NFSA CEO Michael Loebenstein shares his Canberra insights.
Visitors walk up the front steps of the National Film and Sound Archive, a heritage listed Art Deco era building in Canberra, Australia

What work in your collection says Australia?

I would pick the Sounds of Australia national registry of sound recordings. Instead of choosing just one object, the registry reflects the changing and dynamic nature of what is ‘significant’ for the Australian story. It’s a work-in-progress featuring ten new important sounds every year. Therefore, it demonstrates that you can’t cast history in stone.

What do you have an emotional connection with in your collection?

The sound recordings produced by Horace Watson around 1900 featuring the voice of Fanny Cochrane Smith, the last ‘full-blooded’ Tasmanian aboriginal woman (at least that was the claim then). The recordings are testimony to the world’s oldest continuous culture, and a strong statement of self-expression at a time when Indigenous people were largely the object of anthropological research. We have given a second life to these recordings recently by inviting aboriginal musicians, the Stiff Gins, to re-interpret these recordings.

Share with us your Canberra secrets.

Our heritage courtyard! Hardly anybody knows that there are a few hidden gems around Acton and the Parliamentary Zone – art deco courtyards designed between the late 1920s and the early 1930s. The one at the NFSA is one of them, and reflects the principles of symmetry that govern the early Canberra planning.

What surprises people about your attraction?

Most visitors are surprised that a modern and technologically highly advanced operation such as ours is located at one of Canberra’s most prominent heritage buildings. But, the real surprise comes when visitors find out that behind the heritage walls a complete film laboratory, a modern digital video lab, and sound studios are located.  Guided tours are very popular as you can guess.

Which famous people have visited the Film and Sound Archive?

You wouldn’t be surprised that the NFSA attracts visitors from music and film circles; Grammy award-winning musician Gotye, actor Geoffrey Rush (who recently did some research at our Melbourne access centre), singers-songwriters the Stiff Gins, and actor Chris Haywood, but also political and diplomatic dignitaries, such as the Governor-General  of Australia and the President of Timor-Leste.