Australia's National Archives given $67 million to digitise historical artefacts

WW2 service records and tapes of the Stolen Generation royal commission are said to be at risk in their current form

The Australian government has awarded the National Archives of Australia $67.7 million (£36.3 million) in funding in a bid to help the organisation preserve its at-risk records and overhaul its cyber security systems.

Assistant minister to the attorney-general senator, the Hon Amanda Stoker, told ABC that the funding would be used to preserve and digitise the National Archives’ most vulnerable collections, hire additional archivists and enhance cyber security. This includes an “accelerated” four-year digitisation programme and measures to “improve cyber-resilience capabilities”.

A number of records have been identified as being potentially at risk of being damaged or lost in storage, including 11 million photographic items and almost 400,000 audio-visual items on magnetic media and films. This includes service records of WW2 soldiers, recordings of indigenous languages and ceremonies, and tapes of the Stolen Generation royal commission, an investigation into how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken from their families.

National Archives of Australia director David Fricker told ABC the funding would be a “game-changer”.

"I'm pleased to report today that I think this funding is adequate to ensure those records at risk of loss will be rescued, which is great news," he said.

A report released in March 2021 by David Tune, a former Department of Finance secretary, found that the National Archives was struggling to invest in its digital systems and that as so many records had deteriorated they were at risk of being lost if action was not taken.

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“Resources are needed to invest in contemporary technologies that will meet the volume of digital transfer, preservation, storage, declassification, and public access required under the Act. Stronger cyber security measures are also an urgent priority. And the mandate to require better recordkeeping needs strengthening,” it said.

With a lack of funding from the government, the National Archives had previously turned to crowdfunding, with most of its donations coming from the public via its website.

In the UK, the Imperial War Museum recently revealed how its system updates, stores, and protects the records of past conflicts, and the challenges that have come with this.

Its primary digital archive uses tape drives, given the medium's stability, high capacity, and cost-effectiveness for long-term storage, compared to spinning-disk or solid state drives. In contrast to other organisations, which can streamline their data intakes and offload older data, the IWM has to retain the vast bulk of its digital assets in perpetuity.

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