As you start your Pacific Islands research you would no doubt wonder, what records are available? It may surprise and delight you to know the Library holds a variety of resources that cover many countries, generations and events. Answers to the many questions relating to history, culture and ancestry in the Pacific region can be found in the Library’s vast collections. Before you dive in, the Library’s reference team has some suggestions to help you get started.

Pacific Manuscripts Bureau

The Pacific Manuscripts Bureau is a treasure trove of information for family historians, providing access to archives, manuscripts, and rare printed materials from Pacific Island nations. The Library holds this collection in microfilm format and provides access to the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau Catalogue (Australian National University) database, which enables registered Library users to view digitised records. This Cook Island 1901 birth register recorded by the London Missionary Society is an example of what you may uncover.

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Cook Islands 1901 birth register
Cook Islands 1901 birth register, London Missionary Society birth records, Book 27, pp.51-100, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau Database, nla.cat-vn8597184

Rex Nan Kivell Collection

Another notable archive containing Australian, New Zealand and other Pacific Islands related material is the Rex Nan Kivell collection, which holds maps, pictures, manuscripts, photographs, books and pamphlets. This impressive archive boasts of over 15,000 items, some of which have been digitised and are available to access through our catalogue or Trove. For more information on how to access the collection you may like to explore our Rex Nan Kivell Collection page. This 1783 watercolour painting by artist Arthur William Devis depicting a fishing scene in the Pacific is an example of what you may find.

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Arthur William Devis, Pacific island beach scene 1783
Arthur William Devis, Pacific island beach scene, showing fishing,1783, nla.cat-vn690240

Maps

Identifying the country or islands a community lived in can give you a greater understanding and provide context to official documents or records. The Maps collection contains a wide variety of maps across the whole Pacific, from early naval charts to the latest national surveys. Searching the catalogue for maps of countries and islands, or browsing our digitised Pacific Islands maps and the Pacific Ocean collection for a relevant historical map can often assist with information such as place names that may have changed over time, along with surrounding countries and geographical features that could have impacted the day to day lives of the community you are researching.

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Colony of Fiji map 1942
Fiji. Department of Lands and Surveys. and Great Britain. War Office. and Guy, Aubrey V. Colony of Fiji [cartographic material] / compiled and drawn at the Land and Survey Dept. ; drawn by Aubrey V. Guy 1942, nla.cat-vn2063628

Photographs

The J.W. ( John Watt) Beattie collection features an array of historic photographs of landscapes and people from South and Western Pacific countries in 1906 and the Terence and Margaret Spencer collection focuses on Papua New Guinea from 1953 to 1978. The photographs, in these collections, capture a wide range of communities, offering a great visual representation of the time and place in which people lived.

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Three men standing in front of a painted canoe, Solomon Islands, 1906
John Watt Beattie (1859-1930), Three men standing in front of a painted canoe at Heuru, Solomon Islands, 1906, nla.cat-vn6386967

Indian Immigration Passes, Fiji

Researchers of Indian indentured labourers who emigrated to Fiji can find a great deal of information using the Indian Indentured Labourer 1879-1916 collection. This collection is regarded as so significant that it has been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Records include immigration passes, general registers, plantation registers, repatriation registers and death registers.

The Library worked with the National Archives of Fiji (custodians of this collection) to digitise and make many of these records freely available via Trove. If you haven’t used this collection before, it is best to start with our research guide.

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Indian immigration passes, 1879-1916 image
Indian immigration passes, 1879-1916. Fiji. Department of Immigration. & Central Archives of Fiji and the Western Pacific High Commission. nla.cat-vn748824

Newspapers

Newspapers  are an invaluable resource for any researcher and can often offer generous details about an event, place or person. The Library holds published newspapers from Pacific countries such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and Marshall Islands, covering a range of dates in print, microfilm and online. Refer to our overseas newspaper guide for more information about searching and accessing collections.

The Pacific Island Monthly magazine 1930-2000 covers news items from Pacific countries and is freely available to access via Trove. Although published in Australia, it does document current events and topics in Pacific Countries. You can read more about this magazine in the following blog: Pacific Islands Monthly Digitised.

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Pacific Islands Monthly, February 22, 1932.
Front cover of Pacific Islands Monthly magazine featuring a photograph of Ellice Islands, February 22, 1932, nla.cat-vn2295472

Websites

The Library selectively archives Pacific websites, these are mostly government or research sites around a theme, for example the 2019 Solomon Islands General Elections. Archived Pacific websites are discoverable in the catalogue.

Papua New Guinea

For anyone searching for Papua New Guinea records after WWII, Patrol Reports can be a terrific source to refer to. The original reports are held at the National Archives of Papua New Guinea. The files were documented by government patrol officers and other officials who noted details such as interactions with locals, census statistics, languages, healthcare and much more. This collection is arranged by province and can be accessed at the Library in microfiche format. In recent years, the University of California completed a project to digitise this collection with the permission of the National Archives of Papua New Guinea. A link to these electronic records can be accessed from our catalogue record.

You can also access digitised government publications, such as the Territory of Papua Government Gazette 1906-1942, 1949-1971 and 1971-1975. As well as contemporary Papua New Guinea publications, including selected archiving of websites documenting recent elections and the ways that the Papua New Guinea Government and public responded to COVID-19 in PNG; through to contemporary publications like PNG Kundu, the newsletter of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia.

Pacific Virtual Museum

You can also learn more about the Pacific collections from the Library as well as other cultural institutions around the world by exploring digitalpasifik.org. The Pacific Virtual Museum pilot project brought together representatives from Pacific Islander communities, the National Library of Australia, National Library of New Zealand and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to co-design and deliver the Digital Pasifik portal.

The goal is to empower people in and of the Pacific Islands, enabling them to see, discover and explore digitsed items of cultural heritage that are held in collections around the world. Since its launch in November 2020 digitalpasifik.org has connected people living across the Pacific ocean, and those living far from the Pacific, with the histories and cultures of their communities. 

Collection Fijian Australian voices

The experiences, images and voices of Fijian Australians are the focus of a collecting project by the National Library throughout 2021 and 2022. Although Fiji is a relatively small nation in the Pacific, migrants from Fiji have made a considerable contribution to Australian society in sports, music, academia and many other areas. If you’d like to help us build our collection of material about Fijian Australians, there are a number of ways you can become involved, please read our blog post on Collecting Fijian Australian Stories.

Other resources

Researching the Pacific Islands can involve searching across a range of resources in the Library’s collection. Our research guides on Pacific and Pacific Collections, Family history can be a great place to start. If you are interested in researching your Indo Fijian family then this Interview with a Family Historian Vanita Kumar is highly recommended.

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact us through our Ask a Librarian service.