'There's no way we can save it all': National Archives says audio-visual records will be lost

National Archives of Australia Director-General David Fricker. Picture: Karleen Minney
National Archives of Australia Director-General David Fricker. Picture: Karleen Minney

The National Archives of Australia is preparing to lose large sections of its 117,000 hours of magnetic tape archives, including a prioritisation process to ensure archives relating to Indigenous languages and culture aren't lost.

Archivists across the world agree that audio visual archives held on magnetic tape will be lost forever if they are not digitised by 2025, a deadline that institutions like the National Archives and National Film and Sound Archive are battling to meet.

"I'm almost certain we are not going to meet it," said director-general of the National Archives David Fricker.

Mr Fricker said the Archives had about 117,000 hours of audio-visual records on magnetic tape, much of which isn't held anywhere else.

"If we haven't rescued the records on magnetic tape by 2025 we will be seeing the permanent irretrievable loss of material, which would be a great shame," he said.

Decisions are now being made at the National Archives about what records must be kept, and what could be allowed to be lost.

Records that include Indigenous languages that are now extinct, or could soon be extinct, as well as those that record ceremonies from Indigenous Australians are among those that are being prioritised.

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Surveillance footage from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and scientific recordings are also a high priority.

"Right now we're preparing detailed information through our collection, about what is the stuff that maybe could be recreated from other sources, or we'd have enough exemplars of something, so broadcast material, as opposed to what do we have that only exists on tape," Mr Fricker said.

"That's where we're up to now, because there's no way between now and 2025 we can save it all, unfortunately."

The National Archives have been in the spotlight since the release of the Palace letters written by former Governor-General Sir John Kerr.

Mr Fricker said while the institution had never been in higher demand, the funding priorities of the government were rightly focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Film and Sound Archive was given an extra $5.5 million in funding from the federal government last month to help it to meet the 2025 deadline of digitising audio-visual material for selected records of national significance.


This story 'There's no way we can save it all': Archives say records will be lost first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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