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What is the UNESCO Memory of the World Australian Register?

The UNESCO Memory of the World Australian Register is part of the worldwide system of registers of documentary heritage of world significance that operate under the auspices of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. The Programme maintains registers at three levels – international, regional and national – and items of documentary heritage from Australia are inscribed on all three registers when they fulfil the selection criteria that govern each register.

‘World significance’ is determined according to the impact and influence of the documentary heritage: all items and collections on the Australian Register have been influential within Australia, and some have also been assessed as of significance for the Asia-Pacific region (Landmark Constitutional Documents of the Commonwealth of Australia, the FE Williams Photographic Collection, inscribed in conjunction with Papua New Guinea, and Queensland’s South Sea Islander Indentured Labourer Records). Five items on the Australian Register are also inscribed on the Memory of the World International Register – the Endeavour Journal of Captain James Cook, the Mabo Case Papers, the Convict Records of Australia, The Story of the Kelly Gang film, and the Manifesto of the Queensland Labour Party 1892 that resulted in the first labour government to be elected in the world.

The Australian Register has been operating since the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Committee was established. Following the practice of the International Advisory Committee of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, the Committee created an Assessment Sub-Committee of historians, archivists, librarians, museum experts and experts in Indigenous heritage to assess documentary heritage nominated for inscription on the Australian Register.

Committee members, when assessing nominations, use criteria developed for use with movable heritage collections across Australia, first by the Heritage Collections Council (2001) and then by the Collections Council of Australia (2009)3, and make recommendations based on whether or not the nominations meet the criteria for inscription.

The Assessment Sub-Committee submits its recommendations to the full Australian Committee. Once the Committee has approved, the inscriptions are added to the Australian Register. Inscriptions are added to the Australian Register every two years, and there are currently 50 inscriptions. Each round of inscriptions is announced in a ceremony hosted by one of the institutions around Australia that support the Program. These have included, to date, the National Library of Australia, State Records NSW, State Library of Victoria, National Archives of Australia, Queensland State Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, the State Library of South Australia, and the State Library of New South Wales.

3Roslyn Russell and Kylie Winkworth, (significance): a guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Heritage Collections Council, Canberra, 2001; and Significance 2.0: a guide to assessing the significance
of collections
, Collections Council of Australia, South Australia, 2009.