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State archives relating to Aboriginal People

About this Guide | Introduction

About this Guide


The State Records Authority of New South Wales has a long tradition of publishing guides to the records in the State archives. This Guide is the latest in that long line and has been published in response to a huge increase in interest over the past decade in the records relating to Aboriginal people.

The Guide lists the many records held by State Records which relate to Aboriginal people. The Authority's aim is to make the information about these records of the State available and accessible to a wider audience while being mindful of the special nature of the records relating to Aboriginal people.

This Guide is based on a Special Project undertaken for the Diploma in Information Management - Archives Administration at the University of New South Wales in 1982 by Mr Robert Lawrie, by whom it has been partially updated. Mr Lawrie is the Manager, Parliamentary Archives, Parliament of New South Wales and his participation in the project team was by permission of his employers, the Presiding Officers of Parliament, who approved his working on the Guide. In addition to Mr Lawrie, the project team consisted of Martyn Killion, Gail Davis, Fabian Lo Schiavo, Janette Pelosi and Laraine Tate and was managed by Christine Yeats. This team circulated a draft of the Guide widely throughout the Aboriginal community, the historical research community and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. This final version of the Guide is a direct result of the feedback and input received from these clients of the Archives Authority.

It is our intention that the publication of this Guide in both hardcopy and electronic form will ensure wide access.

John Cross
Principal Archivist

The Hon Justice
David Levine RFD
Chairperson of the Archives Authority

G.W. Scott
Director General
Department of Aboriginal Affairs


State Records is the NSW Government's archives and records management authority. We manage the NSW State archives collection and we set the rules and provide guidance on the management of official records.

The majority of records held by State Records are available for members of the public to access after 30 years has expired from the date of the last transaction on a record. However, some records are restricted for longer periods of time due to the sensitive or confidential nature of the material. This is the case with most of the records listed in this Guide.

Members of the public who require access to material which is less than 30 years old or is restricted for a longer period of time should apply to the government agency (or its successor) which created the records. In the case of the records of the Aborigines Welfare Board, this agency is the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

Access to many of the records mentioned in this Guide is complex because so many of the records refer to individuals and contain much sensitive personal information.

At the time of publication, the access conditions for the records of the Aborigines Welfare Board, the Aboriginal Lands Trust and the Aborigines Services Branch of the Department of Community Services have not been determined. For these records all enquiries concerning access should be directed to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

This electronic version of the Guide will contain updates concerning access as they come to hand. These procedures and practices concerning access are intended to both maximise and engender proper use and respect of the records and to preserve the privacy of the individuals named or referred to in them.

This Guide consists of a listing and description of records held by State Records which relate to Aboriginal people. It is divided into two parts:

Part One is a list of the records created and used by the Aborigines Protection Board - renamed the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1940 - which was established in 1883 and held its final meeting in 1969. This was the main New South Wales State Government agency which implemented and administered the legislation and policy having an impact on Aboriginal people throughout New South Wales.

Part Two is a list of material created by other New South Wales Government agencies which contains significant mention of Aboriginal people. It should be borne in mind, however, that this is not an exhaustive list of sources which can be used in tracing Aboriginal family and personal history. References to Aboriginal people are likely to be found throughout the records of various Government agencies held by State Records and may be located by means of the various guides, finding aids and indexes available in the reading room.

Appendix 1 An Administrative History

Appendix 2 Chronology of Significant Events

Appendix 3 Bibliography

This Guide lists those records in State Records' custody which have been arranged or described as at April 1998. However, there are some records which are in State Records' custody but which have not been included in the Guide because they have not yet been arranged or described. Researchers should ask for assistance from State Records staff should they require information about records not included in the Guide.

The records relating to Aboriginal people, like all the other records held by State Records, are working documents created and used by a large number of public servants in the course of their official duties over a long period of time. In simple terms, the records are a result of Government activity at various times. It is important to remember that at the time of their creation, they were not intended to be used for the purposes for which they are today, that is for research. The file titles and names of records used in the Guide are those used by the Government officials and public servants at the time of the records' creation. The use of these original titles is not meant to offend, but rather to place the records within their historical context.

The records listed in the Guide were not usually created by Aboriginal people, but by public servants in Sydney and elsewhere including at the stations and by reserve managers. The records are consequently the property of the State.

Where to look at the records

State Records operates a reading room where members of the public can view the records in its custody.

There are also a number of institutions throughout New South Wales in which State Records has placed records of particular interest to researchers in those areas. In the longer term, State Records hopes to increase the number of these regional repositories to form a State-wide network. These repositories would serve Government and people in the regions by storing State archives of regional significance, and holding microform copies of other records (especially those of genealogical value).

At present, regional repositories are located at:

Both parts of this Guide list the records by series (records brought or kept together in an identifiable sequence) and give a short description of the records (including date range) to enable researchers to decide whether the material may be relevant to their research. More detailed lists of some of the records are included in the Guide. Where this has not been possible, the lists are available in the State Records reading room.

The Guide also indicates whether the material has been copied onto microform (microfiche or microfilm reel) or photocopied (COD). In these instances only the copied version rather than the original will be issued to clients. Those records copied onto microfilm by State Records are available in the reading room.

How to gain access to Aborigines Welfare Board, Aboriginal Lands Trust and Department of Community Services, Aboriginal Services Branch records

In order to gain access to those restricted records created by the Aborigines Welfare Board, the Aboriginal Lands Trust and the Aboriginal Services Branch of the Department of Community Services, researchers should do the following:

  • Contact the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (Level 13, Centennial Plaza, Tower B, 280 Elizabeth Street Surry Hills NSW 2010; Telephone (02) 9219 0700; Fax (02) 9219 0790) and request a letter authorising them to access and copy the records relating to Aboriginal people which are held by the Archives Authority of New South Wales. The Department needs to sight two forms of identification (or photocopy) before an application for access can be approved. The researcher also needs to sign a form agreeing not to disclose or use any information they locate in the records which may cause pain or embarrassment to any other person.
  • If the Department approves the application for access, it will issue a letter authorising access and/or copying of the relevant records. This letter of access is usually valid for a specific time period, for example three months.
  • The researcher should then contact the Archives Authority to determine the current location of the records.
  • The researcher should then visit the Search Room in which the records are held and discuss their research needs with the Archives Authority's staff.
  • Obtain a reader's ticket
  • View the current access directions on the records

It should also be borne in mind that State Records is not the only body in New South Wales which holds records relating to Aboriginal people. Particular mention should be made of the Mitchell and Dixson Libraries which form part of the State Library of New South Wales and the National Archives of Australia, New South Wales Regional Office.

May 1998