Using the national oral history collection – the ultimate prize.

This is the third and final of our posts regarding three vital topics – the extent to which potential users of our national archives are actually aware of the existence of oral history, access to the collection and its usage

The intrinsic dignity of each oral history and the life it represents is, in the end, its inviolable value. However, if something valuable is never seen or used how really valuable is it?  If we are aware and have access to something but never use it…

With these postings we are working to get oral history better known and used.

Usage – the ultimate aim

AMOHG suspects that very few people use the NFSA’s oral history collection for the reasons we have given in previous posts.

What a strange situation – to have produced or acquired over 6,000 recordings and to have scarcely any use made of them.

We do not suggest that there are 6,000 individual treasures. But we know there are many – all made to be heard with the hope (even expectation) that they will play a part in the continuing story of Australian moving image, recorded sound and other media (including new media) for succeeding generations.

AMOHG would like to see an explosion of interest in promoting an awareness of the lives and stories of these people whose memories have been entrusted to NFSA in order to keep them alive.

As a national organisation itself, AMOHG will also encourage the use of oral histories by other Archives and relevant bodies in Australia.

We have written about how we think the NFSA website could be enlivened to encourage awareness and access to the NFSA collection. AMOHG will use its own website for this purpose also.

Our hope is that NFSA will make full use of the narrative (story) basis and the intellectual range of the collection – not just as short incidental mentions, as is common at the moment in the scattered few uses – but in their own right in its programs, projects, featured articles and other means.  


AMOHG wonders, without evidence, if currently advertised NFSA access rates are actually a disincentive to the use of NFSA oral history.

It costs a lot for people who need to preview (pre-hear) an oral history (rather than read a transcript) even before they have begun to negotiate the copyrights and handling.

The currently published rates suggest that it would be difficult for a person on a graduate allowance to afford much listening at all.

Incidentally, there appears to be no mention on the website for previewing oral history at NFSA premises or elsewhere. We wonder how a person in Kalgoorlie or Cairns, for instance, could preview an NFSA-held oral history.

The problem of time/cost is exacerbated when there is neither transcript nor log to allow a client to fast forward to the topics that interest them in a long interview of say 7 – 12 hours.

NFSA holds two interviews with Producer/Composer/Director/Teacher Bill Fitzwater, adding up to over ten hours.

We are aware that consideration of fees is complicated, and we understand the need for NFSA to recoup costs wherever possible.

We strongly believe the matter of access fee levels needs continuing discussion and research to assess the extent to which the cost to preview acts as a disincentive to use the collection – and whether there might be some solution to this dilemma.

Data collection and analysis

For some considerable time AMOHG has advocated for the NFSA to measure the number of online access requests for oral history and record the number of permissions given, say  each month. As stakeholders, this information would be both important and enlightening.

New markets  

In 2018, AMOHG member Storry Walton proposed a staged outreach to secondary and tertiary education markets in a Paper to the NFSA, presented to an AMOHG meeting, and also published here.

The purpose of the proposal was to make a start on a long journey towards recognition and use of the collection by trying it out in a specific market.

Education is a market whose members do not necessarily need – or want – the moving image. Indeed, potential users of oral histories may be positively interested in the conceptual, reflective nature of oral history as described earlier. A discreet market for a unique product. A good fit.

Postgraduate students, who are always in search of ‘new’ material and topics might respond well – bearing in mind that the collection covers a lot of high ground, for instance on subjects like Aboriginal affairs; media regulation; ethnic broadcasting; censorship; the role of public broadcasting; history of commercial television; balance and fairness in broadcasting; technological history and innovation; film processing history; social history; political history; and education in remote communities and the Pacific.

We urge NFSA to undertake some initial research of relevant secondary syllabuses and tertiary courses (especially postgraduate) and training bodies with a view to running a targeted campaign to make educational institutions aware of relevant interviews in the NFSA’s oral history collection – with examples and with incentives to explore the collection.


During its 30-year history AMOHG’s members have recorded more than 450 oral histories for the NFSA, preserving the memories of media practitioners, commentators and theorists in a vast range of diverse roles.

AMOHG continues to develop its national role, outreach and activity – for instance by recording the stories of people who have been pioneering new ground in our New Media Oral History Project, collaborating with other archival agencies and trialing new techniques and technology.

We will continue to advocate for better awareness, access and usage of Australian oral histories.

*** ⓒAMOHG APRIL 2021                                                                      

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