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Access to the State archives

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The State's archives are a unique and irreplaceable part of our cultural heritage. They document the business of government in New South Wales - and its interaction with people and groups in our society - from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 until today.

The State's archives

The archives are the 'raw material of history'. They are part of our collective memory.

These are just a few of the kinds of records to be found among the State's archives:

  • records of the convict system, such as the First Fleet convict indents and pardons;
  • documents which established our systems of government and justice, such as the Charters of Justice 1787, 1814 and 1823;
  • key sources of information about people and life, such as the records of the 1828 and 1901 censuses;
  • records of exploration and land settlement, such as Phillip's 1792 map of Sydney and Sturt's report on his 1838 journey to South Australia;
  • records of great events in our history, such as the dismissal of the Lang Government in 1932;
  • plans of public buildings, from early colonial buildings to the Sydney Opera House and beyond.

The State's archives appear in all formats - files, photographs, maps, posters, plans, films, sound recordings and electronic records.

People use the State's archives for many reasons. Public, academic, family and local historians, social and scientific researchers, people establishing their rights and entitlements, authors, the media, students - all are among the regular users of the State's archives. Government agencies, too, make extensive use of the archives.

Your rights of access

The State Records Act 1998 establishes a general entitlement to access to State records that are in the 'open access period', i.e. at least 30 years old. Not all such records, however, are open for public access. Some contain information, such as sensitive personal information, that require a longer period of closure.

Government agencies assess the records for which they are responsible, including those that we hold as State archives, for continuing sensitivity. They are required to make an 'access direction' to open or close the records to public access. If you want access to records more than 30 years old that are not covered by an access direction, you can apply for an 'open to public access' direction to be made.

Sometimes government agencies allow early access to records less than 30 years old. They can also authorise special access to records that have been given a 'closed to public access' direction under certain conditions.

To help you determine the availability of records we maintain a register of access directions. The register is available to the public.

The State Records Act does not affect entitlements to access under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.

Protecting the archives

Sometimes State archives have to be withheld from public access to protect them from damage. Where possible we will make a copy available instead.

For more information

Our staff can advise you about your rights of access to State archives and whether there are any restrictions on those that you want to see. More information is also available in Archives in Brief 9.

Where you can use the archives

In our reading room

We have one reading room -  at Western Sydney - where you can view State archives in original or copied form.

In regional NSW

A network of Regional Repositories, located in host institutions in Armidale, Newcastle, Wagga Wagga, Wollongong and Broken Hill, store and provide access to State archives of regional significance and to copies of key State archives.

Details are available in Archives in Brief 14.

In local communities

We have made some of the most useful State archives for family history available as the Archives Resources Kit. Over 100 public libraries and other bodies around NSW serve as community access points for the Kit and copies of other State archives.

Holders are listed in Archives in Brief 46.

In your home or office

For the keen amateur or professional researcher, the Archives Resources Kit for purchase in microform.

Copying services

We offer a full range copying services in our reading room. While basic access to the State's archives is free, charges for copying apply.

Finding the archives you need

Our professional staff will assist and advise you with your research inquiry. You can talk to a reference archivist in our reading room or you can telephone, write or e-mail us.

Finding aids

We also have a variety of finding aids to help you find the archives you want.

There are many guides on specific topics and a range of fact sheets, called Archives in Brief. In addition, indexes and item lists for heavily used series of archives are available in our reading room.

Archives Investigator, many of the other guides and a growing range of indexes are available on our World Wide Web site.


Vital Signs is our quarterly newsletter. It keeps you up to date about improvements in our services, our activities program and additions to the archives.

Talks, workshops and tours

We conduct a program of regular talks, workshops and tours. Look for our current Activities Program on our website.

On the Internet

Our website is our 'virtual front door'. It contains our on-line resources, information about services and activities and much more. We are working hard to make more of our services - and key State archives themselves - available on-line.