Roslyn Russell, Kylie Winkworth
© Commonwealth of Australia, 2010
ISBN 97 80977544363 (pbk)
Context and archives
Archivists look first at context when deciding to take records into an archive. They examine the significance of the creating entity itself, the events and phenomena associated with it, and the quality of the records themselves. Once these are identified, the question becomes one of how useful the records can be for researching these events.
The historical context of the place of the High Court in the development of Australian common law and the interpretation of the Constitution is crucial to understanding the significance of the records it has created.
The High Court of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Roslyn Russell
The High Court of Australia decides constitutional matters and cases of special federal significance. It is the highest court of appeal for federal, state and territory cases. Although the High Court of Australia was established in 1901 by Section 71 of the Constitution, the appointment of the first Bench awaited the passage of the Judiciary Act 1903.
The vast collection of the High Court of Australia, held at the National Archives of Australia and by the High Court, includes judges' notebooks, correspondence between members, reports, and records of judgments. It illustrates the development of Australia's common law practices and principles and includes images and film of the opening of the original Court and of the new High Court of Australia building in Canberra. The records provide an insight into landmark judicial decisions affecting Australian society, democracy and government. Issues covered include Commonwealth versus State powers (the Engineers Case of 1920 and the Tasmanian Franklin Dam Case, 1983), economic regulation (the Bank Nationalisation Case, 1948), freedom of speech and subversion (the Communist Party Case, 1951), the separation of powers doctrine (the Boilermakers Case, 1956), Native title (the Mabo Case, 1992), and anti-homosexuality laws and human rights (the Toonen Case, 1994).