Australia: Advocacy

When Governments Make Mistakes: Advocacy and the Long-Distance Archivist         
By Ray Edmondson

Article Index

When Governments Make Mistakes: Advocacy and the Long-Distance Archivist


The British Situation

Ten-Point Guerilla Guide


All Pages


CHALLENGE: How do you advocate for change and growth? How do you correct inherited mistakes? How do work for improvement in the status and resource base of your archive? For recognition of its value?

STRATEGIES: You use time-honoured guerilla tactics! And you do it yourself. You don’t need “specialists” to do it for you.

Do governments make mistakes? Do they get things wrong, for whatever reason?

Yes, assuredly. History, ancient and modern, tells us that. We do not have to look far in today’s world to find plenty of examples.

Do governments admit to their mistakes?

Sometimes. But probably, on the whole, only when they have to. Governments are made up of fallible people, just like us. Confession might be good for the soul, but I suspect most of us would rather not admit our errors publicly. And when the political stakes are high, governments are not going to hand their opponents an opportunity to demonize them. So when confronted with an awkward question, governments—just like people—can

  • Ignore it and just plough on
  • Obfuscate, stonewall, and delay
  • Redefine the issue to make a mistake look like a success
  • Say we have to focus on the present, not the past
  • Deflect the issue by attacking their critics
  • Say it is “under consideration” or “being studied”
  • Confuse the issue by addressing a question that has not been asked
  • Get surrogates to respond instead

And that is just for starters: the variations are endless. A British television series, Yes Minister, which also has abiding popularity in my own country, Australia, explores the fallibility of politicians and bureaucrats, not only with great humor but also with considerable humanity and insight. I recommend it for further study.1

One of its leading characters, the quintessential bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby, was much given to educating his Minister, the Hon. James Hacker, on how governments manage awkward questions. Here is a typical piece of advice: “It is axiomatic in government that hornets’ nests should be left unstirred, cans of worms should remain unopened, and cats should be left firmly in bags and not set among the pigeons.” And again: “Almost anything can be attacked as a failure, but almost anything can be defended as not a significant failure. Politicians do not appreciate the significance of ‘significant.’” And finally: “We have decided to be more flexible in our application of this principle” means “We are dropping this policy but we don’t want to admit it publicly.

What happens when governments make mistakes that affect us as archivists? What is our obligation? What can we do to change things? Can we change things? Or, are we powerless?

Advocacy is about promoting and arguing for your point of view. And whether we like it or not, archivists are advocates. Our fundamental tasks of collection building and preservation are inherently activist, political statements—we are asserting our values. And they are values that not everyone will necessarily agree with. The shocking history of the deliberate destruction of collections in the twentieth century tells us that. We want to preserve history: our values are the opposite of those who want to rewrite it. Do you recall the Nazi book burnings in the 1930s, the destruction of records by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and the demolition by cannon fire of the National Library of Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990s?2

I have been writing about this topic and posting to relevant listservs for several years, including AMIA-L and publications like The Moving Image, The IASA Journal, Metro and others. (You’ll find several of these on my website at Most importantly, I’ve been putting the theory into practice in my involvement with the fluctuating fortunes of Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA – Let me recap and update that history: here is a case study, which is fundamental to the thesis of this article. Let me follow that by reference to a somewhat similar set of circumstances affecting the survival of Britain’s National Film and Television Archive (NFTVA). The opinions I express, of course, are mine alone.


The sequence of events may be said to have begun in June 1999 when the NFSA was rebranded as ScreenSound Australia. This unexplained decision (finally reversed in 2004) resulted in sustained confusion and public complaint. It led directly to the establishment, the following year, of an incorporated society called the Friends of the NFSA. The Friends’ immediate objective was to lobby for reinstatement of the institution’s name, but it also promulgated a larger vision for the NFSA’s future and saw itself serving the NFSA in the traditional support role of friends’ associations. It was joined in 2002 by another group, Archive Forum. It was a deliberately select group of prominent academics, film industry people, and others with past NFSA associations who could legitimately claim to advance an informed view of where the institution should be heading. The creation of the two bodies was symptomatic of a general concern that the NFSA had lost its way and needed to reconnect with its original vision.

Front page news in Australia’s national capital: for a whole week The Canberra Times successfully pressured the government and the AFC to reverse the AFC’s most draconian plans. “Sackings at ScreenSound” (Canberra Times, Friday, December 12, 2003); “Rage at ScreenSound” (Canberra Times, Wednesday, December 17, 2003), “AFC Bows to People Power” (Canberra Times, Thursday, December 18, 2003).

Then, in May 2003, the government of the day unexpectedly announced that as a result of a major review of over thirty cultural institutions, the NFSA was to be “integrated” with the Australian Film Commission (AFC), a funding and promotional organization. (It was later absorbed into Screen Australia. Beyond claiming that this would exploit “synergies” between the two bodies, no rationale was offered.3 The AFC Act was hurriedly and inadequately amended to accommodate this change, which took effect on July 1, 2003. The extraordinary speed of this process precluded any public debate or scrutiny as well as any consultation with stakeholders.

The Friends of the NFSA, Archive Forum, and other stakeholders cautiously gave the new arrangements the benefit of the doubt and waited to see what would happen. They willingly consulted with the AFC when it sought their views. But disquiet grew and was frighteningly justified when, on December 12, 2003, the AFC released its plan for the NFSA—which was quickly dubbed as “Directions.”

Canberra Times cartoon by Ian Sharpe (published Thursday, December 18, 2003)


It was a bombshell. It envisaged the effective dismantling of the institution and destruction of its corporate memory. Public reaction was swift. It’s not often that archives get on the front page of daily newspapers, but for a whole week it was the biggest story in Canberra. Can you imagine people literally coming out on the streets in defense of an audiovisual archive? It happened. And it was enough to force the Arts Minister and the AFC to back down from some of its more draconian proposals.

What followed was a protracted tug of war between the AFC on the one hand, and the NFSA’s constituency—comprising concerned individuals, organizations, and various professional and advocacy groups—on the other. This resulted in a long sequence of media articles, submissions, resolutions, petitions, questions in parliament, newsletters, and correspondence. The AFC staged several tightly controlled “public consultations,” took a distinctly antagonistic stance toward its perceived critics, and showed no hesitation in berating them directly in the media and indirectly in other ways. When, in July 2004, the Friends of the NFSA and the Australian Society of Archivists organized a conference on the future of the NFSA, the AFC simply ignored the event itself as well as its recommendations.

Was all this tough on NFSA staff, who were caught in the middle? Of course it was, and as professionals, they had to work out how to manage it. Was it tough on those in the advocacy groups? Yes, because they were publicly subscribing their names and lending the credibility of their organizations to stances that were at variance with official government policy. Sometimes that took more than a little courage. It also took great energy, time, and persistence by those who were doing this, after all, on a voluntary basis and with few resources.

An important milestone in this sequence was the publication, in July 2006, of a statement jointly authored by the Friends of the NFSA, Archive Forum, the Australian Society of Archivists, and the Australian Historical Association (the national historians’ organization). Titled Independent Statutory Authority Status for the National Film and Sound Archive , the statement’s twenty pages set out the essential arguments and principles that demonstrated—clinically and dispassionately—why the NFSA’s subordination to the AFC had not worked and, most importantly, why it could never work effectively, because it violated fundamental archival principles.

Briefly, its main arguments were

  • The AFC Act does not provide an adequate basis for a national memory institution. It does not even recognize the existence of the NFSA, whose survival is therefore inherently at risk.
  • The NFSA is by nature a permanent entity, but is under the control of an inherently impermanent body, without safeguards for its continuity beyond the AFC’s life.
  • Promised reformation of the AFC, to embrace an NFSA which is much larger than itself, never actually happened.
  • The dynamic of the AFC/NFSA relationship militates against the protection of the NFSA’s institutional integrity and autonomy.
  • The NFSA has lost the governance and representation protections available to all other national memory institutions.
  • A satisfactory legal deposit regime is not possible under the AFC Act.
  • The present arrangement has failed to gain the support of the NFSA’s constituency (note that—our views matter!).

And the statement proposed a course of action. It said the NFSA needed to become

  • a permanent, autonomous national institution with its own statutory base and legal personality
  • thereby have its role, functions, identity, and powers recognized in law, and
  • hence formalize the de facto autonomy with which it operated from 1984 until its integration with the AFC in 2003.

It is not difficult to achieve that outcome, provided there is the political will. And it is hardly revolutionary: it is exactly what the government of the day intended when the NFSA was created in 1984, because it is basically what the other national memory institutions already have.

In other words, what these advocacy groups were saying to the government was

  • you made a fundamental mistake in subordinating the NFSA to an inappropriate organization.
  • you made it because you reached a decision in secret without consulting with the NFSA’s peers and constituents.
  • you did not have a cogent rationale or philosophical basis—at least, not one you were willing to share publicly.
  • as a result, you made promises that could not be fulfilled.
  • the problem will not go away until the mistake is recognized and fixed.

By definition, the problem could not be corrected by the AFC, which is bound by its Act and by the government’s decisions. It is accountable only for the way it implements its mandate, not for the shape that mandate has taken. It was only the government that could correct the fundamental mistake.

The joint statement was sent to every member of parliament, as well as to the media and to other interested people. And it turned out to be prescient, because the very warning it sounded about the impermanence of the AFC was vindicated in yet another government review announced soon after. That review subsequently determined that the AFC would lose its statistical function5 and that the remainder would merge with two other organizations—the Film Finance Corporation and the government film production body, Film Australia—to create a new entity known as Screen Australia. It followed that the NFSA would be part of this new entity.


These cartoons by Geoff Pryor, one of Australia’s foremost political cartoonists, are a “before and after” pair. The first, published at the height of the “rage,” shows a sinister minion of the AFC presiding over the dismantling of the NFSA (ScreenSound). The second, after the government’s back down, shows AFC Chief Executive Kim Dalton being roasted on the spit at the NFSA’s Christmas party. “We Do Things Differently in Sydney” (Canberra Times, Sunday, December 14, 2003); “We Do Things Differently in Canberra” (Canberra Times, Thursday, December 18, 2003).

The British Situation

Although being a participant in the NFSA saga being played out in Australia, I was also aware of a similar sequence of events unfolding in Britain and threatening the future of the venerable NFTVA, part of the British Film Institute (BFI) and one of the largest, oldest, and most iconic archives in our field.

There are curious historical parallels in the histories of the NFTVA and NFSA.6 In recent years, and at around the same time, the two have been subject to unwise name changes and to attempts at radical restructuring by their parent bodies. Both had their membership in International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF)7 put under review as a result of these attempts. In both cases, there has been strong public and professional reaction, both national and global, to the threat to each archive’s survival as an entity. Both have suffered an effective reduction in staffing and funding and an exodus of expertise.

But there are differences too. NFTVA is a moving image archive that is part of a non-government, though government-funded, institute. NFSA embraces the whole audiovisual spectrum and it is a government body: its staff are public servants. The NFTVA’s most recent woes appear to be a flow-on from the BFI’s own demotion in the pecking order—it is now subordinate, in turn, to another government-funded body, the U.K. Film Council. And funding cuts to the NFTVA appear to have led to some dismantling of collections and to radical and heavily criticized proposals for future preservation strategies. Unlike Australia, the NFTVA is linked to a network of regional film archives across Britain, which are also dependent on government funding.

The politics of activism have differed in the two contexts. For the NFSA, the dialogue—if that is the right word—involving the government, the parliamentary opposition, the AFC and the constituency organizations has been overt and public, with the players clearly identified, and with the professional associations focused on a single expressed objective—the attainment of independent statutory status for the NFSA, achieved by an act of parliament.

For the NFTVA, the range of players and the objectives have been less obvious and overt. Perhaps the most important single development was the establishment of the “Custodes Lucis” Web site in May 2004 (, which has served not only as a focus for activism but also as a historical record and as a gateway to a range of BFI, government, and other reports and documents. The site is anonymously hosted, and I quote here the group’s rationale for this stance:

There has been much criticism of the Custodes Lucis as hiding behind anonymity and refusing to make our real identities known.
Among the Custodes are members of staff of the British Film Institute and people who work with the Institute in a variety of ways.
We do not believe that any of us in those categories who identify ourselves publicly will be allowed to retain our jobs at, or connections with the BFI. We therefore remain resolutely anonymous.

As a counterpoint, it is interesting to visit the BFI’s own commentary at

In both countries, activism has involved an assessment of risk in choosing the most appropriate strategy to follow in the national context. In this respect, Australia and Britain are different countries.

Let me now reflect on the wider lessons of this experience for all of us.

  1. Ethics—As audiovisual archivists, I believe, we have an ethical obligation to protect our organizational structures. We cannot take their survival for granted. When we talk about preservation, it is always in terms of technicalities, storage environments, housekeeping and staff skills. But the most important part of preservation is the stability and continuity of our organizations. When we encourage people to donate or deposit collection material, we implicitly make them a promise—that you can trust us to ensure this material is permanently preserved. If we are to honor that trust, we have an ethical obligation to protect the stability of our organizations.
  2. Empowerment—Not only the belief, but the knowledge and evidence that we, as individual professionals working together—can make a difference. Archives do not start and grow because a minister or a public servant says one day: “I know, let’s set up a national audiovisual archive and give it lots of money.” It happens because people like us make it happen. The whole story of audiovisual archiving in Australia, and I suspect most other countries, is the story of institutions and governments responding to grass roots activism. You can trace each development step by step.
  3. Consultation and engagement—Every archive has a constituency: a surrounding assemblage of individuals and organizations to whom the archive is important and who will, if necessary, defend it. Their good will is crucial. The archive must keep in regular contact with them. The archive’s governing authority—whether it be the government or some other entity—is wise to consult with them so that mistakes can be avoided.
  4. Vigilance—The price of archival integrity is eternal vigilance. We cannot take the apparent security of our institutions for granted.
  5. Take risks—Advocacy may involve some level of risk taking, of exposing oneself to challenge or even ridicule. We all take risks every day without thinking—even crossing the road is a risk. Are we willing to take risks in support of our profession?

So, when confronted with a government mistake, what are our choices? We can

  • Do nothing and passively accept it;
  • Grumble and mutter in the background;
  • Go feral with wild public denunciations; or
  • Work out a proactive, constructive response on our own or with others.

Assuming you would agree that the last option is the most appropriate, effective and ethical, how then do you bring about change—or, better, correct a mistake?

Ten-Point Guerilla Guide

What you choose to do is going to be specific to your country and culture. Activism and advocacy does not work the same way in every culture. In Australia, decision making often involves confrontation—government versus opposition, majority versus minority. But many other cultures do the opposite and seek change through consensus. Again, Australians mythologize that everyone is (theoretically) equal—we like to cut down the tall poppies. So a single passenger usually sits in the front seat of the taxi, next to the driver, and not in the back seat. This puts both on the same social level. Yet, in other countries, respect for hierarchy, status, and age are far more important and natural. So what follows is based specifically on the Australian context and experience. Nonetheless, I hope it resonates.

  1. Be clear about your objective, its practicality, and its necessity. Be sure you are right. Your objective must be principled, held with conviction, be in the public interest, and be able to withstand intellectual scrutiny. There must be no lingering doubt. Never let go of that knowledge.
  2. It follows that your objective represents the normative situation and that the present circumstances, no matter how apparently permanent, are actually temporary. Act accordingly. Do not acknowledge or appear to acknowledge the permanency of an unsatisfactory temporary situation, either to others or (especially) to yourself. This is crucial to your own mindset. (Over the five years that the name ScreenSound Australia was promoted, I never used it by choice, never used it as a heading in my e-mail directories, never thought of it as the real name. I continued, like many others, to refer to the Archive as the NFSA).
  3. Understand your opponents and their motives. Avoid confrontation if you can. Avoid reacting emotionally—stay calm and collected, no matter what the provocation. Call them to account against objective standards and principles—not opinions. Do not paint your opponents into a corner—give them an exit route. Give praise where it is due: be gracious. Focus on principles, not personalities. You are trying to achieve an objective, not to score points.
  4. Count the cost. Activism can be stressful. It can impact others beside yourself—your family, your friends, or your associates. You may get public opposition. Your opponents may try to discredit you, dismiss you, misrepresent your arguments, question your motives, or spread malicious rumors. If the conflict becomes bitter, there may be personal relationships you can never recover.
  5. Believe in your own capacities. Do not make excuses. You may not feel you are the most articulate/most presentable/most experienced/cleverest proponent of your cause. But you are the one on the spot. Your conviction will communicate more than the most elegant prose or interview performance.
  6. Persist. Delay and obfuscation are great bureaucratic weapons. Your opponents may try to tire and exhaust you, make you doubt that it is worth the trouble. “It’s a poor bureaucrat who can’t stall a good idea until even its sponsor is relieved to see it dead and buried.”8
  7. United we stand. Build alliances. Several groups working toward the same objective is a stronger statement than a single group (no matter how large). But disunity is death: if the groups do not genuinely share a common objective and strategy, they are unlikely to achieve much.9
  8. Set the agenda. Make opportunities, do not wait for them. Write an article, talk to the media, and raise issues that your opponents do not want to discuss. Articulate your rationale. Be ready and able to cogently argue for your objective, from first principles if necessary, in all circumstances. Do not take the bait of responding to taunts in kind. Use due process wherever possible.
  9. Offer a solution, not a problem. Be ready to offer a practical way in which your objective can be reached with, if possible, a win-win result. Think tactically and strategically. What is negotiable and nonnegotiable in your position? Be approachable and ready to talk.
  10. Keep complete records. Keep copies of all documents, media clippings, and correspondence. Make a written record of meetings and conversations, and especially promises and agreements. Keep your records safe. Make and keep extra copies of key documents in more than one location. You will always know where you have been and what you have said.

And when the objective is achieved—it does not matter who gets the credit.

Without activism and risk, things do not advance. Yet even if you do not achieve your objective, your actions will be observed by others and may well inspire others with or without your knowledge.

Robert Townsend,10 again, speaking from an American perspective:

If you discovered how to eliminate air pollution for $1.50 per state, the worst way to accomplish it would be to announce your discovery. You’d be amazed at how many people would oppose your scheme. The best way, if you could stay alive and out of jail, would be just to start eliminating it, state by state.

To get something done, which involves several departments, divisions or organizations, keep quiet about it. Get the available facts, marshal your allies, think through the opponents’ defenses, then go.


So far, I have painted a grim picture, both for the NFSA and the NFTVA. The breakthrough of statutory authority status for the NFSA seemed out of reach, and things appear to be going from bad to worse for the NFTVA. Had anything been achieved by all this advocacy? At what point do you give up in despair, or at least cut your losses by concluding your objective is not reasonably achievable? I have two answers to this.

First, the persistent airing of valid professional issues is worthwhile in itself. It changes perceptions and assumptions, sometimes quickly but more often gradually in building a changing climate for decision making. People occupying positions of influence change over time, and this is often to the advantage of the advocate. Creating the climate will be necessary to sustaining the right decision when it finally comes, and it can sometimes achieve de facto change in the right direction on the way. It took William Wilberforce over twenty years of campaigning and alliance building to formally achieve abolition of the slave trade in Britain,11but incremental change was already underway before then.

Second, whether to persist in the face of repeated disappointment, or call it a day, is always a matter of judgment. It will depend on the strength of your conviction about the validity of your case. When the resolution comes, it may come quickly and even fortuitously, and you have to be ready to manage the result.

Light at the End of the Tunnel in Australia

An exposure draft of the bill to establish Screen Australia, of which the NFSA would be a subset, was released in September 2007 by the then Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis. Despite previous in-person consultations with the minister by advocacy groups, the draft showed no evidence that the joint statement, Independent Statutory Authority Status for the National Film and Sound Archive, had even been read by the drafters, much less that its arguments had been considered. Despite some cosmetic tinkering, the bill did nothing to change the status quo, nor improve the NFSA’s current extreme vulnerability under the AFC Act.

On November 24, however, a federal election resulted in a change of government for Australia. The incoming Labor party has long supported statutory independence for the NFSA. Its election platform contained the following commitment in relation to cultural institutions in general, and the NFSA in particular:

[The Labor party is] determined to ensure our national [cultural] institutions flourish free from political interference. Labor will legislate to make the National Film and Sound Archive a statutory authority following the de-merger of this institution from the Australian Film Commission.12

Archive Forum and the Friends of the NFSA promptly approached the new Minister for Arts, Hon. Peter Garrett AM,13 to offer their advice about the content of the new NFSA legislation, and on the de-merger process, which would have its own internal politics. A dialogue followed with the Minister’s office and the AFC – and with members of the former government, who had now become the parliamentary Opposition. Why consult with the latter? It was essential to encourage the opposition not to oppose the legislation: at the time the Opposition controlled the Senate (the upper house of Parliament) and could have chosen to block the legislation. But also, bipartisan support would offer the surest foundation for the NFSA’s long term future.

In the event, the legislation successfully passed both houses of parliament and the NFSA Act became law on 20 March 2008. Significantly, the opposition Shadow Minister for the Arts, Dr Sharman Stone, clearly based her speech on documents produced by Archive Forum and the Friends of the NFSA. The objective of independent statutory status had been achieved with unexpected rapidity by a new government moving quickly to keep an election promise. And it had been achieved with bipartisan support: there were no losers.

Now, as they say, comes the hard part. The legislation has to be implemented to best effect as the NFSA’s new governing board takes office, beginning on 1 July 2008. As for the Friends and the Forum, their efforts will be focused on helping the board and the NFSA fulfil its new mandate.

But how, you might ask, did the Labor Party come to adopt a policy stance so different from the previous government? Well, it did not happen by accident. But that is another story and another article.


In the essay series Platform Papers (Issue 18, October 2008- former Senator Chris Puplick addressed the topic Getting Heard: Achieving an effective arts advocacy and he cited the campaign to “free the NFSA” as a model. He concluded that:

A determined group of well-informed and dedicated individuals embarked on a campaign to reverse a significant government policy in the arts. By the traditional methods of lobbying the Opposition, seeking support within the Government’s own ranks, mobilizing external support groups and interests, using the parliamentary meetings such as estimates committees to raise questions and concerns, and planting or encouraging favourable media reporting, this complete reversal of policy was achieved. What is more, the poachers were then appointed as the gamekeepers and, of course, now have to deliver on the claims they made about the benefits of their preferred course of action.

This last sentence refers to the fact that the Minister has placed several of the activists on the new governing board of the NFSA!

As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


This article is an expansion of a paper delivered by the author on November 15, 2006, at the tenth annual conference of SEAPAVAA (South East Asia Pacific Audio Visual Archive Association) held in Canberra, Australia. It was first published in The Moving Image (Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, Vol 8 #1 , Spring 2008) and has been modified slightly and updated for this website. The author is the secretary of Archive Forum and is also a member of the Friends of the NFSA and the Australian Society of Archivists.

  1. The entire series of Yes Minister and its sequel Yes Prime Minister is currently available on DVD from the BBC. Many public servants of my acquaintance consider it as much a documentary series as a comedy.
  2. For a sobering journey through major losses of the past, read James Raven, ed., Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections since Antiquity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
  3. Despite repeated requests and parliamentary questions, the former government never made public either the terms of reference of the enquiry or its reports. A press release listing the main outcomes shows that the only substantial result of the exercise was the NFSA/AFC integration.
  4. The AFC invited public responses to “Directions” by no later than January 23, 2004—a window that coincided with the “silly season,” the Christmas/New Year holidays when offices close and everyone takes vacations, and when commenting on policy documents and plans is the last thing people want to focus on. But public reaction forced the minister to extend the deadline to February 16. Some 130 submissions were lodged, the overwhelming majority opposing the clear intent of “Directions.” The most substantial submission came from Archive Forum: titled Cinderella Betrayed: The Shoe Won’t Fit, it was a sixty-page section-by-section refutation of the “Directions” plan. So far as I know, none of the submissions ever elicited a single response from the AFC.
  5. The AFC has long kept a range of statistics relating to film and television production, distribution, and exhibition. This function now transfers to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.
  6. For a longer discussion of this, see Ray Edmondson, “Parallel Lives: Britain’s National Film and Television Archive and Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive Under Threat,” Senses of Cinema October–December, no. 33 (2004),
  7. NFTVA (formally the National Film Archive) was one of the four founding members of FIAF in 1938.
  8. Robert Townsend, Up the Organisation (London: Coronet Books, 1970), 51.
  9. In checking through my records, I was reminded that the AFC released its “Directions” plan on December 11, the day before the NFSA’s annual staff Christmas party, usually a joyous occasion. At best, it was a pretty heartless gesture from the AFC, whose chief executive, Kim Dalton, had unveiled “Directions” and the plans to terminate all the senior staff while in Canberra on December 11, but decided not to stick around for the party the next day (perhaps he wisely chose to be absent). A feature of the party was always a choir, leading the staff in Christmas carols. This time, in addition to the carols, the choir sang the following song:
    The Archive’s Wassailing Song (NFSA Christmas Party, December 12, 2003)

So here’s to the Archive and to our collection
Bring on the curators, send out the selection
And if you want access in Canberra town
Well, come the new year, you’ll be on your own….
So here is to Mary, and Pam and Dave
Pray God for the Archive they’re trying to save
And for those who are leaving, no longer to see
If you get a VR*… we’ll drink to thee….
Good luck to us all in 2004
Pray God for the Archive that we’ve all worked for
So now it’s all on, with the new AFC
All power to the workers in Unity!
With the wassailing bowl. let’s drink to us!
(*VR = voluntary redundancy, a “package” negotiated with departing staff)

  1. Townsend, Up the Organisation, 51.
  2. The Slave Trade Act, March 25, 1807.
  3. Peter Garrett, “New Directions for the Arts: Supporting a Vibrant and Diverse Australian Arts Sector,” September 2007, 5,
  4. The name may be familiar to some. In his younger days, Garrett was the lead singer in the band Midnight Oil. A former head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, he is now also the minister for environment, water, and heritage.


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