free hit counter

Not Otherwise Classified

Look here for writings that don’t fit under either of the other headings.

in reverse chronological order

Note : Some of this content also appears on the RCRG : Records Continuum Research Group website

Musings from the Lists 1995 to date

Being divided between the necessity to say something of myself and my own laziness to undertake so awkward a task, I thought it the shortest way to put the last hand to these Epistles. If they have anything pleasing,it will be that by which I am most desirous to please, the truth and the sentiment; and if anything offensive, it will be only to those I am least sorry to offend... with apologies to Alexander Pope

AUS-ARCHIVISTS LISTSERV 1995–2010 in preparation

These are what can still be recovered from the Internet.

Aus-Archivists List 1995-2002 The early years

Aus-Archivists List 2002 -2010 The lost years


These are the most recent postings to the current List presented serially

Archives-and-Records-Australia List 2010 –June 2017 in preparation

Archives-and-Records-Australia List July 2017 –June 2021

Threads include:
  • The Fight to Survive (decay, obsolescence, and the assaults of philistines)
  • Who Do We Think We Are (what we do and what we call ourselves)
  • Recordkeeping (the good, the bad, and the ugly)
  • What’s On the Public Record (*Palace Letters” & other examples of confusion)
  • Access & Use (what we can see and what remains secret)
  • Reporting Back FromConferences (impressions of a roving archivist)
  • Odds 'n' Ends (a miscellany that may inform and amuse)

THE BATTLE FOR MEMORY: Culture, Cancellation, Context & Collections 2017 -2021

In judging men and things Ethics go before Dogma, Politics or Nationality.
The Ethics of History cannot be denominational. Lord Acton

Edmund Burke believed that memory is the debt we owe to posterity. When do enlightened empathy and virtue cut adrift from custom become lost and transform, as Burke feared, into abstract and inhuman reason emanating from a futile pursuit of perfectibility? As culture wars and turmoil over identity politics became topical, my postings on this became voluminous enough to warrant separation from the rest. Truth, Objectivity, and Impartiality, once thought of as hallmarks of the archival enterprise, became suspect under attacks from post-modernists and the “call to justice” emanating (inter alia) from what is sometimes called “critical theory”. Should we remain steadfast or yield our traditional values to a kind of critical archivingThrough every passion ranging, And to your humours changing? Are the old values incompatible with Social Justice, as some archivists seem tobelieve?

What is the difference between Objectivity and Impartiality? What distinction was Acton making between Ethics and Dogma? Was James Madison wrong to prefer Freedom over Toleration? Ought we resist the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind and heed his warning that passion, whether of the Right or the Left, never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason? What is our role as guardians of memory in the face of passion: Black Lives Matter , Statue Wars , Frontier Wars , Decolonisation , Disrupting White Supremacy and Hetero-Patriarchy , Disputed History , Charges of Elitism and Bias , assaults on Collections as Bastions of Racism , Participatory Archiving , etc? How should the houses of memory respond to trends and what path should we tread between defending or revising the already established role and tone of our cultural institutions?

Who owns the past and who has claim to the artefacts that provide evidence of it? Do we champion the right to know or the creator’s right to conceal? Should secrecy be protected when it is used to hide crime? Are we collectors of a heterogeneous detritus, meaningless until shaped by the hand of the compiler and actualised by the eye of the observer, or are we defenders of the stubborn facts interwoven by event and circumstance into enduring qualities to which the record testifies, awaiting our discovery of them and claiming our protection? Does our role as "memory’s archivist" involve us in a great paradox: preserving intact unchanging evidence of a past that is forever becoming?
All history is contemporary history. Benedetto Croce
It would be easy to portray these postings as an ornery old man’s diatribe against the evils of relativism and a misplaced irony about how the post-modern Assault on Objectivity begat the populist Assault on Truth. These are issues for everyone, of course, but the more particular question is how to be recordkeepers (in any age) within our societal context? Can we resist collectivism and be Valiant-for-Truth without individualising our understanding of context and subordinating the facts to zeal? Will the coziness and modish collegiality of liberatory theories and practices free us from old dogmas or simply enslave us to new ones? Can a proper regard for differences in Ideas transcend differences of Identity? If we do not submit totally to changing mores and no more resist them according to some sterile abstraction, how do we shape and (just as importantly) defend our mystery?

The HEINER AFFAIR 1996 –2003

History will be kind to me, for I intend to write itmyself. Churchill
This is a gathering of Listserv postings from the most savage and unseemly professional debate in which I have ever been involved. There are many sides to the Heiner Affair outside of our precious and rarefied preoccupations, so these postings encompass only a fragment of the labyrinth but that fragment is rich in learnings for recordkeepers. It taught me an abiding disdain, which I hold to this day, for our claims of professional integrity. Without doing undue violence to the chronology, our part in the Affair may be said to have unfolded in three stages:
Stage I A focus on Queensland’s misrepresentation of the role of the Archivist in appraisal culminating in the First ASA Statement,
Stage II A focus on flaws in the appraisal itself culminating in the Second ASA Statement and its repudiation by the Government Archivists of Australia,
Stage III A focus more broadly on flaws in professional standards revealed by the Affair and the profession’s handling of it culminating in the Final ASA Statement.
The 1990 archival appraisal by Queensland State Archives (QSA) and its aftermath is a tale of how the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) dodged making a response to outrageous claims made by the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission (QCJC) concerning the role and function of the archivist in that appraisal. The profession was dragged kicking and screaming, after several years of prompting, into issuing a weak and generalized statement. Then, following more acrimony and new revelations, they issued a second statement properly addressing the Case and the historical appraisal at the heart of it. This second statement was then promptly denounced unanimously by Australia’s government archivists who attempted to deflect criticism of ad hoc appraisal methods by misrepresenting that as a call for sentencing in no other way than by schedule. Finally, as the QCJC was about to be wound up, ASA did what they should have done in the first place and crafted a more mature response to the QCJC’s claims concerning the archivist’s role

Apart from essays and conference presentations, most of my writing on the Heiner Affair consisted of interventions on the listserv. Because they are numerous and sometimes lengthy, they would unnecessarily disrupt the chronological flow of the other, more eclectic, postings so they are gathered together here up to 2003. Except for the Introduction and Epilogue, every word here is part of an historical artefact preserved in the List archive(s). Apart from the letter to me from ASA in February 1996 which kicked it off, all the Exhibits and Documents are verbatim a part of the chain of postings but separated out to streamline the flow and assist in comprehension (if comprehension of so complex a matter is even possible); each is linked to the posting to which it was once connected. Refer also to-

The Shredding of the Heiner Documents: An Appreciation (1996)
It all started for me in February 1996 when I submitted an Appreciation to ASA Council. Council took no action but a month later, the Appreciationwas published on a site for archival educators. A year after that, as the debate heated up, Mike Steemson uploaded it to his RIMOS website

Shredding of the "Heiner Affair" Records: An Up-dating Summary (2002)
Two years later, Mike added an Update based on email exchanges between us.

What, If anything, Is records management?

Paper presented at the Records Management Association of Australasia Conference held in Canberra, 12-15 September 2004

In September, 2004, I gave papers at two conferences in Canberra in the same month. The experiences could not have been in greater contrast. The RMAA (as it then was) was welcoming, supportive, and congenial. I was treated as an honoured guest, my registration was complimentary, and the audience appreciative. This is the paper I presented to them. The ASA, on the other hand, having invited me to speak (the last such invitation I expect to receive from them), proceeded to treat me like pariah. I was offered no registration, so I didn’t stay around – just came, spoke, and went. They subsequently attempted to suppress my paper by accusing me of defamation. That paper, which appears elsewhere as Archivists and accountability (2004), was published – first on Mike Steemson’s RIMOS website, then on the Monash RCRG site, then (after a titanic struggle, much vexatious correspondence, and expensive legal advice that ridiculed the ASA position) in Archives and Manuscripts.

Where have all the archives gone?

Paper presented at a Symposium on Business Archives, Noel Butlin Centre, Australian National University, 24 October, 2003

Less than six months after taking up a position as Manager of the Commonwealth Bank Archives in Sydney, after a lifetime working in government archives, I received an invitation to speak at a seminar on business archives. The Noel Butlin Archives was a collection of business and union records attached to the ANU. It had very nearly disappeared and survived only because of a determined campaign by historians, unions, archivists and businesses to persuade the university to retain it. It has continued to sponsor gatherings like this as part of its renaissance. I was uncertain whether I could do justice to the topic, but it turns out, as I say in the paper, that being a business archivist has much in common with being an archivist anywhere.

Cabbages and Kings

Keynote Address to TRIM Users’ Forum (TUF 10), at the Atrium Hotel, Mandurah, Thursday, 11 September 1997

This was presented at a two-day live-in workshop for Tuffies - users of the TRIM records management software.

Bob’s little helper : a playlet in three scenes (1997)

I did this to lighten the mood at a conference I was asked to address in Melbourne. An expanded version of this script was later used by Monash University to produce a video for teaching purposes.

Beating the French

First published: Archives and Manuscripts, 24 (1) 1996.

As we struggled to come to grips with electronic records and the functional requirements for recordkeeping, the idea got about that corporate recordkeeping was all that mattered and that personal recordkeeping could not come within the ambit of the rethinking that was going on. Adrian Cunninghame organised a session on this at the 1995 ASA Conference. Three papers were given and this is mine.

Achieving more with less – challenges and opportunities

Paper to Records Management Association of Australia, 8th National Convention, Darwin 1991

The speaker delivered this paper to the 8th RMAA National Convention in Darwin in September. The Convention Organising Committee asked that the session should "raise delegates' awareness of the sort of general working environment in which they need to operate and for which they must adjust and cater both now and towards 2000". Contracting resources means competition within an organisation between programmes. It is not enough to "lift our game" by doing the same things with fewer dollars or increasing productivity if what we do is not valued. How each programme fares will depend upon management's perceptions of its value to the organisation. We must either change those perceptions favourably towards us or change what we do to fit in with them. Either way we must keep abreast of contemporary corporate values. This involves much more than keeping up with technological development in records management areas and delivering a "good product". The paper advises records managers not to be complacent in developing cost-saving arguments as a basis for promoting their function. Such arguments cannot be expected automatically to win management support.

The view that management should be "market" oriented rather than "product" oriented is examined. On this view, market forces, unrelated to technical considerations, will dictate how an organisation conducts its business. The organisation's needs (which records managers must meet in order to survive) will be defined by perceptions of market demand. In practice, this means adapting ourselves to constant change. Information is still seen as a crucial organisational resource. Rapid technological development combined with a climate of organisational change causes managers to look to product specialists and technologists for solutions. This is a process which records managers must control or with which they must compete.

The paper examines some aspects of the records manager's "competitive edge" in meeting organisations' information needs in this environment. It then returns to the issue of management perception and how this is to be won. A "good image" is necessary but it must build on real strengths. The current emphasis on organisational change is linked to the idea of "corporatisation" in which units within the organisation are given greater autonomy. Centralised regulatory or service units which do not have an external client base become "business centres" within the organisation. They are left to thrive or shrivel depending upon demand for their services. Responsibility is delegated, procedures become less "bureaucratic" and more flexible, the system rewards or punishes programmes depending upon their success in meeting the needs of their client programmes within the organisation.

The paper concludes by developing a hypothetical case study as a model for survival of records management units in a climate of organisational change and shrinking resources. It looks at the issue of secondary storage within government positing the following parameters : user pays, privatisation, and corporatisation. The paper examines the use of intra-governmental charges in pursuit of the user pays principle. Controlled use of commercial storage facilities in combination with government owned/managed facilities is explored. This example is used to suggest how the problem of sustaining and developing a records management function must be approached in a "managing with less" environment.