15 December 2014

Sir Alick and Lady Downer with their three children  all carry suitcases ready for a trip.If there is such a thing as a political dynasty in Australia, the Downer family from South Australia is perhaps our most prominent example and it is the University of South Australia that will become a key player in conserving their history when it launches the Alexander Downer Collection this month.

The unique Australian political and historical archive includes some thousands of papers, newspaper clippings, letters, photographs and even personal memorabilia from three generations of the Downer family have been key players in our political landscape at a state, national and international level for more than 100 years. 

The new collection will be officially opened by former Prime Minister John Howard OM AC at a special event in Brookman Building, City East campus, North Terrace at 6 pm on December 18. 

University of South Australia Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says the University is delighted and honoured to receive the archives. 

“It is important that we celebrate and preserve our history for future generations,” Prof Lloyd says. 

“The papers and documents we now hold stretch back to the dawn of Australia’s Federation with Sir John Downer, South Australia’s first Senator in the national Parliament and one of the leaders who worked to draft the Australian constitution. 

“His son Sir Alick served as Minister for Immigration during a period of rapid growth in Australia’s population and changing perspectives on international relations, and his son, Alexander Downer, AC, who is now High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, still holds the record as Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister. 

“Historians will tell you that archives like these are their bread and butter, just as the lab is to a scientist, archives are central for historians. 

“We believe this wonderful collection, so generously given to us by the Downer family - Alexander, his wife Nicky and the late Lady Mary Downer - will continue to satisfy many historians and researchers for years to come.” 

The collection includes personal letters from six successive Australian Prime Ministers, a series of graphic photographs of the devastation of the World Trade centre site post September 11 taken during Alexander Downer’s visit to New York for a memorial service, photographs with an array of world leaders and celebrities and gifts from international conferences and meetings. 

There is a meticulous newspaper clipping collection of media coverage for both Alick and Alexander Downer maintained by the late Lady Mary Downer. 

And dating back almost 100 years, a feature of the personal memorabilia in this collection is Sir John Downer’s suit - the pants, waist-coat and jacket right down to the buckles from his shoes - along with the maroon briefcase owned by Alexander Downer including its last used contents and a small, brown briefcase owned by Sir Alick Downer. 

The fascinating political, social and personal archive will be housed at City West campus in UniSA’s new Jeffrey Smart Building and promises to be an important resource for scholars.  

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office: +61 8 8302 0966 mobile: 0418 823 673 email: Michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au


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