Unlock your Victorian (Aust) records

Unlock your Victorian (Aust) records

This is a relatively new service offered by  Victorian Public records Office .  If you are doing your own research and you hit a brick wall  this site could be your answer.

Mission Statement 
To allow access to Victoria’s archival records through the digital medium for those who can’t make the journey themselves – allowing further use of, and research into our Victorian History.

Can’t get to the PROV? I do it for you! Research and digitisation of Victoria’s archival records…
Long Description
Welcome to Archival Access Victoria – your link to the millions of records available at the Public Records Office of Victoria.

I can access the records you want, and although I can’t give you the original, I can provide you with the next best thing – a high-resolution digital image of the document.

It doesn’t matter if you are an individual researcher hoping to knock down a brick wall or two or a local historical society wanting a digitised copy of local court records or a pupil register – I can do it!

Image of lock public domain


Copyright records:

Copyright records: Archives of the imagination

Author: Merilyn Minell

Background to the copyright collection

From 1854 until 1968 anyone who wished to protect their creative endeavours under copyright could register their work by completing a registration form and submitting it, along with a copy of the work, to the Registrar of Copyrights. Each registration was recorded in a large register and given a number, and the work itself was filed.

Until 1907, copyright was registered in the each colony, except in Tasmania which did not have copyright legislation. After 1907, it was registered with the Commonwealth government. When Commonwealth legislation superseded the Colonial Acts, early registrations were still within copyright, so all the documentation passed to the Commonwealth. As a result of these registrations, the National Archives now holds a wonderfully eclectic archive of Australian social history, containing copies of everything from well-known paintings by famous artists and stills from early Hollywood films to early brochures for weight-loss programs and models of sculptures – and everything in between.

Whether you are searching for genealogical information or studying the career of a painter, photographer, artist, theatrical entrepreneur or playwright, you will find a variety of information if you delve into this archive. The most delightful aspect of this archive is the ‘exhibits’ (the copies of the works submitted at registration).

These are the direct evidence of the creative work of Australia’s early artists and musicians: a manuscript for a play or a book of poetry, printed sheet music trumpeting the fact that the song was a ‘tremendous success’ for the singer, a plaster model of a sculpture and so on. You can view these items in our Reading Room and possibly even hold an object created by your ancestor.

Fleshing out ancestors’ lives

If you are looking to flesh out the lives of your family, there are other sources within this collection that might help you. You can look at the photographs of places and events. Do you have a diary that records a visit to the theatre? That production might be reviewed in one of the many theatrical journals in the Archives collection and you will be able to see what stylish women were wearing from the fashion pages in these and other publications. You might have an ancestor who was a cook in a large private home and want to know the wages and conditions of household servants and how advertisements for them were worded, or the sorts of things they could have purchased or made. You will find the exhibit material in this collection most helpful.

If shorthand is the bane of your existence, have a look at the many different systems developed by eager transcribers. Or find ideas for your next spy thriller in the old code books. Early street directories show not only the name and address of each occupant, but also their occupation so you might be able to recreate an entire neighbourhood.

Not all the exhibits have survived to come into the collection, but even when this is the case, there is a wealth of documentation to pore over. There are details of the person registering the work: their address at the time; the date they created or published the work; or in the case of theatrical pieces, the date and place of first performance. Sometimes there is associated correspondence which adds to the picture of the people involved. This correspondence can include letters outlining a person’s credentials, documents transferring ownership of all or part of the copyright, wills and documentation of business transfers.

For anyone researching a career or the works of an artist, this collection is extremely valuable in providing dates when works were created or first exhibited. One keen researcher, Alan Tierney of Goulburn, has already published a booklet detailing the works of the photographer Melvin Vaniman, entitled Dating of photographs and other fine arts: copyright registration records in Australia up to 1968 as a research source.

Documents often contain the signatures of several people. I found my grandfather-in-law had witnessed the signature of the artist William Stuart Reid when he completed a registration form to protect his painting Phar Lap (J Pike up) in 1931. You can see this documentation, and a copy of the exquisite sketch Reid submitted, under the reference A1861, 6207 in RecordSearch. This find was, of course, pure luck. It is impossible to actually search for the signature of a witness, but there are registers which enable you to search for details of applicants, creators and the titles of the works they created. The applicants and creators of the main Commonwealth literary applications are all itemised on our RecordSearch database.

More information

To find out more about the copyright collection and what it comprises, look at:

Don’t forget patents, trademarks and designs as a source of inventive thought – we have those registrations too. You might be surprised by the creative spirits lurking in your family tree!


Access to records under the Archives Act – Fact sheet 10

Access to archival records

Access to archival records is governed by the Archives Act 1983. Under the Act you have a right of access to Commonwealth government records that are in the open access period. Following amendments to the Act approved by Parliament in May 2010, the open access period for Commonwealth records as defined by the Act will begin after 20 years instead of the previous 30 years. The open access period for Cabinet notebooks will begin after 30 years, instead of 50 years. The 99-year access rule for Census records remains unchanged.

The changes to the open access periods for Commonwealth records and Cabinet notebooks took effect from 1 January 2011 and will be phased in over a 10-year period, as outlined in the table below.

Year Commonwealth record created Year Cabinet notebook created Open access period begins
1980 or 1981 1960, 1961 or 1962 1 January 2011
1982 or 1983 1963, 1964 or 1965 1 January 2012
1984 or 1985 1966, 1967 or 1968 1 January 2013
1986 or 1987 1969, 1970 or 1971 1 January 2014
1988 or 1989 1972, 1973 or 1974 1 January 2015
1990 or 1991 1975, 1976 or 1977 1 January 2016
1992 or 1993 1978, 1979 or 1980 1 January 2017
1994 or 1995 1981, 1982 or 1983 1 January 2018
1996 or 1997 1984, 1985 or 1986 1 January 2019
1998 or 1999 1987, 1988 or 1989 1 January 2020
2000 1990 1 January 2021


Does the Archives Act apply to all records in the open access period?

The Act applies to all records except those of the Courts, some records of the Parliament some records of governors-general (eg correspondence with the monarch) and some records held by other national collecting institutions, such as the Australian War Memorial and the National Library of Australia. You have a right of access to all other records in the open access period, including those held by government agencies.

Are all records available when they reach the open access period?

Under the Archives Act, all records are available for public access when they reach the open access period unless they contain information that falls into certain exemption categories defined in section 33 of the Act. There are 16 exemption categories and information that falls within them is said to be exempt information. Before the Archives releases records for public access they are examined to ensure they do not contain information requiring exemption.

The Archives’ Access Examination Policy on the personal, business and professional affairs of a person, provides additional information about the framework the Archives uses to manage the release of information in records.

How often is exempt information withheld?

Most records (98 per cent) are wholly released for public access while 1.75 per cent are released with some exempt information deleted. Only 0.25 per cent of records are wholly withheld because they consist entirely of exempt information.

Who decides if records should be withheld?

Certain Archives’ staff are delegated under the Act to examine records and make decisions about whether they can be released. Sometimes this is done in consultation with departments and agencies.

Under the Archives Act we are required to release as much information as possible. If you have concerns about information that has been released, contact Director, Reference and Information Services, National Archives of Australia, PO Box 7425, CANBERRA BUSINESS CENTRE ACT 2610.

How long does the examination of records take?

While most examination is completed within a month, it may take up to 90 days and sometimes longer to examine some files. We will let you know if there are delays. If we have not given you a decision within 90 days we are deemed to have refused you accessand you may appeal.

How do I know if information has been withheld?

If the records that you have applied to see are exempted from public access, either in part or in whole, we will send you a written statement of reasons which tells you what information has been exempted, the exemption category that applies and why it applies. Details of all records containing exempt information are listed on RecordSearch. The Access status will show Closed or Open with exception and the Reason for restriction will give the exemption category or categories under which we have exempted the information.

What can I do if information has been withheld?

You can apply to have the decision reviewed by the Archives. This process is known as internal reconsideration. If we confirm the decision you may appeal to the independent Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to have our decision reviewed.

How much do I have to pay?

There is no charge for obtaining access or for applying to the Archives to review our decision. If you appeal to the AAT, an application fee will apply. Payment is required if you want copies of records.

Why is information withheld?

The information we exempt from public access falls into two broad areas:

Personal information – Some personal information may require exemption for at least the lifetime of the individual (eg medical histories, or details of personal relationships).

Information about the security of the Commonwealth and its residents – If its disclosure could adversely affect Australia’s defence, security or international relations (eg details of the design and construction of weapons, or records about intelligence-gathering, or information passed to the Australian government in confidence by a foreign entity) it will be withheld.