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Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking AM FASSA is an award-winning biographer, Emeritus Professor at Monash University, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and inaugural Distinguished Whitlam Fellow at the Whitlam Institute, University of Western Sydney. Her many books include the acclaimed 2-volume biography of Gough Whitlam, short-listed for numerous literary awards and winner of the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Barbara Ramsden Award. Professor Hocking’s latest book, the award-winning The Palace Letters: The Queen, the Governor-General and the Plot to Dismiss Gough Whitlam, tells the story of her successful High Court action against the National Archives of Australia to release the secret ‘Palace letters’ between the Queen and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, regarding Kerr’s 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government. 

The Friends of the NFSA established the annual Rod Wallace Memorial lecture to commemorate the pioneering achievement of Roderick Wallace AM. During 32 years of service at the National Library of Australia (1945-1977) as an innovator, advocate and mentor, he oversaw the development of its special collections, including film, music and sound recordings, and laid the foundations that would enable eventual the creation of the NFSA as a separate institution in 1984. Over time, the lecture series aims to reflect aspects of the preservation, accessibility and dissemination of the audiovisual heritage.

The 2023 Rod Wallace lecture was presented on 28 November 2023, entitled: 
‘Burnt files, lost files, and denials of public access: censoring Archives and the falsification of history’

Abstract of Jenny Hocking’s 2023 Wallace lecture

In bringing to life the story of Gough Whitlam, his government, and its dramatic dismissal by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, archives have played a central role. From Gough Whitlam’s early film appearance as a tuxedo-wearing extra in Ken G. Hall’s Broken Melody, his spontaneous knighting of Dame Edna Everage in Barry McKenzie Holds his Own, to the Queen’s secret correspondence with Kerr about the dismissal, the collections of the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Archives among others, have revealed a rich history of Gough Whitlam and the dismissal.

Jenny Hocking’s successful four-year High Court battle against the Archives to secure the release of the Queen’s correspondence with Kerr was a great victory for history, a highpoint in public access and transparency and the harbinger of an important recalibration of the history of the dismissal. However, it also highlighted the great damage to history done by the failure to release such critically important archives. The denial of access to the ‘Palace letters’ allowed a false version of the dismissal history to circulate unchallenged, one in which the Queen played no part in Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam.

The release of the Palace letters in 2020 changed the history of the dismissal irrevocably. It also revealed a disturbing pattern of archival obstruction beyond just denials of access to public documents. From the destruction of Gough Whitlam’s ASIO file, Kerr’s burnt Royal letters of support, to the missing telephone logs, lost guest books, these innovative denials of access raise deep concerns for archives and for history.

With the National Archives now imposing restrictions on researchers’ access to its records it’s time to ask, whose archives are they? In this important and thought-provoking lecture Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking asks, ‘whose archives and whose history, is this - theirs or ours?’.

The Media Release is here.

The recording is here.

The text of the lecture is here.

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