A thank you to Ms. Belfrage

This is a shout-out post to Ms. Abigail Belfrage, professional historian, archival master, and a co-appreciator of all things antiquated (0f which I am a complete nutter of). Her expertise in the use of the Public Records Office’s archival and documentation system has not only helped my in my research for my final project, but she has also encouraged me to pursue that which I love the most: history.

Public Records Office of Victoria – Search

Many things I’ve learned from her in regards to my research:

  1. Use of Advanced Search > Agency > Exact Phrase (use of “*”) > Groups (e.g. courts)
  2. Use of Advanced Search > Employee > Series > Sort: Date Range
  3. Use of different terms (synonyms) when doing searches (i.e. caretaker = janitor, warden, concierge, attendant, porter, watchman, custodian, keeper, steward, curator)
  4. Use of “Wills” and  “Probate” (define: to confirm when you die and your will is all organised) – these records may show occupations such as caretaker, documents and digitised photographs and fonts I could use for my final piece.
  5. Confusions with dates – continuity and being aware of changes in digital age and time-frame

She has an abundance of wealth in this area. Check her out at The History Department.

Sites and Non-Sites: Public Records Office

A reading, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art by Brandon LaBelle distinguishes the “site” and the “non-site.” As such: the gallery (museum, exhibitions, etc.) is a “non-site” that functions as the place to house the “site” of the actual artistic work. It “indexes” the actions of the artist wherein artistic reflection and criticality develops.

Retracing a couple of weeks back, my class and I went on a little dizzying adventure to the Public Records Office where we traversed this labyrinthine maze of archived public records preserved at a calculated temperature and humidity (I found it rather stuffy) that are not exactly for the public’s viewing. It was a vast underground chamber of records dating back to the 1800’s. I wouldn’t exactly count this as an artistic “site” per se, but it was a site nonetheless; housing information upon information about Victoria from memories, events, records of immigration and shipping, criminal trials and prisons, wills, royal commissions, governors, probates and so forth.

It may not have looked like it with the organised stacks of a modern archiving system, but each vertical storage system holds a particular meaning to people of then, now and the future.


What I garnered from the visit, firstly, is the absolving of my preconceived notion that the Public Records Office was nothing but, for no better word, boring. I expected stacks upon stacks of yellowing papers of wills and events and policies and manifestos, and sure there were some, but there were more hidden behind those grey walls.
Maps, poison bottles, bullet once lodged in a body of a murdered man, the very court trial signed slip that happened sometime between 1800-1899; a vast collection of trinkets and goods that were once held by hands who are now long gone.

There was so much history in the place. It was a site of archaeology and excavation and it brought up a number of ideas for my pursuit in my representation of place.

What is place? As Cresswell defines it, a space that has meaning, a meaningful location. The Public Records Office advanced my perception towards archiving. It, in a way, presented a very documented index of the past, rich in historical exposé.

I’ve been thinking of creating an Application for my final project during the year and my approach is history and interactivity. More on that later, but the way the Public Records Office archives and houses information in its own unique way has definitely given me a bit more of an idea as to how I can historically approach my project.