Art Deco NFSA building from front view, with blue sky in the background and flags flying atop of the building

Countdown to our 30th

30th anniversary of the NFSA
 Clair Hurford
Barry Cohen Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Source: National Archives of Australia)

Saturday 5 April 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the announcement in Parliament by Barry Cohen, Minister for Home Affairs and Environment, that the government would establish an autonomous National Film and Sound Archive.

NFSA staff, under the stewardship of Ray Edmondson, moved into their new building six months later, in October 1984.

The origin of the collection dates back to 1935 in the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library that was established by the federal government.
Source: National Archives of Australia

It was subsequently managed by the then Commonwealth National Library’s (parent to the National Library of Australia) Film Division in 1946.

The 1984 decision followed years of advocacy for what former NFSA Deputy Director and current Curator Emeritus Ray Edmondson described as the ‘necessary evolution and functional autonomy’ of an independent audiovisual institution.

‘[After the announcement] there was a certain sense of elation among the National Film Archive and Sound recording staff’, says veteran staff member Ian Gilmour, now Manager of Engineering and Research at the NFSA. ‘Mitigated by the knowledge that we’d taken on a pretty huge job and the realisation we’d have to make a go of it now – there was nowhere else to hide’.


Colleague Janine Boyd, now the NFSA’s Manager of Collection Information, recalls ‘a buzz of excitement and anticipation among staff – the film archive collection would be able to get the attention it required rather than simply as an addendum to the book collection’.

In 2008 the NFSA became an independent statutory authority and the National Film and Sound Archive Act 2008 provides the legal statement of the NFSA’s primary functions as stewards of the national audiovisual collection.

In this 2008 Oral History recorded by James McCarthy, Barry Cohen recalls speaking with Ray Edmondson and becoming aware of the nitrate film that was in ‘diabolical trouble’, the risk of losing it and never being able to capture it again. He also explains how the NFSA almost ended up in a different building to its current location in the former Australian Institute of Anatomy.

Barry Cohen, Minister for Home Affairs in 1984, interviewed by James McCarthy (2008), Oral History, NFSA title: 773849. He talks about the persistence of Ray Edmondson and the genesis of an autonomous NFSA.