B11 – Historical Reference Committee


1.1 The Assembly Historical Reference Committee has a role as guardian of corporate memory. By providing for the appropriate care of UCA archives and being able to direct others where to find what they need, historians, storytellers and church leaders are offered the resources to share our UCA story truthfully, based on evidence.

1.2 In November 2014, the whole Committee met for the Triennial gathering at the Centre for Ministry in Sydney. As we heard from each Synod and the Assembly Archivist, we learned that in almost every context the archivists had had to deal with the disruption of relocation of the archives, with managing archives as just one of multiple responsibilities and with a sense of isolation from others who understand the challenges of their task. Despite the difficulties, there was a genuine commitment to the task and a vision for fresh ways in which archivists could support each other and provide excellence in their field.

1.3 The time has come, we believe, for reconsideration of our Mandate which has been almost unchanged since 1998. It is recognised that some aspects of the Mandate are the direct responsibility of the Assembly Archivist under the oversight of the General Secretary rather than the activity of the Committee. We have been working to reframe our Mandate in terms that express the reality of who we need to be. Energy has been invested in imagining a different shape for the work which will include greater collaboration, and focus on specific projects undertaken by smaller teams.

1.4 Two key guidelines documents have been produced by the Committee. ‘What are the Archives?’ document is designed to give basic information about the nature of archives and why they are important for the use of the culturally and linguistically diverse communities within UCA. This has been distributed to many of these groups, and in some cases been translated. This work has been appreciated. The document, along with our disposal and retention schedules, has also been used as a basis for archival work with Cook Island Christian Church and Nungalinya College. The second document was ‘Guidelines on Closure of Church Buildings’ with advice about heritage issues. This has been useful for some Presbyteries.

1.5 Work is in progress on a policy covering retention, care or return to source of special gifts listed in an Asset Register for items given to the Assembly, often by partner churches; some objects are artefacts with significance to UCA and donor overseas churches. Another project now under way relates to the preservation and appropriate locations for photographic collections and other images with a considerable amount of research already done.


2.1 At a time of transition in several larger agencies such as Frontier Services and UnitingWorld, with changes of focus or moves to different premises, Christine Gordon’s expertise has helped to guide valuable archival resources to the appropriate repositories. These moves have generated a great deal of work in processing material. Material from most of the agencies of Assembly has been received and processed. A data base of former mission workers of UnitingWorld and its predecessors is being developed. The large collection of material from Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), previously held in Townsville and Tasmania, has been sorted and indexed and is a very comprehensive and important collection. The vast bulk of the archives of UCA Assembly and Assembly agencies (and their predecessors) can be found at the Mitchell Library in New South Wales, while the AIM/Frontier Services collection is housed at the National Library of Australia. Other material is housed at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the National Film and Sound Archive and at the Centre for Ministry at North Parramatta. A finding guide is available from christineg@nat.uca.org.au.

2.2 As part of her work and in a voluntary capacity, Christine Gordon has provided archival advice and practical guidelines to our partner church the Cook Island Christian Church in the Cook Islands (April-May 2012) and to Nungalinya College, Darwin (June-July 2013). Both visits were very valuable. One result of the visit to Darwin was the generation of many enquiries which led to the scanning of the Methodist Overseas Missions (MOM) catalogue and the Presbyterian (BOEMAR) catalogue of materials in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Resources for the film ‘Croker Island Exodus’ and the Frontier Services Centenary Book were provided. Copies of some significant old films made by MOM and BOEMAR in the National Film and Sound Archive have been copied to DVD.

2.3 Synod archivists and the Assembly Archivist have spent significant time on preparing the necessary documentation for the Uniting Church National Task Group for engaging with and responding to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It has been important, but not always possible, to be able to provide a clear paper trail of records in this difficult matter. These external demands on both the archives and the work of the archivists remind us, the Committee, and should remind the wider church of the importance of professional record keeping and the necessity of archivists to the work of the Church.


This issue has had a long and frustrating history. A major detailed proposal was prepared in 2006. In 2009 a revised formal proposal was presented to Assembly and was passed. Lack of funds to implement, and other factors have led to a long delay in what is an increasingly urgent matter. The Committee remains deeply concerned at the lack of progress and implications for the UCA’s archival resources in the future. For those with a responsibility for the care of archives, as well as those who need to be able to access the records, the questions are broader than basic records management. The earlier work on this proposal has been updated in 2015 in the light of the current technology, costs and opportunities and is presented once more in hope of action.


The resources of UCA Archives in Assembly and Synods have been very valuable in the research and writing of several publications of church history relating to UCA during the past three years. These include among others An Informed Faith: The Uniting Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century, W. Emilsen Ed. 2014, Methodism in Australia, G.O’Brien and H.Carey Eds, 2015 and Australian Methodist Biography Bicentenary Project, W.Emilsen and P.Curthoys Eds. 2015. Several members of this Committee have been involved as writers and editors of these and other recent publications and have valued the mutual support, advice and resources offered by the rest of the Committee.


Resources of Assembly Archives have supported the centenary of Frontier Services in 2012 and will do so for the Bicentenary of Methodism in Australia in 2015. Synod Archivists and Historical Societies are encouraged to recognise and celebrate the Bicentenary of Methodism.


The Committee wishes to place on record its gratitude to retiring Chairperson Margaret Reeson, and retiring Secretary Lorraine Macknight. Margaret Reeson has been a member of the Committee since 2003. She has been an outstanding member of our group with her first-hand experience and insightful understanding of our history and appreciation of our Archives. This, along with her organisational and pastoral gifts, has been of great value to the Assembly in general and to this Committee in particular. Lorraine Macknight has brought important insights as a professional archivist since joining the group in 2009 and has served as Secretary since 2012.

Margaret Reeson


Responsible to: The Assembly

Reporting arrangements: The Assembly and the Standing Committee.

Mission Statement: To advise the Assembly and the Standing Committee on historical and archival matters of significance to the Church.


1. To oversee the care and collection of all records of the Assembly and Assembly Agencies;
2. To co ordinate the cataloguing of Assembly archival material;
3. To circulate advice throughout the Church on appropriate methods of keeping records, in the light of modern archival techniques;
4. To negotiate terms of access, care and preservation of Assembly and Assembly agency records with any approved repositories;
5. To consult with Synods:
• on the designation of buildings and sites of national importance to the Church, and advise on relationships with conservation bodies;
• on the collection, maintenance and cataloguing of records;
• on the appropriate policies regarding matters of historical importance;
6. To foster interest in the Church’s heritage, and encourage research and publication on the history of the Uniting Church in Australia and its parent churches;
7. To draw attention to significant dates, events and people in the history of the Church and its parent churches, so that appropriate resources can be provided;
8. To negotiate with appropriate bodies on the funding of historical activities and conservation.

General: The responsibilities include:
• focusing the activities of the agency on the vision of the Assembly as a whole;
• advising the Assembly and/or the Standing Committee on policy matters within their area of responsibility;
• making policy decisions where the Assembly or the Standing Committee has delegated authority for certain policy areas, either through the agency mandate or by resolution;
• assisting the Assembly Archivist and any other agency staff in the implementation of policies determined by the Assembly and/or the Standing Committee;
• ensuring that appropriate pastoral support is offered to agency staff members;
• participating in cross agency projects and teams established by the Assembly.

Power to appoint:
• To establish working groups for special tasks related specifically to the mandate.
• To make recommendations to the Standing Committee to establish other working groups for special tasks related to but not part of the mandate.

Membership of the Reference Committee:
Chairperson, from the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT area (appointed by the Assembly);
• the appointed archivist of each Synod or another person appointed by the Synod;
• five persons from the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT area, of whom one will be designated as Assembly archivist, appointed by Standing Committee; these five persons and the chairperson comprise the Executive of the Reference Group;
• power to co opt up to two additional persons to ensure appropriate competencies, representation and development of new leadership.

Approved by the Assembly Standing Committee, March 2009

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