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A gift to the nation

Australian Red Cross has donated 100 years of archives to the University of Melbourne.

Friday October 17, 2014

The University of Melbourne has formally accepted the donation of Australian Red Cross' archives.

Tucked away in the basement of the Australian Red Cross offices in Melbourne, our archives hold a treasure trove of curious items that tell the remarkable Australian stories of millions of members, volunteers, staff and supporters whose everyday acts of humanity helped build our proud legacy.

We've just donated our national archives to the University of Melbourne Archives to be preserved and shared with future generations. Today marks the start of the five year process to handover, catalogue, curate and digitise one hundred years of photographs, records and treasured objects.

The Centenary of Australian Red Cross is a tremendously important occasion for us, and we are honoured that the University of Melbourne Archives has accepted our gift this year.

We've called it gift to the nation because the archives hold a century's worth of stories of people helping people though wars, disasters and personal hardship. We wanted to make sure that future generations would have access to our remarkable Australian stories and be able to experience them in new and different ways, and hopefully learn from our past.

It's a huge job curating the archive of one of Australia's largest and oldest charities, and we thank our dedicated teams of staff and volunteer archivists in each state who have faithfully curated our historical records and memorabilia, with limited space and resources.

Professor Tim McCormack, who has had a long and rich involvement with Red Cross, paid tribute to their work in his address at the official ceremony. Red Cross' digital editor Paul Hayes entertained the crowd with the story of the formidable Philadelphia Robertson, who was employed as a secretary in 1914 and went on to lead the Victorian division of Red Cross until her retirement in 1946.

Many of the rich and inspiring stories captured in our archives still resonate with our work today.

Just as our brave aid workers are currently fighting the spread of Ebola in West Africa, hundreds of Voluntary Aides carried out first-aid, home nursing and domestic duties in Australian capital cities to help control the spread of the world-wide Spanish Flu pandemic after World War One.

Today we work in partnership with more than 140 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and offer a healthy breakfast to more than 4,500 school children in over 200 breakfast clubs each year. Yet the Junior Red Cross was trailblazing these services in the years following World War One, delivering free milk to disadvantaged school children and supporting children living in Aboriginal communities.

The evolution of Red Cross is a significant part of Australia's social history. As you follow the major milestones of the last century, Red Cross was there responding to the changing needs of the times.

The proud legacy of humanitarian service to our nation forged by millions of members, volunteers, staff, donors, blood donors and supporters is captured in these documents, artefacts and memorabilia.

Our Centenary history book The Power of Humanity draws extensively from these records. It's exciting that students, researchers and the public will soon be able to access them too via the University of Melbourne Archives.

Read the media release.

Visit our Centenary website for a century of Red Cross stories and our historical timeline.