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Parties to the Award Australian Trade Union Archives Home Page
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Parties to the Award

Federal industrial relations legislation

Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

Industrial Relations Act 1988

Registered organisations

Amalgamation trends

Research using archives



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Research using archives

The earliest archives of industrial organisations in Australia date from the 1830s. Strong series of metal, printing and building trades union minutes, membership and other records have survived from the 1850s. Very sound record groups dating from the 1880s of many of the mass industrial unions, craft unions and trades and labour councils have also survived. There are also good archives, dating from the 1890s and earlier in some cases, of the employer organisations in the pastoral, shipping, coal mining, printing and road transport industries.

There has been an even higher survival rate of records generated in the 20th century by industrial organisations. Not only have the main series of minutes of many of the organisations remained intact, but also extensive systems of correspondence, subject files and arbitration case files have been kept. Of course there are many important gaps in the archives, but overall there is remarkably strong and detailed documentation of many aspects of the industrial history of Australia.

A national program aimed at ensuring preservation of the records of industrial organisations by transferring them into archival custody was commenced at the now named Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University in the early 1960s with the support of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History and the eventual endorsement of the ACTU.

The University of Melbourne Archives has had an active program of collecting industrial archives, mainly focused on Victorian institutions, since the 1970s. The various State Libraries, some regional Libraries and a number of University Archives have also taken custody of archives of industrial organisations, usually but by no means always on a regional basis.

Salvage operations continue to be necessary from time to time, but many of the larger industrial organisations have now entered into arrangements with archival institutions for ongoing systematic transfers of their permanently valuable records. With the radical restructuring of the trade union movement over recent years final transfers of records of many defunct industrial organisations will continue until the turn of the century and beyond.

The efforts of all parties have produced a massive resource of industrial archives, documenting a crucial aspect of Australia's heritage, which has been and continue to be exploited by students and scholars in many fields, genealogists and the industrial organisations themselves.

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© 1994 Print Edition pages 19 - 20, 2002 Online Edition
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