Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Assembling the archives: Frank Strahan

In post-war 1950s Australia, a new generation of academics and students led a boom in history teaching within Australian universities.

This boom provided pressure to obtain research sources for academic history. Under Harold White, the Commonwealth National Library reinvigorated its collecting program for nongovernment records; the economic historian Noel Butlin began to collect business records at the Australian National University; and in 1960 the University of Melbourne Archives was formed.

In 1956, Frank Strahan commenced training as an archivist in the Commonwealth National Library's Archives Division. Frustrated with the lack of opportunity for active collecting, he resigned and returned to Melbourne in 1957.

Concurrently, a Business Archives Council (BAC) had been formed in New South Wales to promote business history and to encourage businesses to preserve historically important records. One of the BAC's first projects was to survey and create a register of businesses which had their own archives.

Harold White and economic historians at the University of Melbourne were also ambitious to form a BAC in Victoria. By 1959, the branch was established and about to commence its survey of Victorian business records, funded by the Commonwealth National Library. Strahan undertook the survey which revealed not only the extent of available business records but also the number at risk of destruction. Businesses began to offer their records to the BAC Victorian branch and some were taken into temporary custody by the University.

The survey includes cards on which Strahan recorded his approaches to businesses and requests for permission to survey their records. Some of these businesses eventually became the cornerstone of UMA's business collection which now measures half of all records held.

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