Noel Butlin Archives

Financial problem remains

For comrades concerned to know the latest on the Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC) at the Australian National University, the following is a summary of the press release published after a December conference hosted by the Canberra Region Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.

In addition to the press release we can add that a delegation of the Friends of the Noel Butlin Archives Centre met on 27 January with Dr Sigrid McCausland, University Archivist and Bruno Yvanovich, ANU Development Officer. List members will recall that the Friends was established late in 1997 after the first round of threats to the Archives. It has continued an active lobbying and strategic fund-raising role, powered by interested users, historians, archivists, trade unionists and others concerned to ensure that the Butlin Archives continues as a viable and accessible institution for labour and business records.

Unfortunately, Pro Vice Chancellor Chris Burgess, who was to attend the meeting, was instead required to meet with the Press to announce a $97.5 million 'assets shakeup' which the Universityintends to redeploy as part of a 'broad financial reshuffle' in the face of funding restrictions and altered student demand. We of course would like to think that a small portion of that $97.5 million might be 're-shuffled' to secure the future of the Butlin Archives.

However it is by no means certain that any of this money will be diverted to the NBAC: we also learnt at the meeting that the University has been considering a 'worst case' scenario of 'Care and Maintenance' should there be insufficient funds to run the NBAC by the end of this year. This scenario is better than outright shutdown, but would effectively kill off the Archives as a research institution. However unless large funds are located the prognosis is extremely poor.

The University's Finance Committee has just met, and ANU Council meets in March, to settle the ANU's financial plan for the next three years. The Friends meet with Chris Burgess on March 2. We'll keep you posted on outcomes for the Butlin Archives.

Rosemary Webb


Press Release: Labour Historians and the Noel Butlin Archives Centre

A recent conference held at the Australian National University to mark the contribution of Dr John Merritt to Australian Labour History targeted the short-sightedness of ANU administratorsregarding the Noel Butlin Archives Centre. The conference was hosted by the Canberra Region Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (ASSLH).

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre is a prime research centre for business and labour activities in Australia. It was named in honour of Noel Butlin, first Professor of Economic History at ANU. It has collected records since the 1950s, some of which date back to the late 19th century. It was previously financed under the block funding provided to the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) at the ANU. The University has threatened to close the Archives if it does not become self funding within the next year.

The conference, "Labour History in Australia Since 1975: A Retrospective and a Look Forward", recognised John Merritt's role in the study of Australian Labour History. Now retired, Dr Merritt was a student and academic at the ANU from the 1960s. He is a strong supporter of the Archives and has used them extensively in historical research.

Conference participants unanimously called on the RSSS "to accept its proper responsibility for the continued operation of the Noel Butlin Archives Centre, and on the ANU to commit adequate ongoing funding".

A second motion passed unanimously at the conference stated: "That this conference of labour historians reaffirms its support for the Noel Butlin Archives Centre and its continuing campaign to maintain the quality of service to researchers and depositors, and the integrity of the collections. This conference applauds the effort of the archives staff in continuing the high standards of service, despite the adversities of the past few years."

The conference was also highly critical of the ANU's recent decision to close the internationally acclaimed Urban and Environmental Research Program, and passed a motion noting "that the vital area of urban research will suffer irreparably from the closure of the Urban and Environmental Research Program at ANU and calls on RSSS to reverse its decision". Conference participants heard that the closure and threatened cutbacks were part of a comprehensive attack on the humanities. A subsequent motion was carried questioning "the priorities of the ANU in its decision to cut the budget of the Faculty of Arts by 20 per cent. The conference called on the ANU "to maintain the capacity for research and teaching in the areas of the social sciences and the humanities in the Faculty".

For any further information or to join the Friends of the NBAC, contact
Ewan Maidment (Secretary) email [MAILTO][/MAILTO] or
Rosemary Webb (President) email [MAILTO][/MAILTO]

For Canberra Region Branch ASSLH contact
Leanne Blackley (President) [MAILTO][/MAILTO]
Frank Mines (Secretary) [MAILTO][/MAILTO]

Posted: 24 February 2000