Wednesday 1 November 2023

The 2023 Rod Wallace Memorial Lecture - Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking AM FASSA speaks on Burnt files, lost files, and denials of public access: censoring Archives and the falsification of history

Ray Edmondson, President of the Friends of the National Film & Sound Archive writes: "Many of you will know of Jenny Hocking through the “Palace Letters” saga, which is now the subject of a forthcoming film.  On 28 November 2023  at 6 pm for 6.30 pm at the Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, Jenny will deliver the 2023 Rod Wallace Memorial Lecture for the Friends of the NFSA on 28 November at the NFSA’s Arc Cinema. Her subject is   Burnt files, lost files and denial of public access: censoring archives and the falsification of history . If you will be in Canberra on the date, I recommend it! But please book first!"   


Professor Jenny Hocking

In bringing to life the story of Gough Whitlam, his government, and its dramatic dismissal by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, archives have played a central role. From Gough Whitlam’s early film appearance as a tuxedo-wearing extra in Ken G. Hall’s Broken Melody, his spontaneous knighting of Dame Edna Everage in Barry McKenzie Holds his Own, to the Queen’s secret correspondence with Kerr about the dismissal, the collections of the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Archives among others, have revealed a rich history of Gough Whitlam and the dismissal.

Jenny Hocking’s successful four-year High Court battle against the Archives to secure the release of the Queen’s correspondence with Kerr was a great victory for history, a highpoint in public access and transparency and the harbinger of an important recalibration of the history of the dismissal. However, it also highlighted the great damage to history done by the failure to release such critically important archives. The denial of access to the ‘Palace letters’ allowed a false version of the dismissal history to circulate unchallenged, one in which the Queen played no part in Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam.

The release of the Palace letters in 2020 changed the history of the dismissal irrevocably. It also revealed a disturbing pattern of archival obstruction beyond just denials of access to public documents. From the destruction of Gough Whitlam’s ASIO file, Kerr’s burnt Royal letters of support, to the missing telephone logs, lost guest books, these innovative denials of access raise deep concerns for archives and for history. With the National Archives now imposing restrictions on researchers’ access to its records it’s time to ask, whose archives are they? In this important and thought-provoking lecture Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking asks, ‘whose archives and whose history, is this - theirs or ours?’ 




The Friends of the NFSA have established the Rod Wallace Memorial Lecture as an annual tribute to a pioneer of audiovisual archiving in Australia.

Roderick J. Wallace AM (1916-1997) was a founding staff member of the Film Division of the (then) Commonwealth National Library, joining it as a cataloguer in November 1945. He became head of the Division in 1956, and a decade later he was promoted to head the emerging Special Collections area of the National Library, embracing not only films, but music, sound recordings, materials conservation, photography, pictures and maps. During the 1950s he guided the development of Australia’s non-theatrical film library network across all states, with the Film Division as the central member. In the 1960s he conducted, in his own time, the first national crusade to track down what survived of Australia’s early film history – conducted, of necessity, by laborious research and letter writing, since there were no pathways to follow . In the early 1970s he oversaw the creation of the National Library’s film archive and sound archive staff units. In all of these areas he was an innovator, pioneer, skilled negotiator, advocate and mentor. A quiet achiever, he retired in 1977. He had laid the foundation for the eventual creation, in 1984, of the National Film and Sound Archive as a separate institution, an event that he regarded as one of the great moments of his life.

Each year a distinguished speaker will be invited to prepare and deliver the Rod Wallace lecture. It will be a public event, open to the public and recorded for subsequent dissemination. The topic of the lecture is left to the speaker, with the suggestion that it reflect an aspect of the preservation and dissemination of the audiovisual heritage - taking that term in its broadest interpretation.

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