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About the RBA Archives

About the Reserve Bank Archives

The Reserve Bank of Australia has a unique and rich archives. In addition to records about the nation’s central bank, our archives contain records about Australia’s economic, financial and social history over nearly 200 years. The records range from convict banking records through to information about contemporary episodes in Australia’s history. 

Our records pre-date the Reserve Bank as it is known today. This is because we descended from the original Commonwealth Bank of Australia which had a central banking function and had absorbed other banks with a colonial history. Consequently, with this lineage, our collections include convict banking records through to information about contemporary episodes in Australia’s history. (See details of the lineage, see Box: Lineage of the Records.)

With the Reserve Bank having descended from the original Commonwealth Bank, we use the term ‘the Bank’ to refer to both organisations and as they represent the continuity of central banking in Australia.

Significance of the Collections

Our archives are significant for a number of reasons. They include primary source materials about the specific and unique functions and policies of the Bank from when it first opened for business in 1912, as the Commonwealth Bank, and as the Reserve Bank of Australia from 1960. The archives are also a primary source of information regarding Australia’s broader economic, financial and social history, and provide a context for the operations and decisions made by the Bank.

Due to the timespan of the collections, they capture many significant events, including gold rushes of the 1850s, the Depressions of the 1890s and 1930s and two World Wars. They detail the Bank’s role in government banking, payments system oversight, market operations, monetary policy, financial stability and banknote issuance. They also document Australia’s colonial past, and include the bank accounts and financial records of various individuals and groups in society – including convicts. And they provide a valuable record of the social and political environment in which these economic and financial activities occurred.

The earliest record held is a legal document from September 1824 written on vellum between John Austin and Thomas Wylde and relating to the sale of 100 acres of land in inner Sydney, New South Wales. The most recent records relate to more contemporary economic and financial deliberations of the Bank.

Access to the Archives

The Reserve Bank makes our records open to the public 20 years from the date of their creation (in accordance with the Archives Act 1983). However, in most instances the Bank goes further to make our records available to the public 15 years from their creation date, with this early release at the Bank's discretion.

The Reserve Bank’s archives contain records identified by the National Archives of Australia as of continuing value to the nation. These are retained permanently by the Bank in trust for the Australian people in their original formats. In many cases, records have also been digitised, and these are being made available on Unreserved. A program to digitise records in the open access period is well advanced. As records are digitised, they will be added to Unreserved, together with Research and Series Guides, to assist with context and further research. Where records are not yet digitised, key metadata about all archival series is available on Unreserved. (See: Scope of Archival Holdings.)

The Unreserved site allows access to the Bank’s digitised archival records, and information about all archival records, regardless of a user’s location or ability to visit the Bank in person. Archivists will respond to requests for information about archival records. Furthermore, hardcopy records can still be viewed (by appointment) in a dedicated Research Room in the Bank’s Head Office building at 65 Martin Place, Sydney.

For more details about the history, scope and significance of the Reserve Bank’s Archives, see the Bulletin article Being Unreserved: About the Reserve Bank Archives.


Box: Lineage of the Records

The Reserve Bank of Australia has operated as the nation's central bank since 1960. This follows its ‘separation’ from the original Commonwealth Bank of Australia that was established in 1911. From the time of the First World War, the Commonwealth Bank was required to develop central bank responsibilities (raising money for the war effort and subsequent peace, and issuing Australia's banknotes from 1924). But by the late 1950s, acting as both a central bank and a trading and savings bank had become problematic. The Reserve Bank Act 1959 separated the commercial activities of the Commonwealth Bank from its central banking functions. The Commonwealth Bank would be renamed the Reserve Bank of Australia and act as the nation's central bank - so that ‘the Bank’ refers to both organisations to capture the continuity of central banking in Australia. The newly created Commonwealth Banking Corporation would operate as a trading bank. (For more details see: History of Australia's Central Bank.)

The separation resulted in the Bank inheriting not only the central banking functions of the original Commonwealth Bank but also its archives. Because the Commonwealth Bank had, at key stages, been required to absorb the assets and records of earlier banks, the archives we inherited from them included these records. These earlier banks included the NSW Savings Bank (established in 1819), which was generally known as Campbell's Bank (after colonial merchant Robert Campbell). In 1833, the business and records of Campbell's Bank were absorbed by the Savings Bank of New South Wales (established in 1832 by Governor Bourke). This bank later merged with the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales (established in 1871), which was in turn dissolved in 1931, with its assets and records transferred to the Commonwealth Bank by 1932 – also a government bank.