News from the ICA Congress in Brisbane

Reports from Brisbane by ARA members 


 IAN WAKELING writes in reflection on the Brisbane Congress:

The measure of success for any conference is what stands out as still being significant one month or more afterwards. The ICA conference in Brisbane finished on 24 August 2012; in reflecting on attending the event in all of its various textures and colours, one particular issue stood out for me above all others, burning brightly against the global backdrop of the archival world that so passionately presented itself at the Brisbane Convention Centre.

For me the aspect that shone so vividly and filled one with hope for the future of archival provision around the world, was the value of archives as the record of human experience and their ability to fulfil vital roles in challenging situations requiring reconciliation, social justice, personal and community identity and healing divided lives – giving often unheard people a voice and human rights.

This powerful thread of my own journey of recognition started with the moving depiction of a grieving nation following a discussion of the National Archives of Norway’s role in the process of healing and reconciliation after the attacks in July 2011 that left 77 people dead and 242 badly injured. These killings created a mass popular response in Norway that led to the spontaneous laying of tributes of flowers, words of condolence, children’s drawings, teddy bears and other tokens of remembrance at sites in Oslo that eventually became memorial sites. The National Archive of Norway acknowledged early on the importance of collecting and preserving these memorial tributes as a healing touchstone for the nation, communities and individuals alike. While Ole Gausdal and Linda Holmås (National Archives of Norway) discussed the completion of the project, the audience sat hushed, visibly moved by photographs of the sea of tributes in the grounds of Oslo Cathedral and the dedication of archive staff to collect, preserve, catalogue and index the material. Small, lasting things also stand out, like the dedication of the employee who personally washed and made repairs to more than 50 teddy bears.

Then there is the power of archive records to bring lives, families and identities together – to act as a force for truth, reconciliation and emotional healing as captured in the Maori phrase “Titiro Ki Muri”, meaning to look or walk backwards while looking to the future (Ariana Tikao). Nowhere was this more evident than in the presentations at the conference that depicted the role archives have played in revealing and documenting the situation of “indigenous peoples who suffered under the injustices of policies pursued by past generations”, to quote former Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Hansard on 27 May 1997.  The policies in question were those promoted by Australian governments from the late 19th century to the 1960s to remove the children of part-Aboriginal mothers, families and communities, often by force. Many tens of thousands of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were separated from their families and placed in residential care, or were fostered or adopted. The pain and issues of abandonment were obvious consequences.

Joanna Sassoon and Cate O’Neill, in separate papers, explored the route taken by respective governments to investigate the issue through national commissions, such as the groundbreaking 1995 National Enquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families that collected hundreds of confidential submissions from people subjected to these policies, who became known as the ‘Stolen Generation’, and the Inquiry’s subsequent 1997 report, Bringing Them Home.  Central to the report’s recommendations were the creation of family tracing, reunion and counselling services, as well as key recommendations for a prohibition on the destruction of records; record preservation and the creation of indexes and other finding aids; the creation of a joint records task force; and the establishment of an Indigenous Family Information Service complete with indigenous repositories “for the transfer of historical and cultural information relating to communities”.  Building on these foundations, three successive inquiries examined the experiences of children being separated from there families by government or other agencies:
• The issue of child migrants placed in Australia by charities and local authorities from the 1920s-1960s was considered in  2000, producing the report, Lost innocents: righting the record - inquiry into child migration, in August 2001
• Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care, reporting in August 2004, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. The Forgotten Australians report led to apologies being made by state and territory governments, as well as by organisations that were past providers of child care.
• An inquiry into the implementation of the recommendations of Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians, 2009.

All three stressed that identity and records were vital issues for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants and their families. In 2011 the government introduced funding for a raft of initiatives designed to support these areas, including funding the creation of a national database, Find and Connect, currently managed by the University of Melbourne. The database was discussed by Cate O’Neill, it being described it as a “web resource for Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and everyone with an interest in the history of out-of-home ‘care’ in Australia” - a digital public knowledge space designed to help all of these groups of people.

The work of Indigenous People archive repositories, family information and family tracing and reunion services were discussed in a range of presentations, including an assessment of confidentiality and privacy issues that are generated when creating Internet-based indexes to assist Indigenous families in searching for relatives (Hilary Rowell, State Records NSW), and a detailed look at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Family History Unit in Canberra, given by Rebecca Stubbs. The Family History Unit comprises a team of experienced family history researchers, support caseworkers and family reunion link-up staff who arrange and accompany people to meet long lost family members for the first time. The work of the unit offered poignant insights into the difficult issues, emotions and frustrations experienced by adults trying to trace relatives, where records are sometimes the only clue a person has to their identity – and sometimes those records have not survived or were never created.

These powerful forces of personal identity were extended outwards by the conference to include the role of records and access to family information in claiming the rights of other Indigenous people, such as the Maoris (Ariana Tikao). We were also given insight into similar issues encountered elsewhere in the world in Norway and Scotland.  The first examined the search for information held in the Norwegian National Archive about the parents and relatives of 8,000 to 12,000 children born of Norwegian women and fathered by German soldiers during the Second World War (Kåre Olsen, The National Archives of Norway). The second, by George MacKenzie (Registrar General and Keeper of Public Records, National Records of Scotland), assessed the work of the 2007 Shaw Committee in Scotland that investigated child abuse in residential children’s homes and care, in turn looking at the value of records to people formerly in care as well as abuse survivors and recognising that there had been multiple failures in record keeping in the child care system. It found that poor record keeping often created difficulties for former residents of residential schools and children's homes, when they attempted in adulthood to trace their records for identity, family or medical reasons. The committee argued for a review of public records and in its broader assessment of record keeping, one line stands out, “records management is not free, but it’s cheaper and better than no records management at all”. 

Which brings us to the edge of the digital future for archives and record keeping in general. As we step off that edge into the e-world, we need to ask ourselves whether we are establishing consistent methodologies, practices and technology to ensure that in that world we are able to preserve and make available sufficient evidence and information to ensure that we can uphold and protect the human rights of minorities, the oppressed and stolen generations of people who are subjected to abuse and loss of rights – so that justice can prevail. Throughout the 21st century, will the digital record enable us to continue walking backwards while we look forwards into the future?

Ian Wakeling
Records, Archive and Data Protection Manager
The Children’s Society

IAN WAKELING writes on 24 August:  

One of the additional reasons for my attending the Brisbane International Congress on Archives (ICA) was to attend both the Steering Committee and subsequent business meeting of the ICA SKR Section. But what is an ICA Section and what is SKR?

Firstly, ICA Professional Sections:

One of the important elements of the International Council on Archives is its wide range of Professional Sections that set out to provide a more focused international forum for archivists working in specific fields. Acronyms abound – for example we have: SLMT (Section of Local, Municipal and Territorial Archives), SPA (Section of Professional Associations), SAE (Section for Archival Education), SLA (Section on Literary and Artistic Archives) and SUV (Section on University and Research Institution Archives). They are a world within a world and because they are smaller than the bigger sphere or life of ICA, the Sections allow professionals to make more personal contact with others working in their field; indeed, the information and knowledge sharing that flows as a result can be rich and rewarding. Many lifelong professional and personal friendships across the world have been made and nurtured as a part of this process. It seems to me that the Sections are the personal, social and people side of ICA; in my opinion they are a truly vibrant and a most welcome aspect of the organisation.

Some Sections are more active than others and the four-yearly Congress provides the opportunity for each to have Steering Committee and general business meetings; each has to provide reports to the ICA Executive Board and AGM. Away from the governance meetings, the general business meetings of Sections provide a wealth of interest and colour.  For example, at the Brisbane Congress, the SLMT provided a tour of Brisbane City Archives for its members, together with an opportunity for presentations by both the Section as whole and individual members to showcase their activities and work. Outside of the four year cycle, Sections meet annually at different venues around the world to share information and meet fellow professionals from the host country working in the same field.

This brings us to SKR:

Or, the Section of Archives Churches and Religious Denominations,  of which I am both a general member and participate as a Steering Committee member (Vice President and Newsletter editor). The Section was given its title when it was established in 1995 at its first ever meeting in Prague. I joined the Section in 2004 because The Children’s Society has strong links with the Church of England; our formal legal title is the Church of England Children’s Society. I rightly thought that it would provide a valuable international aspect to my work at The Children’s Society Archive.

At the Brisbane ICA Congress the SKR Steering Committee took some bold actions to help the Section develop and move forward. Recognising that faith traditions around the world in the twenty first century will have to coexist and interact with local communities and nations facing increasing levels of instability and social, technological, economic and political change, the Committee took several significant steps designed to re-invigorate and re-shape the Section and reach out to a new and wider membership with the aim of providing more support for archives and archivists around the world working in this field.

One of the key actions from the meeting was to give the Section a new name, moving from SKR to the more inclusive SAFT – the Section for Archives of Faith Traditions (SAFT). The new title will allow the Section to extend its global reach to encompass faith groups in all their many forms – from the major faith traditions Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, through to less well known ones, such as Baha’i, Jainism, the Rastafari movement and Shintoism. The Section also seeks to include non-traditional faith groups, such as Humanists and New Age beliefs.

The Section now has a new draft mission statement, to: “Advocate for archival management based on professional practices and standards, including access and protection of cultural resources critical to our understanding of archives of faith traditions and non-traditional faith traditions”. Alongside this stand a new set of draft objectives, to:
• increase and diversify membership of the section amongst faith traditions;

• enhance communication and exchange information between archivists of faith traditions through face to face meetings and conferences, print and social media;

• encourage the establishment of sustainable archives of faith traditions around the world;

• facilitate knowledge of guidelines for the management of archival holdings;

• encourage access to collections around the world and support the study of faith traditions in the spirit of mutual tolerance;

• represent the views and interests of archivists of faith traditions, especially in the programmes of the ICA.

Over the next four years through to the 2016 ICA Congress in Seoul, South Korea, SAFT will begin to develop its programme to achieve what I think are a set of exciting objectives. Our first port of call will be to increase the global membership. So, if you would like to be part of this journey, become a member of SAFT and help bring partnership and learning to the archives of faith traditions and non-traditional faiths together. 

As I am also the SAFT newsletter editor, I’d welcome any news, items or articles about activity in the archives of faith traditions from around the world. Please send them to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ian Wakeling is Records, Archive and Data Protection Manager at The Children’s Society


IAN WAKELING writes on 22 August:

Attending something like the International Congress on Archives (ICA) can suddenly bring an archival issue into focus that was formerly but a distant shadow in the background haze of one’s professional consciousness.

For me, this has particularly been the case with the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Archives (UDA or Declaration). Tuesday’s (21st August) session at the Congress on the UDA by Kim Eberhard and Colleen McEwan served to light a candle of inspiration and I am now a dedicated follower of the UDA. I knew of the Declaration, but hadn’t fully appreciated its importance to the profession. One session can be professionally life-changing; this is my journey of discovery that flowed from this session. Does the archive profession fully appreciate the significance of the UDA? If not, then we really should, because this document has the potential to be “the most important breakthrough for archives in a generation”, as quoted by David Leitch, ICA Secretary General.

The Universal Declaration on Archives was adopted by the 36th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO on 10th November 2011, having been developed by a special working group of the International Council on Archives and has been endorsed by the ICA as a key pillar of its outreach and advocacy strategy.

Why is the Declaration significant to the archive profession? First and foremost, it has UNESCO endorsement, an organisation that every manager, agency, funder or national body will recognise for the integrity, social value, ethical and influential weight that it brings to international projects and communities.  Further, look at what the Declaration is stating: that archives are important at all levels as an unique and irreplaceable inter-generational record of decisions, actions and memories – a rich, accessible source of knowledge promoting democracy, citizens’ rights and quality of life that must be preserved. Certainly a powerful message.

In recognising these key principles, the Declaration goes onto explore “the collective responsibility of all people – citizens, public administrators and decision makers, owners or holders of public or private archives and archivists and other information specialists – in the management of archives”. With these foundations laid, the document sets out six criteria that shape a policy, resource and professional framework for the management and preservation of archives, along with the central principle that they are to be made accessible to everyone. For me, to have an organisation like UNESCO supporting archives in this way is a very exciting and empowering prospect indeed!

The Declaration can also be linked to the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, giving it further strength and a direct relationship to significant archive documents and collections. The Children’s Society Archive in adopting the Declaration would be able to make a direct link to The Children’s Society Archive inscription into the UK Memory of the World Register:
Overall, this is a strong message that can be used effectively by organisations and archivists alike. Private organisations that have archives – for example companies, charities, universities, schools – can use it to explain archives and their relevance to senior management and obtain director-level endorsement of the Declaration. National Archival professional associations and Specialist Interest Groups are surely in a strong position to adopt and support it – I would like the ARA Charity Archivists and Records Managers’ Group to adopt it, for example. Similarly, in the public sector realm, National Archives and local government archives could also come alongside and adopt the Declaration. Imagine your County Record Office having a formal signing ceremony with councillors to adopt the Declaration, and the fact that your office’s archive could be contributing or working towards and upholding the Declaration.

It also has the potential to be a great advocacy and education tool. As part of The Children’s Archive participation programme with children and young people, when they visit the archive one activity might be to ask them to develop a young person’s version of the Declaration as part of explaining what an archive does; my experience is that young people are very perceptive and will bring new and fresh ideas to the subject. I’ll see what arises from this – the end result is likely to be colourful and vibrant! I am sure other archives could develop a wide range of similar projects and products.

And perhaps we could develop a network or register of archives in the UK that have adopted the Declaration – it’s an idea.

Such is the importance of conferences like the ICA Congress, where so many diverse topics are explored and mixed into one’s professional consciousness. As I’ve just discovered, one 45 minute session can lead someone to a new place!

The ICA website has a page where the general public or institutions can declare their support for the Universal Declaration by signing an on-line register: signing the UDA online Register.  Feel free to play your part in supporting the Declaration.

Ian Wakeling is Records, Archive and Data Protection Manager at The Children’s Society.



IAN WAKELING writes on 18 August:  

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 15th ICA Congress in Vienna eight years ago. At the opening ceremony, three dignitaries, including the Austrian Federal President, Dr Heinz Fischer, offered the profession phrases of hope - "a welcome new world" of "new beginnings", "new vistas", and "new technology".  There was a sense that we stood on a threshold.  But of what?  Will the 17th ICA Congress in Brisbane give any sense of how far the archive and records management professions have progressed during this time?  In a way, these Congresses provide a snapshot or archaeological trench of the international scene, so one of my ambitions for this antipodean venture is to try and gauge how far we’ve moved on in these terms.

Perhaps one of the more distinctive traits of the 2004 Congress was the desire of the international archival family – to use the Olympic family analogy – to seek a greater inter-connectedness, a desire forged in the warm sun of a slowly burgeoning digital world (or so it seemed then). These included the idea of national catalogue portals and over-arching international metadata initiatives pioneered by the likes of Interpares 2, Monash University and the splendidly titled San Diego Super Computer Centre.  Inevitably, people also gave presentations about their new on-line catalogues and digitisation projects. There was even a presentation about the e-record programmes of the national archives of Denmark, Finland and England, Wales and the United Kingdom (TNA) by The National Archive.

So, squaring the circle, I see that in 2012 The National Archive are back giving a presentation about their e-records programme, or digital strategy to give the proper title, using the Olympics project as a case study. It would be interesting to play the 2004 presentation back to back with the 2012 one to see how far we’ve progressed or changed.

The thing about the 2012 Congress programme is that the dominant theme – indeed word – is ‘digital’; even ‘Eating the Archives by sharing archival stories in a digital age’, as one presentation is titled. At this level it’s interesting that we as a family still feel the need to stress the word in our presentations; this in an age when the blizzard of digital information, exponential data growth and file sizes, together with social networking and media interaction has the potential to cause an archival whiteout. Clearly, we still feel the need to demarcate digital from other media, suggesting that perhaps the Total Digital Environment – where it would be the norm - is understandably some way off in terms of the profession.  This may have implications for the loss of digital information for organisations (from national in scale down to local); how do we realistically appraise the sheer volume of data and files created by organisations – the tens or hundreds of thousand of files on network drives - at a practical level in heavily software and hardware driven environments?

Then there are the complexities of digital preservation. In 2004 Interpares and ICA Electronic Records Workbooks were the order of the day. As the TNA presentation may suggest, times have moved on. Further we can see that social media perhaps stands to replace the concept of ‘archive portals’.

Yet through all of this shines the informational value and endurance of archives in what ever format. The Congress has a strong strand emphasising the evidential and identity value to excluded groups in society. So there is the prospect of fascinating presentations on archival responses to Australian children in care; Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders; Norwegian war children; and human rights and the forgotten Australians. These stand alongside ‘identity shaping’ and community heritage.

So, these two contrasting sides of the international archival family come together in Brisbane - epitomised by ‘Meta-Synthetic Strategies to Digital Record Keeping’ standing hand in hand with ‘Surfacing Maori Identity in Archival Collections’ and the ‘Record Keeping Task Force in Samoa’. This suggests that the archival family in 2012 is richer and more diverse – a picture that will unfold over the next few days in Brisbane.

Ian Wakeling is Records, Archive and Data Protection Manager at The Children’s Society.



Report from Heather Edwards-Hedley, who received an international bursary from the ARA to help her attend the ICA in Brisbane:

I submitted my application to ARA for the international bursary in February 2012 and the ‘successful’ news arrived by post in March 2012.  I was appointed a mentor Sylvia James (ARA Honorary Treasurer) who offered some experience regarding attending such an event.  Marie Owens (ARA Head of Public Affairs) then contacted me regarding an article for ARA Today the fortnightly newsletter.
I was initially interested in the ICA Congress as this would enhance my skill set by obtaining some international strategic thinking and enable me to develop this through my work.  The provisional programme looked interesting and with the support of the ARA bursary this provided a unique opportunity to gain fresh knowledge, develop effective management and to share these skills with a range of professional colleagues within ARA and outside.

I have previously attended European Conferences through ECCO (European Confederation of Conservators-Restorers' Organisations) which I have found most useful in developing areas of common ground.  E.C.C.O. represents, through their professional associations, more than 5,000 members throughout Europe from countries within the European Union (EU) as well as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The bursary holder is responsible for making all the arrangements relating to attending the conference.  This included booking flights; visas; registering for the Congress; pre-booking lectures; selecting and booking the hotel; paying advanced costs and arranging airport transfers.  In addition I made contact with the second bursary holder Ian Wakeling (Children's Society Records and Archives Centre).  Liaison with a fellow delegate was useful.

Attending an international conference independently is a personal financial commitment.  I was grateful to receive support from my employer who offered paid time off for attendance.

The day of departure to Brisbane arrived.  All arrangements had been made; the only outstanding task was to take a one and half day flight to get there.  This included a five hour stop over in Hong Kong, which was broken with some light shopping and relaxation in one of the many restaurants.  I arrived in Brisbane at just past midnight on 19/08/2012 to be met at the airport by a friendly driver from the hotel.  My hotel for the week was located on the South Bank of Brisbane directly next to the conference centre. 

I paid to attend two additional workshops on 20/08/2012, although the Congress formally opened on 21/08/2012.  The first session related to Engaging Communities which included a useful break out discussion.  The second Digital Recordkeeping on a Limited Budget was delivered by Cassie Findlay of the State Records Authority of New South Wales.         

The ICA International Congress is held every four years.  The venue for the 2012 congress was the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.  It is a vast modern building but we were aided by a team of helpful volunteers who guided delegates to lecture theatres.  The staff on the Congress Registration Desk were great in assisting with all kinds of enquiries.  The opening ceremony included ballet and song.  The Congress Programme 'A Climate for Change' had an attractive cover which was taken from an original painting.

Delegates could select daily lectures without pre-booking and simultaneous interpretation was provided.  Breaks were taken in the Trade Fair where informal discussion could take place and contact details could be exchanged.  I met an Australian Independent School Archivist who directed me to a useful Special Interest Group site created as an on-line resource for school collections.

The main lecture sessions were held in an impressive amphitheatre.  The key themes for the week were Trust, Identity and Sustainability.   The formal lectures I attended included preservation of photographic materials; archive buildings; relocation of archives; new deposits and digital imaging to name a few.

The Welcome Reception held on 20/08/2012 included amusing photo opportunities with native animals.   I also attended an evening River Cruise on the Kookaburra River Queen on 22/08/2012 which provided a relaxed dining experience and great views of the Brisbane City skyline.  

Poster presentation screens were set aside outside the Industry Exhibition area and contributors were invited to present and discuss their topics with delegates on allocated days.  One of the contributors I met on 23/08/2012 was Celine Guyon regarding the Astare project.  

On the morning of 24/08/2012 I had booked to attend a Japanese Paper Conservation Workshop held at the Queensland State Archives.  This practical session was guided by the Conservation staff of the National Archives of Japan and held in the workshop of the Preservation Manager Alison McCrindle.  The participants were guided in the art of repair and lining with Japanese paper and bookbinding in a traditional style.  Our tutor kindly let us keep the equipment that we had used for the session including some beautiful brushes.

The afternoon was spent having a presentation and guided tour of the Archive which was modern and well organized.  The tour was fully booked, our hosts were most informative and we were each presented with a bag of information and treats. 

At the end of a very busy week I spent a few days relaxing on the Gold Coast.

Heather Edwards-Hedley is Assistant Archivist, Haileybury and Imperial Service College