Alien Big Cat public research at National Archives of Australia
Dear Rebecca and Mike
Alien Big Cat public research at National Archives of Australia – potential traces of WWII USA military ‘mascot releases’
Your book, ‘Australian big cats’, inspired me to dig deeper into this story of escaped US military mascots while stationed in Australia during World War II. I thought there would be some trace of something within the Archives, but had little idea how unknown and tricky it was to find. Simply put, most of the files I found had never been seen by any member of the public until I cracked them open as a public researcher. These took time to find, and get opened, and then sift through the files. What a blast that was! Needless to say, I have little doubt there is more to be found! Alas I ran out of steam and time to go through the lot or indeed analyse it in any meaningful way.
I hope you find this raw documentary material useful. I know I don’t have time to do more with this, at least for the next few years anyhow!
Here are the ‘fruits’ of my research since October 2010 (to February 2014) on this subject within Commonwealth Government records held at the National Archives of Australia. After a flurry of activity in 2011, I’ve recently copied (digital camera photos – zero cost to me, except for time) the two main files that I found. These cover correspondence between the Australian Health and Quarantine authorities and the military forces, including US forces in Australia during World War II about their mascots brought onto Australian soil via unregulated, and unstoppable, troopships carrying US military personnel. Strangely enough the files seem to indicate the Australian authorities had has much if not more difficulty with Australian personnel bringing exotic animals into Australia by air transport via New Guinea at the time.
Exciting stuff for historical ABC research! Does it contain any ‘smoking guns’? I can’t see one, but I think the records would need a very careful read – with corroboration ‘outside the records’ via other sources to fill in the inevitable gaps - to be certain about that.
So, what’s here?
• Complete copies of two files (V3/5/6 parts 1 & 2) that cover ‘the main deliberations’
• Extract copies from three more files
• Patchy handwritten notes from 17 files
• A list of 57 files which I compiled while doing this research
• Supporting descriptions from Archives’ RecordSearch database
• Useful background information about using records held at National Archives
Start with the file list
• Lists 57 files that I have seen (or attempted to see at the time), seemingly most relevant to this subject. Practically, this shows the level of detail that is searchable to find things held by the National Archives. Much of this wasn’t on the RecordSearch database when I started this research, and was instead found by me on paper based item inventories.
• Listed by series number. What’s a series? See Fact sheets 5 & 6 (Useful information folder). In the Series description folder, you’ll find descriptions of the series themselves to which the files listed belong. The series tells you the context of creation of the records – who and what created the records you’re looking at.
• The Item control symbol is usually the file number that the creating government agency used at the time to control (create, maintain and access) the records.
• The Item title is the brief, and often cryptic words or phrases used to describe the file content by the creating government agency at the time. Sometimes these follow arcane name rules, sometimes not. Often, National Archives has augmented the title to make the content a bit more accessible.
• The item barcode number is the unique identifier of each file listed in the RecordSearch database – available to the public on the naa.gov.au website. You can use this number to easily find the file again! See Fact sheet 13 & 14 (Useful information folder).
• The first opened date is the date the file was first made available to the public. Any date from Oct 2010 onwards in this list means I got those files opened first – no one else in the public domain had ever seen them up to that point. That’s probably still true for many of the files on this list.
• Comments in the same column are hopefully self explanatory:
• [no comment] – I failed to take any notes, or didn’t have time to look through the file content
• Digitised – the contents of this file have now been digitised (at February 2014) and is available for viewing online within RecordSearch on the naa.gov.au website. Perhaps you’ve seen them already! Use the item barcode number to retrieve the file in RecordSearch. Go to www.naa.gov.au, select links for ‘search the collection’, then ‘RecordSearch’, then ‘Advanced Search tab’, then ‘Items’ and plug in the item barcode number. To see the digitised content, click on the document icon. These digitised files – circus quarantine files – have stories to tell in and of themselves about how the quarantine system worked (or didn’t!) and changed over time.
• File partially copied – I’ve gone through the file and copied what I thought to be the most relevant pages
• see notes – see handwritten notes (hard to read) for this file in the File content notes folder
• Seen – I skimmed through the file content and found nothing relevant for WWII
• Whole file copied – I’ve copied the whole file, everything on it. See file content copies folder.
File content copies folder
• This folder contains colour copies (digital photos) of documents either partially copied – a selection of documents from a file; or the whole file – all of the documents on the file.
• There are two subfolders – one for a single file in series A1658 and one for 4 files in series A11984. Each of these files are labelled with their item control symbol (see the file list described above). Open a folder to see individual documents - each have their own number (an artefact created by my digital camera). Those numbers put the documents in order as they occur on the file, and usually I’ve started with the file cover, front and back, then copied the documents from the back of the file (the earliest document) to the front of the file (the latest document).
• I have copied the entire file content of the two main files (as described earlier), V3/5/6 parts 1 & 2.
File content notes folder
• This folder contains my handwritten notes – if I made any - for files I didn’t copy. Probably not that useful, as my handwriting has a definite readability half-life!
Series description folder
• Here are descriptions of the series themselves to which the files on the file list above belong. The series tells you the context of creation of the records – who and what created the records you’re looking at. See Fact sheets 5 & 6 (Useful information folder) for more information about that. To see the series descriptions, drill down and open the html files. These are all available for viewing within RecordSearch on the naa.gov.au website.
Useful information folder - Archives
• This folder contains basic information about finding and using records held by the National Archives of Australia. Open the html files to see page dumps, all available on the naa.gov.au website, under ‘the collection’ tab.
So, enjoy delving into this rich archival content. And may those ABCs leap off the page for you! If you wish to quiz me about any of this, please do.
All the best
Some of the files David Hearder found are now here.
Allow for the files to drop on the page which might take a minute.
Because of the large numbers of files, it took us several days and media fire had problems with the connection.
If anyone wants all of the files then they should just contact us and arrange a USB stick to be mailed to us.