I was the first in my family to join the Australian public service. I came to Canberra when I was five because my father transferred here from Sydney to work in the private sector. While working in what became the Noel Butlin Archives during university holidays, I discovered a passion for archives and gained a position as a graduate clerk with the Commonwealth Archives Office in 1971. I’m still working at the National Archives of Australia.
It was a different world then. With no flex leave, we had to sign the attendance book each morning. It was ruled off at 8.35. If you signed below the line more than three times, you were counselled. We had a tea lady who also did the photocopying and distributed the internal mail. And a typing pool for letters and memos.
At that stage, the Commonwealth Archives Office had premises above a hardware shop in Leichhardt Street, Kingston, near the railway station. The main premises were adapted from three Romney huts situated near the lake, where the National Gallery’s current carpark is. When the NGA was nearly completed, they wanted us out, before the Queen opened the new gallery in 1982. I recall that, when the Romney huts were eventually demolished, the archives staff held a Romney Wrecking Ball.
When we were in the Romney huts in 1976, a major flood threatened, with torrential rain causing the lake waters to lap over the edge. There were also worries that the partially built Googong Dam might give way. Over the weekend, we were called in and several pantechnicons were on hand. We were told to choose the most important records which would be taken by the trucks to a safe location. We spent the day moving records to the top shelf and packing boxes into the trucks. Among those I chose to be moved were the Federal Executive Council Minutes which record formal government decisions requiring the approval of the Governor-General, such as the creation and abolition of departments, issuing writs for elections, and making and terminating appointments.
In my youth I gained several Royal Life Saving awards and, during the flood threat, my mother said she had visions of me swimming across the lake holding files above the water in my teeth.
I still remember Canberra in the 1950s. We went to Goulburn quite a lot and Mum used to shop there for children’s clothes because there was more choice. Lots of people made their own clothes then and you could find a wider choice of fabrics in Goulburn. Otherwise, in church, you might see another woman wearing the same fabric as you made up into a different garment.