STATE COLONIAL RECORDS: OLD REGISTER
The Hon. HENRY TSANG:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Lands. Will the Minister provide details of how the Rees Government is ensuring that some historical records of the colony of New South Wales are being made available to the public?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
The Department of Lands is one government agency that can trace its origins back to a time before the colony of New South Wales was established. That is because the Surveyor General was appointed before the First Fleet sailed from England in 1787. As a result, the Department of Lands is the custodian of a significant number of records of the history of the colony and the establishment of the State of New South Wales. These records and other cultural heritage items represent a unique and priceless collection. It is appropriate that these important documents are made available to the general public, but their age and fragile state have made that much more difficult to achieve. However, I am pleased to inform the House that many of these significant records are now accessible to the wider community as part of the Rees Government's commitment to make historical records available to the public.
In a joint project between the Department of Lands and New South Wales State Records, documents known as the Old Register have been transferred to DVD. The launch of the DVD was held in Parliament House last week, which the Hon. Don Harwin attended. The Old Register is a collection of nine individual registers that are officially known as the Register of Assignments and Other Legal Instruments. The first land grant in the colony of New South Wales was made to James Ruse in 1792. Following that grant, it was clear that there was nowhere for the people of New South Wales to officially record their land and other transactions. Indeed, some of those transactions were recorded on the back of the original document.
Without an official record of transactions, disputes about land ownership would arise, so the need for an official register was obvious. It was Governor Philip King who decided that an official register should be established. In 1800 and again in 1802 Governor King ordered that property transactions be registered, and that if they were not registered, the transaction would not be recognised by the courts. So in 1804—I do not know why it took four years—the first of the nine old registers was created. The Old Register provides a vital insight into the early days of the colony of New South Wales and the history of Australia, recording not only land transactions but also legal matters dating back to 1794.
The register also tells an important part of the story of the social fabric of the colony's early development. Information and items held by the Department of Lands include original land grants signed by early governors, numerous photographs, war memorials in the Queens Square building, statues of surveyors at the old Lands Department building in Bridge Street, and even a strange ball-shaped object held at Dubbo that was used to allocate soldier settlement parcels of Crown land after the First World War. In addition to the DVD release recently, the paper records held by the Department of Lands are being electronically scanned and progressively made available from the Lands website. This will allow Lands to exploit the latest Internet technology to provide the public with easy access to these records, at the same time allowing the original paper records to be preserved for future generations. I congratulate the Department of Lands on its efforts to conserve these unique historical documents and make them available to the public. It is an effort we should all support.