Our collective memory: Rachel Naughton recognised for service to ASA

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Communications Office

Rachel Naughton, the Archivist for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, has received recognition from the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) for 20 years of invaluable work to the Victorian branch.

For the past 24 years, Rachel has been the Archivist & Museum Manager for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, where she has organised the Archive. She also handles search and retrieval for the Executive and for Parishes, assists the public in enquiries and produces a bi-annual historical magazine Footprints.

And for most of that time, Rachel has been on the Committee of the Victorian Branch of the ASA – Australia’s peak professional body for archivists and recordkeepers –occupying numerous positions including Convenor, Secretary and Treasurer.

‘Together with some great helpers, kept things ticking along. I only stepped down from the Committee in 2019 when it became clear that a younger, vibrant and tech-savvy generation had come to the fore, happy to take the on the responsibility. And they are doing a brilliant job.’

This isn’t the first time the archivist has been awarded by the ASA.

‘I did receive a President’s Award about 5 years ago,’ she says. ‘And the Archdiocese Archive also won the Mander Jones Award for providing the Hannan Advocate Index as a freely available public resource.’

But this most recent recognition was unexpected, she says, as was the $100 dollar Readings voucher that accompanied the acknowledgement. ‘I’ll put this towards a two-volume encyclopaedia of silver markings to better identify the makers of the various items in the Museum Collection and the Cathedral Collection.’

The identity of any organisation comes down to the sum of its collective memory, and the keepers of that memory are the archivists. They ensure that records – evidence of administrative, corporate, cultural and intellectual activity – are made, kept and used.

According to the archivists’ mission, archival work is about ‘supporting and understanding of Australian life through the management and retention of personal, corporate, and social memory.’

‘People think archivists look back, and they do a degree,’ Rachel says. ‘But they actually are always looking 50 years ahead, about how to preserve records and preserve access 50 years into the future.’
On a daily or weekly basis, Rachel is approached by a wide variety of people wanting to plumb the history of the Archdiocese. ‘We get a lot of people doing PhDs and writing books, from a mixture of backgrounds and disciplines.’

But it’s not just academics who come to Rachel for help.

She explains how she’s assisted people try to track down their birth parents or distant relatives accessing birth records and baptism records. ‘People come to me trying to rediscover lost parts of their lives or to put a family history together.’

Assisting people to solve mysteries while a compelling part of what she does, wasn’t what drew her to the role. Rather, it was the combination of working with historical records and the prospect of helping people.

‘It’s part of my personality. I love to help people. And I’ve always loved history,’ she says, coming from a background in teaching English and history.

If the archives can’t help someone find the answers they need, there’s a good chance Rachel will know someone who can. In the instances when she can’t assist someone because they don’t have the record, Rachel says she directs them to a place that would have the record. ‘We do a lot of directing traffic,’ she says.

To many, Rachel is often the only touchpoint people will have with the entire Church and is the representative of the Church’s good work, up until the present. ‘To some people out there, you represent the Church,’ she says. ‘You’re often the only part of the Church people will access or have anything to do with.’

‘In a way, it’s a ministry in itself. That’s how I see it.’

Rachel started out as an archivist with the Department of Human Services, archiving the records of the old Psychiatric Hospitals in regional Victoria. ‘This project involved semi-trailer loads of records.’

Her work involves not just managing the Archdiocese Collection but also includes managing the Museum Collection, an important Baroque painting collection and the largest collection of liturgical textiles in Australia.

Some highlights and achievements over her time at the Archdiocese have included the Mannix Conference at the State Library of Victoria in 2013 and the Goold Conference in 2019 and also the Goold Exhibition at the Treasury Museum in 2019.

‘We also normally have school groups through the Archdiocese Museum trying to engage the students with the history and contribution of their faith from a local, practical point of view,’ Rachel says.
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