A key function of the National Archives of Australia is to promote awareness of and access to archival records. Records about international relations have considerable historical significance.
In partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the National Archives hosts a lecture series with a focus on an international event from 30 years before. A suite of departmental records are released to the public at the same time. The lecture series commemorates Professor Robert George Neale AO.
You can listen to the audio or read the RG Neale lectures in the International relations and foreign affairs topic.
Robert George Neale was born in Werribee, Victoria, on 7 March 1919. He attended Melbourne Boys’ High School, and graduated from the University of Melbourne with First Class Honours in History in 1939.
Neale began his working life as a teacher in rural Victoria. During World War II, he enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force and served in New Guinea. At the end of the war he joined the History Department of the University of Queensland. He became a Professor in 1965, the same year his work Britain and American Imperialism 1898–1900 was published.
In 1970 Professor Neale was appointed Editor of Historical Documents in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra. In that role he directed the publication of a series of volumes entitled Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937–39. His expertise as an historian and academic translated into rapid advancement in the Department of Foreign Affairs and in the public service generally.
In 1975 Professor Neale became the first Director-General of the Australian Archives (now the National Archives of Australia). Tasked with carrying out recommendations made in the report Development of the National Archives, by Canadian archivist Dr W Kaye Lamb, Neale spent the next eight years turning a small and relatively inconspicuous organisation into a nationally recognised institution, providing high quality recordkeeping and archival services to the Australian Government and people. Under his leadership, the Archives grew substantially, and undertook many initiatives that led to its current role and stature as a world-leader in archival and recordkeeping practices.
As Director-General of the Australian Archives, Professor Neale directed the drafting of the Archives Bill, later enacted as the Archives Act 1983. This landmark legislation established the Archives on a statutory basis and laid down stringent conditions for public access to, and the disposal of, Commonwealth records. Neale’s skill, tenacity, diplomacy and foresight ensured that Australia gained invaluable national archival legislation that is still effective today.
Professor Neale recognised the need to obtain adequate accommodation for the Archives, its collection and its staff. He was determined to see the Archives housed appropriately as a national cultural institution. Although he did not achieve this during his working life, it became a reality in 1998, when the national office of the National Archives moved into the East Block building on Queen Victoria Terrace in the parliamentary triangle in Canberra.
Professor Neale retired as Director-General of the Australian Archives in March 1984 and was created an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours of 1985. He died on 1 May 2004.
Jim Stokes, ‘Emeritus Professor RG Neale, first Director-General of the National Archives of Australia (1919–2004)’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 32, no. 2, November 2004, pp. 10–14.