ABC Archives

Exploring Sydney's history through the ABC's radio and television archives.

ABC Archives are a treasure trove of street level recordings about Sydney’s changing urban landscape through time. These recordings have been accessed through previous creative commissions and residencies. 

Sydney Sidetracks. ABC Digital Innovation Pilot, and winner 2008 ABC Cross-Platform Content Award. Supported by ABC Innovation, ABC 702, National Film and Sound Archive, City of Sydney, Dictionary of Sydney and State Library of NSW. 

Launched 2008, produced and conceived by Sarah Barns. 

Please note the site (web and mobile) is no longer maintained by the ABC. 


ABC Past Forward was a commissioned project through ABC Radio National and the now-defunct ABC Pool platform. 

I negotiated a set of key television and sound recordings for release through Creative Commons licence, making these recordings available for anyone to use and remix (CC-BY-ND). 

Explore the open access resources here

Q&A with Gian Carlo Manara, cinematographer for Living on the Fringe (ABC 1964).  See here

Fresh & New(er) interview about Sidetracks

The Powerhouse Museum’s Seb Chan conducted an interview with me exploring some of the ideas and aspirations of Sydney Sidetracks. Excerpts of the interview are pasted below.

Q: Sidetracks (re)tells some great stories of our city. How did you choose which stories to tell?

Sarah Barns: I was pretty motivated in my selection by finding archival material that had been recorded on location. The original focus for my research was on ambient audio recordings, and embedding them in whatever ways possible (whether thatâ??s mobile, ipod, hypertag, short-wave radio or whatever..!) to enable the listener to tune in to the sounds of another era while looking at a contemporary environment. Obviously thereâ??s a lot of historical tours and commentary and podtours and the like coming out now, and my interest has been to try to decipher what can be made of actuality audio recordings for such purposes. While additional formats were later included in Sidetracks, I remained pretty focused on material that could be uncovered in a very site-specific way.

I also have quite an interest in â??lost placesâ??, whether demolished buildings or radically transformed environments, and using archives to excavate an area – an archeology of recorded action, rather than surviving artefact – which obviously becomes more potent the more a place has changed. So a lot of the stories are based on those two premises – ambience and disappearance.

I love this quote from Alec Morgan (Hunt Angels, et al) when he says

â??It is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that the cultural essence of Sydney lies embedded in its architecture. Itâ??s structures, buildings and monuments. I find this method of interpreting the past, this reliance on concrete and real estate, a faulty and unsound foundation upon which to build an understanding of the forces that shape the distinctiveness of the cityâ?¦I sense that there is another city lying undiscovered beneath these bloated, familiar carcasses and that cultural interpretation by architecture is too impoverished to satisfy a secret desire to connect to something of Sydneyâ??s past that is more elusive, more sensual, than a pile of bricks and mortar.â? Alec Morgan (2004)

Itâ??s a quote that marks out the imaginative potentiality of the â??invisibleâ?? terrain.

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