Mollie Lukis - the first State Archivist

Meroula (Mollie) Frances Fellowes Lukis

OBE, OAM, BA Hons & DipEd (UWA), FLAA, Hon. D. Litt. (Murdoch)

Miss Mollie Lukis was appointed the first State Archivist in Western Australia in March 1945. At that time the position was part of the combined Public Library, Art Gallery and Museum and the first Archivist’s role was to oversee the identification, preservation and presentation of the State’s archives. Her appointment was made at a time when women were rarely given positions of any note in the public service. She is acknowledged as the first woman State Archivist in Australia.

Mollie LukisMeroula Frances Fellowes Lukis was born in Donnybrook on 13 August 1911, daughter of Frederick and Jean (nee Campbell) Lukis. Growing up in Balingup, she received her early education from a governess on her family’s property. She later attended St Mary's Church of England School in Perth and the University of Western Australia, from which she graduated with an Honours Degree in Arts in 1932, and a Diploma of Education in 1933. She worked as a mathematics teacher from 1934 to 1940 in Perth, Victoria and England and during World War II worked as a Metrologist in the Munitions Supply Laboratories in Maribyrnong, Victoria.

From 1945 she oversaw the development of the State’s archival collections and in 1956 became the first head of the newly formed JS Battye Library of West Australian History, which at the time comprised Western Australian publications, a nascent private archives collection and the beginnings of the State archives collection. In 1954, Dr T.R. Schellenberg, the Director of Archival Management for the United States government, visited Western Australia and met Mollie Lukis, and in 1957, when awarded a Carnegie Corporation travel grant to study archives and libraries in America and Great Britain, she studied under Dr Schellenberg in Washington, returning to Western Australia with the most current methods of archives management at that time.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Battye Library had a primary role in what has been described as “a splendid efflorescence of research and publishing activity … [in] Western Australian history”. By providing the building blocks for the future management and preservation of the State’s archival records, Mollie Lukis ensured the State’s documentary heritage was promoted and made accessible to generations of researchers and historians.

Mollie Lukis served on the Board of the State Library and for 21 years she was a member of the government's advisory committee on nomenclature. She was a foundation member of the National Trust and for many years a Council member. She also served on the Council of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society and was later made a Fellow of that Society, and in 1963 she was also made a Fellow of Library Association of Australia.

Retiring as head of the Battye Library in 1971, she received an OBE in recognition for her service to archives in 1976. In 1985 she was further honoured with an Honorary Doctorate from Murdoch University and an OAM in 2004. Each year the Mollie Lukis Award, recognizing excellence in archival practice, is presented to staff of the State Library and State Records Office who have made an outstanding contribution in any aspect of their work with Western Australia’s documentary heritage in the previous year.

Miss Mollie Lukis OBE OAM passed away on 1 August 2009, a few days short of her 98th birthday. Without Miss Lukis’ pioneering work identifying, preserving and making accessible the State’s archives, important documentary heritage such as WA’s Memory of the World inscribed Convict Records, AO Neville’s records from the Native Welfare Department, many of the archives of colonial administration and records from many regional areas in WA would not be preserved and made available by the SRO today.

References and Further Reading:

Entry for Mollie Lukis in ‘The Australian Women’s Register’ at http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0168b.htm, published by The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne.

Interview with Mollie Lukis, 1992, OH 2527, State Library of WA.

Murdoch University Honorary Degree Citation, Acc. 6136A/1, State Library of WA.