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Locating Australian Corporate Memory

  • Simon Ville (a1) and Grant Fleming (a2)


This research note reports on the quantity of business records available in Australia as indicated by a recent survey of the top one hundred firms operating during the twentieth century. The archival work was undertaken as part of a large study investigating aspects of corporate leadership in Australia, conducted Jointly at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. We found that the surviving records of Australian businesses cover a wide selection of firm types, and that the comprehensiveness of many archives places business history on a sound foundation for the future.



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1 The sample covered firms operating between 1900 and the mid–1960s. This is the first attempt to compile such a list and doubtless errors and omissions will become apparent. In the course of time we hope to add to the listing to bring it up to date.

2 The principal investigators of the project are the authors and Associate Professor David Merrett, Department of Management, University of Melbourne.

3 For example Vaughan-Thomas, W., Dalgety: The Romance of a Business (London, 1984); Elder Smith and Company Limited: The First Hundred Years (Adelaide, 1939).

4 Some notable recent exceptions to the dismal record of business history which have used archival material extensively and critically are: Broeze, F., Mr. Brooks and the Australian Trade: Imperial Business in the Nineteenth Century (Melbourne, 1993); Ville, S., “Networks and Venture Capital in the Australasian Pastoral Sector before World War Two,” Business History 38:3 (1996); Boyce, G., “The Western Mining Corporation-Hanna Homestake Joint Venture: Game Theory and Inter-Organizational Cooperation,” Australian Economic History Review 37:3 (1997); Shields, J., “‘Lead Bonus Happy’: Profit Sharing, Productivity and Industrial Relations in the Broken Hill Mining Industry, 1925–83,” Australian Economic History Review 37:3 (1997); and Fleming, G., “Collusion and Price Wars in the Australian Coal Industry during the Late Nineteenth Century,” Business History 41 (1999).

5 Terweil, D., Ville, S. P. and Fleming, G. A., Australian Business Records: An Archival Guide (Canberra, 1998). The archival listing is available from the authors upon request. The listing provides standardized entries for each company arranged alphabetically. The information on each company includes the name of the archive, the date range covered, the quantity and type of material available, and the accession conditions (see examples presented in the appendix).

6 D. Merrett, and S. Ville, “The Development of Large Scale Enterprise in Australia, 1910–64,” Business History (forthcoming).

7 The study went on to identify some key features of these corporate leaders including their size, sectoral distribution, and growth directions, and compared these with published results on the leading corporations of other nations such as Britain, U.S.A., Canada, and Japan.

8 The disaggregated yearly percentages are higher than the aggregated figure because of the repeated representation of successful large firms whose archives survive.

9 See, for example, Boehm, E. A., Twentieth Century Economic Development in Australia (Melbourne, 1979), table 1.1.

10 The leading collectors have been the University of Melbourne archives, the Noel Butlin Archives Centre (hereafter NBAC) at the Australian National University, and the State Libraries of New South Wales and South Australia.

Locating Australian Corporate Memory

  • Simon Ville (a1) and Grant Fleming (a2)


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