Featured News “Missing” historical files found by JCU PhD student

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Fri, 26 Jun 2020

“Missing” historical files found by JCU PhD student

PhD student Patrick White and JCU Library Special Collections Manager Browyn Bronwyn McBurnie look over some of the records, the documents are spread over a table and they are wearing gloves
PhD student Patrick White and JCU Library Special Collections Manager Bronwyn McBurnie look over some of the records. Photo: Bethany Keats, JCU Media

Thanks to the opportunistic thinking of a JCU PhD student, a collection of North Queensland historical records has been preserved for future generations.

Patrick White is researching the North Queensland Local Government Association and their contribution to developing northern Australia, which has involved investigating old association records.

However, during his research, he discovered that the whereabouts of some of the archives were not known.

“I heard a rumour about some old boxes of government documents in a council storage shed in Charters Towers,” Mr White said. “Over the years, the boxes and contents aged considerably, but the exterior of the boxes suggested the contents were some of the missing documents I’d been searching for.”

Mr White rushed to Charters Towers to find out for himself, and found the boxes in poor condition.

“The documents had been bound in deteriorating cardboard for nearly seventy years and in sheds and trucks,” he said. “They had already defied the odds of survival.”

The records contain evidence of a very influential campaign to develop northern Australia in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Mr White says they are particularly important because histories of northern Australia are usually written from a southern perspective.

“These historical records provide an opportunity for us to locate a northern voice,” he said. “They particularly highlight the role local governments played to develop their own region, rather than the role of the state and federal governments, which is what we usually hear.”

The records have now been donated to the JCU Library Special Collections by the Charters Towers Regional Council Mayor, on behalf of the Northern Alliance of Councils.

JCU Library Special Collections Manager Bronwyn McBurnie said she is delighted to receive the donation for the Special Collections so that North Queenslanders can view the archives.

“Everyone is welcome to book in to visit us and look at the materials we have,” she said. “They’re for the benefit of the whole community, not just academic researchers.”

Charters Towers Regional Council Mayor Frank Beveridge said he is glad to see the documents in safe hands.

“These records are an important part of our region’s history and our contribution to the wider region,” he said. “Charters Towers is a very proud heritage town that has a great appreciation for history and historical records. I’m glad to see them preserved properly and where current and future historians can take a look at them. I look forward to reading about research that has come from them.”

Cr Beveridge said he hopes this find will encourage other local councils to check their storage areas.

“I’d certainly encourage Councils in the North to keep an eye out for important documents and get in touch with JCU Special Collections to come and collect them.”


Patrick White