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Close up of old volumes at City of Adelaide's archives
Home » Then, now and beyond: City Archives

Then, now and beyond: City Archives

While the words ‘history’ and ‘technology’ don’t always make the most obvious of pairings, the digitisation of some of the most fragile records held in the City of Adelaide’s archives is helping preserve Adelaide’s past for the future.

The City of Adelaide’s official records, dating back to 1840, stretch over approximately six kilometres, with digitisation being used alongside more traditional preservation techniques so generations to come can discover the rich heritage the city has to offer.

So, what are some of the records held?

  • 15,000 historic photographs
  • 10,000 leases, agreements and contracts
  • 68,000 maps, plans and drawings
  • 5 million ledgers, registers, volumes, hardcopy subject files and correspondence dockets
  • 4,200 paintings and pieces of artwork
  • 130 oral history audio interviews
The City Archives in Topham Mall, Adelaide
The City Archives in Topham Mall, Adelaide

The Archives are based in Topham Mall where a team of five – including two archivists, a cultural materials conservator and digitisation specialist – work tirelessly to answer around 200 community requests every month; accessing over 3,500 record items each year.

“As the first Council in Australia, the City of Adelaide has a unique heritage that must be protected and preserved for generations to come,” said City of Adelaide archivist Rob Thornton.

“Adelaide and South Australia can lay claim to many notable achievements – including being the first state in Australia to allow women to vote. This is the type of history that needs to be safely secured for the future.”

Before establishing the purpose-built City Archives in 1986, Council’s vast collection of historic records was housed in a far from ideal environment underneath the Adelaide Town Hall. Today, the Archives stores both Council’s archival records and the Civic Collection.

Adelaide Park Lands Rambles
Japanese tissue paper preservation technique
Japanese tissue paper preservation technique

Some of the more traditional preservation techniques include using Japanese tissue paper to repair documents damaged in flooding before the Archives was established. This type of paper is sturdy but delicate in nature, and can be used and reused if necessary.

But for those historic records in a rapid state of decay, the team uses a variety of tools to preserve and digitise the original items, including a large wide format A0 scanner, a high res photo scanner and a microfilm scanner. Together these have been used to add 40 per cent of all archives into an electronic database. This includes the important City of Adelaide Rate Assessment Books which date from the mid-19th century to the 1980s, most of which have now been digitised.

Recently, scanners were used to digitise the City’s oldest ever record: Council’s first minute book of 1840. The record captured the business of that first Adelaide Council and its Mayor, James Hurtle Fisher, from 1840 to 1843, with the first entry detailing a meeting held at the Youth Australian Club House in Hindley Street on 3 October, 1840.

The Archives team also digitise videos. Fascinating 9mm footage from the early 1900s showing Adelaide’s original trams travelling through Victoria Square / Tarntanyangga alongside pedestrians was amongst some of the footage most recently digitised for future generations.

Interested in Adelaide’s history? Is there a subject relating to Adelaide’s history you’d like to research at the City Archives? Find out more or book a tour at

Hidden tales of the city revealed

In February 2018, discover the inspirational stories behind Adelaide’s heritage buildings at a unique outdoor gallery and help celebrate the Heritage Incentive Scheme’s 30 Year Anniversary.

Sweet city sounds

Details at


Main Image: Historic records at City Archives

Skye Murtagh

Skye Murtagh

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