The Palace Letters Crashed the National Archives

palace letters
The Palace Letters contain 212 letters between the Queen and the governor general in the lead up to Gough Whitlam's dismissal. Image: Getty

This week Australian political nerds have been waiting with bated breath for the Palace Letters to go public. They contain 212 letters between the Queen and former governor-general Sir John Kerr before the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975. And they’ve been under lock and key, until now. At 11am AEST on Tuesday they went live… and promptly crashed part of The National Archives website.

Under Australian law, Commonwealth documents are released after 30 years. This means that theoretically the Palace Letters should have been made public over a decade ago. According to the ABC, the National Archives labelled the letters as “private”, thus exempting them from the law.

However, Gough Whitlam biographer professor Jenny Hocking took the case to the High Court earlier this year and won.

And it certainly seems to have drummed up interest. Just over half an hour after the documents went live, the National Archives was experiencing website issues.

“Due to higher than usual traffic, RecordSearch is temporarily unavailable. Thank you for your patience as we work to restore the service,” the National Archives tweeted.

Gizmodo Australia has found the RecordSearch to be working now. However, if you’re experiencing issues here is a direct link to the Palace Letters. This is how the National Archives describes the collection:

The Kerr Palace Letters are a series of letters exchanged between Governor-General Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace during Kerr’s time in office. The 212 letters were written between 15 August 1974 and 5 December 1977. They include attachments such as newspaper clippings, press releases, articles, speeches and booklets. A small number of telegrams are also included. Most of the letters were exchanged between Kerr and Sir Martin Charteris, Private Secretary to the Queen. The Private Secretary passed the material to the Queen and usually responded on her behalf.

The page also provides background on the key players at the time and links to further resources.

At the time of writing the Palace Letters had only been live for about an hour. As such not a whole lot has come out yet. However, as the ABC reported, they have reveal that governor-general Sir John Kerr fired prime minister Gough Whitlam without giving the Queen the heads up.

According to the letters, “it was better for Her Majesty not to know.”