Review: A Matter of Record: A History of Public Records Office Victoria by Professor EW Russell


A Matter of Record: a history of Public Record Office Victoria explores the history of formal government record-keeping that culminated in the establishment of a Public Records Office in the 1970s.


It’s a well-known fact to many people that I love history. So when I first heard about this book through the Public Record Office when I was there for a part of the University Study Visit my reaction was MUST READ. So, while I sat there listening to them I requested it via Inter-Library Loan as my local library didn’t have it.  It took awhile for it to come, but I do not regret it at all. Not that long a read, coming in just over 150 pages (plus 50+ pages of appendixes and notes). Broken down into sections that covered periods of Melbourne’s history it details record keeping from the time Melbourne was founded in 1835 through to 2003 when the book was published.


Detailing how certain people and events influenced record keeping as well as the people who were against it, it looked at both sides of the arguments. It was interesting (and horrible to me) just how much people were adverse to the founding of a Records Office, that it wasn’t until the 70s that it took place though people had suggested for decades past that Melbourne needed a central place to be in charge of their record keeping. While there had been other places in the past from the Public Library of Victoria (now the State Library) to a depository out in Laverton. To me, the worst bit was how careless people in the past were and what happened during the second world war. While people fought to save files there were so many that were destroyed during this time that it broke my heart (and made me quite angry at the same time!). In truth it wasn’t until the 1920s and later that we as a state started to realise the importance of record management


To me though the most interesting part was the opposition that stood in the way of actual record keeping and the extent that we had to go to, to get even the legislation that we have today written. Previously there were memos detailing what could and couldn’t happen to files but as the book suggests not everyone followed it.


Either way this book was incredibly interesting to read though it was infuriating at times looking back at the processes and it had the added bonus of being incredibly useful for an assignment I was doing at that particular moment.


★ ★ ★ ★ / 5

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