History Reflected

History Reflected takes visitors on an unexpected journey through moments of change in NSW's history.

The exhibition profiles 25 of the most iconic, treasured and curious items from the NSW State Archives Collection alongside bold contemporary reflections from artists, writers, curators and commentators. Challenging, emotionally arresting and surprising, History Reflected invites audiences to contemplate the past, present and future and will change the way we look at history.

Watch the recreation of the Rookwood Reformatory key with our fascinating 3D printer and take home very own limited-edition souvenir key.

Exhibition highlights

Superintendent’s Quarters Rookwood - Key

Sydney Opera House ‘Yellow Book’, 1962

Sydney Opera House ‘Yellow Book’, 1962, site plan (detail), p1, NRS 12708-1-[SZ104]-Sz104.

The folio comprises a set of plans submitted by architect Jørn Utzon to the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee in March 1962.

The quick concept sketches and complex diagrams – all hand-drawn – resolve the unprecedented construction of the concrete shells, without which the iconic building could never have been completed, demonstrating how the curved forms were based on the segments of a single sphere.

The Yellow Book forms part of NSW State Archives treasured Sydney Opera House collection.

More about this item

Yellow book, 1962

Sydney Opera House - the 'Yellow Book'

This 1962 report (commonly known as the 'Yellow Book') comprises plans submitted by Jørn Utzon and consultants

Census, 1828

1828 Census: Alphabetical return, Colonial Secretary, NRS 1272.

These six leather-bound volumes contain the alphabetical list compiled from the first census held in NSW in 1828. It records where and with whom people lived, whether they were a serving or former convict, had come free or were born in the colony, the ship and year of arrival, their original sentence if a convict, religion and employment. It reveals cultural and religious diversity within the population of about 36,000 people, but the census did not record or count Aboriginal people.

Explore the 1828 Census online in full


1828 Census

Browse the digitised alphabetical returns

Empire Day program, 1915

Empire Day program, 1915, Samples of items printed on special occasions, NRS 4474, Box 1/265.

Empire Day was first held in Australia on 24 May 1905, the birthday of the late Queen Victoria. In Sydney, the day was celebrated with the flying of the Union Jack, church services, and patriotic speeches and concluded with evening fireworks.

Many Australians felt excluded from the stated ideal of a single British destiny and race. These included people of Irish Catholic heritage, who made up a quarter of Australia’s population in the early 20th century.

Empire Day gradually declined in relevance as more inclusive patriotic occasions were preferred, such as Anzac Day, and in the 1950s it was renamed Commonwealth Day.

Find out more about this item from the archives

Cap worn by Leeton cannery workers, c1925

Cap used by female workers at Leeton Cannery, Water Resources Commission, NRS 14511, Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area files.

Found folded in a pile of paperwork, this simple cap was worn by female factory workers at the Leeton cannery to contain their hair.

The cannery was a result of an ambitious plan begun in 1906 to dam the Murrumbidgee River and transform the state’s dry interior into a major food production bowl. Most of the workers on the factory floor were women, transported to Leeton from larger towns and cities, and accommodated at the cannery for the season.

Textile artist Henrietta Cheshire

Contemporary textile artist Henrietta Cheshire has re-created the cannery worker’s cap, explaining: ‘For generations, women have sewn and stitched out of labour and love. Through my stitching practice my intent is to capture the stories of the unknown and bring to life the unrecorded history of women’.

‘Target for to-night’

‘Target for to-night’, designed by John (Jack) Gibson, 1942, National Emergency Services posters, NRS-19792-1 [Document 202] [SR Doc 202].

This poster was produced in April 1942, at the height of World War II. Australia was under threat of enemy attack and invasion from air and sea.

To help prevent enemy raids at night, brownouts (dimmed lighting in all streets, buildings and vehicles) were instituted in Australian cities from December 1941 to July 1943, and regular blackout drills were organised throughout the country. The National Emergency Services NSW (NES) issued a number of posters such as this one to remind the population of their responsibilities during blackouts.

The skilled poster design of Target for to-night reduces its important message to three elements: the enemy bomb, the suburban target, and a single light left on in one house that could bring destruction to the whole community.

Watch now

Get up, Stand up (anti-smoking film for teenagers, 1981)

Image of a key on a cream background

History Reflected: about the exhibition

From important colonial-era documents and curious collectables to records of events that reshaped society, you’ll be surprised by what you can find in the archives

History Reflected Online Talks

Catch up on our History Reflected: Behind closed doors online talk series to gain unique insights into the exhibition and find out more about it’s fascinating items. Also available to watch on our YouTube channel