Guide to Australian archival sources for labour history

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Guide to Australian archival sources for labour history


This guide is intended to provide the researcher with an introduction to archival sources relating to the labour movement in Australia. It is divided into three sections - overview, guides and repository listing. The overview indicates generally what sorts of sources are available and how to search for them. The guides section provides information on gateways, directories and other publications (online and printed) which cover more than one repository. The repository section is organised by location rather than repository type, as this is probably more helpful for both Australian and international researchers. There are some references to printed sources; however, these are best located through library online catalogues.


A significant quantity of the archival records of the labour movement in Australia has been preserved for research in archives, libraries and other cultural institutions. These records include the records of trade unions, political parties, activist and single-issue campaign organisations as well as the personal papers of well-known and less well-known individuals connected with the labour movement. While written records predominate, there are also photographs and other images, oral history recordings, films, banners and ephemera such as posters and flyers. Some records have been digitised and are available via the internet, but research using original records is still usually carried out on site in the repository holding the records. In some instances, organisations and individuals retain their own records and oversee access to them, but the normal arrangement is that the records are transferred to a national, state or local repository (see Repository section for further information).


Online gateways and directories

There are three key online "umbrella" guides useful for Australian labour history. They are

  • Australian Trade Union Archives

  • Trove

  • Directory of Archives in Australia

Australian Trade Union Archives (ATUA)

This is a specialised online subject gateway for researchers in labour history which provides information on Australian trade unions, their history and structure and their records. It also provides references to published sources such as journal articles. It can be browsed by the name of an organisation or person, by repository or by function. Functions cover categories such as Strike and Trade Unionist. ATUA also has a facility to search using keyword, structured and bibliographic terms. ATUA is maintained by the University of Melbourne Archives and can be found at


This is a guide to non-government organisational records and personal papers held by Australian libraries and archives. It provides collection-level entries from over 200 repositories in Australia, with links to details about the repositories and in some cases to online guides for individual collections. Searches using the occupation category, for example "politicians" and "trade unionists", are effective for enquiries about personal papers of labour movement figures. RAAM searches often indicate that papers relating to an individual or organisation can be spread across several repositories. is Trove is maintained by the National Library of Australia and can be found at

Directory of Archives in Australia

This directory provides summary information about the location, collection focus, access arrangements and hours of opening of both non-government and government archives. It can be browsed and searched by repository name or by state. The Directory includes links to websites maintained by repositories. The Directory is maintained by the Australian Society of Archivists and can be found at

Other directories

Australia's Oral History Collections: A National Database
This directory provides details of over 450 oral history collections in Australia. To locate oral sources on labour history, try subject search terms "industrial relations", "politics" and "social action and reform".

Picture Australia

Picture Australia contains over 1 million images of Australian life. Many archives and libraries contribute and there are links to their institutional sites from the brief images in this database. Subject searches using subject terms such as "trade unions", "trade unionists" and "strikes" or searches on specific organisational and place names will retrieve many images.

Biographical register of the Australian labour movement
For further information view the Working Lives site. For a progress report on this major project, see Working Lives Biographical Register.

Australian Prime Ministers
The Australian Prime Ministers website maintained by the National Archives of Australia is the key source of information concerning prime ministers. It has links to collections and some digitised records and contains biographical information on prime ministers' wives. The index locates records on individual prime ministers by collection, location and bibliography.
There is a published guide to the archives of John Curtin. JC Watson and Andrew Fisher are included in the Guide for the first six prime ministers .

Unlocking regional memory - New South Wales electronic regional archives
This online gateway to the records held in regional universities in New South Wales provides summary information on the collections of the University of Newcastle, the University of Wollongong, the University of New England (Armidale) and Charles Sturt University (Wagga Wagga). The Newcastle (Hunter) and Wollongong (Illawarra/South Coast) regions are major historic industrial areas and the respective repositories have significant holdings of regional union branches and political organisations. Digitised record items are being added to this site.

Printed guides
The two volumes produced by Beverley Symons on communism include institutional listings of organisational records and personal papers of the Communist Party of Australia and individual communists. Communist publications, theses and published works on communism are also listed. These guides are essential starting points for research on the role of communists within the labour movement and other related topics. Publication details are:

Beverley Symons, compiler, with Andrew Wells and Stuart Macintyre, Communism in Australia: A resource bibliography, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1994.

Beverley Symons, compiler, Communism in Australia: A Supplementary Resource Bibliography, c.1994-2001, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Sydney Branch, 2002.

Repository Listing

Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia
North Territory

Australian Capital Territory

Noel Butlin Archives Centre, The Australian National University
The NBAC collects the records of federally registered trade unions and has the largest holdings of the records of the industrial wing of the labour movement in Australia (over 6,000 shelf metres). The records date from the 1840s onwards. Early records include the Operative Stonemasons and unions in the printing trade, as well as the Australian Shearers' Union. Recent records include the Maritime Dispute Archive, 1998. The consolidated holdings provide comprehensive documentation of the history of the union movement in Australia, particularly of unions involved in the maritime, construction, mining and pastoral industries. The NBAC also holds the records of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other peak bodies.

Personal papers held by the NBAC include those of James Normington Rawling, Tom and Mary Wright, Jack Kavanagh and Albert Langer. The original records are supplemented by extensive holdings of union publications such as branch newsletters. There are also strong holdings of socialist and communist publications, as well as posters, flyers and other labour movement ephemera.

Access to information about holdings at collection level is through the online List of Holdings. Brief union administrative histories can be found online in ATUA. For further information about the NBAC access the website.

National Library of Australia (NLA)
The NLA's holdings include the records of political parties and papers of individual politicians and political activists. There are also oral history recordings and ephemera. The labour-related records date from the nineteenth century. Highlights include the records of the federal/national secretariat of Australian Labor Party (ALP) and of its ACT Branch; the personal papers of ALP prime ministers including Billy Hughes, Andrew Fisher and JC Watson and from more recent times leading party figures such as Tom Uren. There are also the records of the Democratic Labor Party and its leader Vince Gair. The papers of many labour and communist activists such as Tom Walsh and Adela Pankhurst Walsh, Brian Fitzpatrick, Dame Mary Gilmore, Frank Hardy, Alice Henry, Guido Baracchi, Lloyd Ross, Ian Turner, Noel Counihan, Denis Freney, Ruby Rich and Edna Ryan and the FJ Riley collection of ephemera are held by the NLA. Their oral history interviews include one with Clarrie O'Shea, leader of the 1969 Melbourne tram strike.

There are online finding aids for many collections including for the ALP Federal Caucus and Federal Secretariat..

National Archives of Australia (NAA)
Records of agencies of the Commonwealth (federal) government covering functions such as labour regulation and the security services are relevant for labour history research. Note that access to Commonwealth government records is governed by the 30-year rule. NAA holds the personal archives of several ALP prime ministers including Chifley, Whitlam and Keating. Look for further information on NAA holdings of the personal papers of prime ministers.

NAA holds the papers of other leading ALP federal parliamentarians including Jim Cairns, Rex Connor, Simon Crean and Mark Latham. There are fact sheets on many research topic areas including security records, see fact sheet index. Published research guides may be viewed online.

The National Screen and Sound Archive
The national collection of film, television and sound recordings includes newsreels, documentaries and feature film material relating to the labour movement from as early as World War 1. Items available include election speeches and biographical documentaries on labour activists. There are charges for access to most of the holdings and some titles are sold online. Follow the links from the NFSA homepage to the online catalogue and charges information.

Online collection guides include one relating to the cold war.

New South Wales

State Library of NSW
The largest collection of organisational records held by the Library is the ALP NSW Branch records. The Library also holds the records of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), including National Committee minutes 1920-1991. Records of individual CPA branches are held in some personal collections. Also of interest are microfilms of Russian communist archives relating to Australia and the records of the New Theatre.

The records of the peak union council in NSW, the Labor Council of NSW are also held by the SLNSW. Other union holdings include early unions, the Sydney Progressive Society of Carpenters and Joiners, established in 1853 and the United Labourers' Protective Society (ULPS), the oldest labourers' union in NSW, established in 1861. NSW records of the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society of Australia, Ship Painters and Dockers Union and the Federated Shipwrights & Ship Constructors Association of Australia are also held by the SLNSW.

Personal papers include Jim Healy, federal leader of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia; Frederick Hancock; Professor Frederick Rose; Jack Hughes and Charlie Oliver; Eileen Powell union organiser; Nick Origlass, socialist and local government councillor; communists Jack and Audrey Blake and left-wing artist Roderick Shaw.

Follow the links for online access to information about holdings (note that this database does not generally include information about collections received before 1993).

University of Newcastle Archives Rare Books and Special Collections
Holdings of organisational records include Newcastle Trades Hall and regional unions. Personal papers include Jim Comerford, mining union leader. See archive collections labour history page.

University of Wollongong Archives
Holds collections relating to Wollongong, the Illawarra region and South Coast NSW. This archives holds records of local bodies of the ALP and the CPA. Union records held include the South Coast Labour Council, the Teachers' Federation of NSW and mining unions. Personal papers include those of ALP politicians Rex Connor, Les Johnson and George Petersen. Search the collections index for trade unions and professional associations and political parties. Some entries lead on to more detailed descriptions and inventories for the D collections.

Charles Sturt University Regional Archives
Located in Wagga Wagga in the Riverina region of south-western NSW. Holdings include Wagga Wagga and District Trades and Labour Council, some ALP organisational records and personal papers of former ALP MPs.

University of Western Sydney, Whitlam Institute
Holds private papers and books donated by former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. An electronic archive is being developed.

Broken Hill Outback Archives (Charles Rasp Memorial Library, Broken Hill)
The Outback Archives include the records of the ALP Broken Hill Branch, the Barrier Industrial Council and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Broken Hill Branch and related unions.


State Library of Queensland
The John Oxley Library Manuscripts and Business Records Collection contains labour-related holdings. The most notable of these are the records of the Australian Labor Party, Queensland Branch. There are also records of Queensland branches of federally-registered unions and of state-registered unions such as the Queensland State Service Union of Employees. Personal collections include the papers of WJ H (Joe) Harris, labour activist and author of the noted pictorial history of the labour movement The bitter fight (1970). For further information, contact the John Oxley Library.

University of Queensland, Fryer Library
Union records include the records of the Trades and Labour Council, Queensland and of the Queensland branches of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association of Australasia and the Building Workers' Industrial Union. Also held are the records of the Communist Party of Australia, Queensland Branch.

Personal collections include the papers of Bill Morrow, railway union official, ALP senator and peace activist; Denis Murphy, academic and ALP official and Marie McFarlane, whose collection documents women's and left politics in Brisbane 1960s-1990s. Oral history collections include an oral history of women in the labour movement in Queensland 1930-70.

Many collections have full online descriptions. List of Manuscript Collections.

Central Queensland University, Capricornia Central Queensland Collection (located in Rockhampton)
Union records held include the Rockhampton Trades and Labour Council, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, Rockhampton Branch and various transport unions in central Queensland.

James Cook University Library Archives (located in Townsville)
Archives holdings include Union and labour history speciality. Union records include records of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, Northern District and the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union and predecessors. Personal papers include Jean Devanny, communist and writer; AD Murgatroyd, labour activist and Townsville alderman and Fred Thompson, union organiser in North Queensland. Check the website for further information


University of Melbourne Archives (UMA)
The UMA has strong collections of business and community records, as well as records relating to the labour movement. It holds records of over 100 trade unions, as well as the papers of political parties and individuals associated with the labour movement.

Political party holdings include the Socialist Labor Party of Australia, the Political Labor Council and the Victorian Socialist Party, as well as the ALP Victorian Branch and local branches and the Communist Party of Australia, Victorian Branch.

Union holdings include the Victorian Trades Hall Council and regional trades hall councils, Federated Clerks Union and the Royal Victorian College of Nursing, Vehicle Builders Employees Federation, Federal Office and Victorian Branch. Related labour movement holdings include the Melbourne May Day Committee and the Victorian Labor College. Search the website at

State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection
Political party records held include the records of the ALP, Victorian Branch and local branches, the Democratic Labor Party, Victorian Branch and the Socialist Labour Party (1921-44).

Union records held include Australian Telecommunications Employees Association and predecessors; Victorian Fabian Society.

Personal papers held include Sam Merrifield, labour historian, Muriel Heagney, union organiser and equal pay advocate; Stephen Murray-Smith, left-wing academic and writer; Race Mathews, ALP politician.
For further information, follow prompt to Manuscripts Catalogue

Victoria University
The following research collections are held at the Footscray campus of VU.
The Ruth and Maurie Crow collection, commemorating the work of two Melbourne political activists, contains some unpublished material as well as pamphlets and other published material.

The Radical Literature collection, which contains some material relating to the Communist Party of Australia.

Geelong Heritage Centre
holds the records of the Geelong Trades Hall Council.

South Australia

State Library of South Australia
Organisational records include Australian Labor Party, South Australian Branch, United Trades & Labor Council of South Australia; Federated Iron Brass & Steel Moulders Union of Australasia, South Australian Branch, Federated Clerks Union, South Australian Branch; Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, Adelaide Branch. Also held are the records of the Workers Educational Association of South Australia and the Working Women's Centre. Oral history holdings include Working Women Revisited project and the United Trades and Labor Council of SA Story Collecting Project. To search for collection details, follow the prompts.

Flinders University of South Australia, Library Special Collections
This library holds the papers of Don Dunstan, ALP Premier of South Australia and those of HV Evatt, ALP federal leader during the 1950s. Follow the links for information on holdings and access.

University of South Australia, Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library
This library holds the personal papers of Bob Hawke, Labor Prime Minister 1983-1991 and related material. Some Hawke materials have been digitised.

Western Australia

JS Battye Library of West Australian History, Private Archives Collection
Political party records include the Australian Labor Party, Western Australian branch, including the records of the People's Printing and Publishing Company of WA (1906-1928) and the Labor Women's Organisation.

Union records include the Trades and Labor Council of Western Australia; Amalgamated Seamen & Dockers Union of Western Australia; Australian Bank Employees Union, Western Australian Division; Australian Trained Nurses Association, Western Australian Branch; Breweries & Bottleyards Employees Industrial Union of Western Australia and West Australian Amalgamated Society of Railway Employees Union of Workers (1899 - 1958) and Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees' Association, Perth Branch.

Personal collections include papers of communist union leader, Paddy Troy; May Holman, ALP politician and trade union official; John and Roma Gilchrist, political activists.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library (JCPML)
This collection documents the life and work of John Curtin, Labor Prime Minister 1941-1945. There are also papers of Hazel Hawke as prime ministerial wife and John Dawkins, former member for Fremantle.
The JCPML Electronic Research Archive provides access to the archive's collections of personal papers, oral histories, photographs, audio visual records and finding aids relating to John Curtin in this collection and other collections in Australia and overseas.


Archives Office of Tasmania
Organisational records include the records of the ALP, Tasmanian Branch. Union records include the Tasmanian Public Service Association; Tasmanian Trades Hall Council; Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union - Tasmanian Division and Launceston Branch.

Personal papers include Neil Batt, Tasmanian ALP member of Parliament and State and Federal President of the ALP.

To search holdings, go to Tasmanian Archives Online from the home page.

University of Tasmania Library, Special/Rare Collection
Some small collections of personal and organisational papers relating to the labour movement in Tasmania are held as deposited archives.

Northern Territory

Northern Territory Archives Service
Holdings include ALP Northern Territory Branch and Darwin sub-branch records. Unions include Federated Clerks Union and Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. Click for a List of organisations by subject and here for information about the substantial oral history collection of tapes, transcripts and associated materials.

For further information on holdings and access, contact the NTAS.

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