Governance, memory, and heritage

The ninth of June in International Archives Day! This date marks the anniversary of the creation in 1948 of the International Council on Archives (ICA), making 2018 the ICA’s 70th birthday.

ICA 70 years

This year’s theme for International Archives Day is Archives: Governance, memory, and heritage. The theme is apt for Find & Connect, given the importance of records and archives to people who grew up in out of home care.

Time and again we have seen the importance of good governance in ensuring comprehensive records are made and kept in the first place, that they are well managed over time and made accessible in a timely and appropriate manner.

Records also contribute to good governance on a broader level. We have seen the power of records through submissions to inquiries and most recently, the submissions and documentary evidence provided to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. With the announcement of the Redress Scheme, we will again see the key role of records in establishing important evidence for redress.

Records play an important role in establishing individual and collective memory. While we know that the records of children in care are not necessarily accurate, and may often be judgemental and use derogatory language, we have also heard many Care Leavers speaking about how records are key in establishing identity, understanding their childhoods and getting information about their families. In this way, the power of records as a site of memory – in both confirming some memories and enabling new memories to be created – cannot be overstated.

The role of heritage is also an important issue to consider. There is the notion of “tangible” heritage: the protection and commemoration of physical sites associated with the Australian child welfare system. For example, the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct was added to the National Heritage List in 2017. The listing recognised the significance of the site as being in continual use for the institutionalisation and incarceration of women since 1821 – but for the Parragirls group, the listing was also important to ensure that the abuse and suffering that occurred there was not forgotten, and that the site could become a site of healing and conscience.

children scrubbing floor at Havilah There is also the more intangible notion of heritage – to ensure past events and actions are not forgotten in collective memory. Here again we see the importance of a variety of records and archives in maintaining the material that enables these events, stories and people not to be forgotten.

International Archives Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of records and archives; the need to properly manage and preserve archives over time; and the rights of all people to access and use archives.


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