferred to the new institution, and the relocation of staff and collections followed over the succeeding months.     

On this site documents charting the NFSA’s journey are being progressively posted, beginning with its creation.

40 YEARS ON – CABINET DOCUMENTS CHART CONTROVERSIAL BIRTH OF THE NFSA

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), the Friends of the NFSA are publishing the original Cabinet documents recording the creation of the institution on 26 March 1984. Nine days later, on 5 April, Arts Minister Barry Cohen would announce this in Parliament. His media release is here.

The new NFSA took over the film and sound archiving responsibilities, collections and staff that had, until then, been part of the National Library of Australia. The film, television and sound communities had long advocated for separate institutional status and greater resources to protect the nation’s audiovisual heritage, matching the model more commonly followed overseas. Conversely, there were also strong voices favoring retention of the status quo.

Ray Edmondson, then head of the Library’s Film Section, has never forgotten the fervid atmosphere of the time. “By mid-1983 the issue was looming large in the media and Parliament and moving towards a crisis point. I was among those who favoured creating a separate institution.”

The new Hawke Government embraced the challenge and determined to establish the NFSA, despite dissenting arguments from the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Finance, the Public Service Board, the National Library and Australian Archives. These are all documented in the Cabinet submission, and make interesting reading today.

Development of the submission over several months was led by the Prime Minister’s Senior Advisor, Bob Hogg, who recalled: “It was a rather instructive period for myself in observing at close hand the bureaucracy working to thwart the clear objective of the Government. Fortunately, in this case their efforts were not productive.”

Forty years on, the NFSA’s global stature has amply vindicated that original vision.

The documents can be accessed on the Friends website (Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia, Cabinet Decision 660 – National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) and Decisions 2971/LA and 2982) NAA: A13977, 660)

ADDRESS BY HARRISON BRYAN TO NATIONAL LIBRARY STAFF on 10 APRIL 1984 (audio file here)

Following the public announcement on 5 April 1984 of the NFSA’s creation, National Library Director General Harrison Bryan addressed his assembled staff to explain the practical arrangements for the separation of the film and sound archives from the National Library, and to convey his own and the Library Council’s views on the government’s decision and the associated controversies.

NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE: THE QUEST FOR IDENTITY - 2011

Ray Edmondson’s doctoral thesis covers the history of the NFSA and its National Library-based predecessors from the creation of the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library in 1935, through establishment of the NFSA as an outrider of a government department in 1984, up tol the passage of the National Film and Sound Archive Act in 2008, at which point the NFSA finally became an independent statutory authority and a legal entity in its own right. 

Contact: Friends’ president Dr Ray Edmondson Phone  0413 486 849  Email ray@archival.au


The Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive Founding Patrons:

Gil Brealey, Bryan Brown, Anthony Buckley, Patricia Lovell, Chris Noonan, Michael Pate, Fred Schepisi, Albie Thoms