A Guide to Spending a Day at the National Film & Sound Archive
The National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA) is known as Australia's "living" archive. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, and share audiovisual materials that offer a picture of Australia, its people, and our way of life for now and future generations. Originally established as part of the Commonwealth National Library, it became an independent cultural organisation in 1984. The NFSA has over 2.8 million items and is a cultural destination in itself. If you're visiting, check out this quick guide to help you plan your visit.
Where is the National Film & Sound Archive?
The NFSA is headquartered in Canberra, though it also has offices in Sydney and Melbourne and access centres around Australia. The site is located in the heart of Canberra, on McCoy Circuit in Acton, 10 minutes from the city. It sits between Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian National University.
The NFSA is open every day from 10.00AM to 4.00PM except on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Getting to the National Film & Sound Archive
Whether you're getting there by car or public transport, the NFSA is accessible and entry is free.
Paid visitor parking (up to three hours) is available on site between McCoy Circuit and Ellery Crescent. You can also take advantage of the limited free parking around the building on Liversidge Street.
Free bus services
The NFSA is one of the stops on the free Culture Loop Shuttle Bus, so visitors can ride on the free service to visit the NFSA, as well as other key cultural attractions like Canberra Museum and Gallery. The shuttle service runs every day with stops at the NFSA every hour from 9:15AM to 4:15PM.
You can also get to the NFSA from the Canberra City Interchange on the free city loop service, where a short 10-minute walk will get you to the NFSA.
How to spend a day at the National Film & Sound Archive
Given the NFSA’s huge collection, it's a good idea to plan your day so you'll have time to see everything you want to.
In the morning, set aside time to explore the rotating visitor programs and events, like The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition and Carriberrie: VR Experience, a journey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander song and dance.
If you're bringing the kids along, check the events schedule for kid-friendly movie screenings and other for-kids programs. Afterwards, if you're lucky, you might be able to catch one of the concerts the NFSA occasionally hosts, followed by a Q&A with the composer or songwriter.
If you have a specific collection item you want to see, you can search for the item on the NFSA website and request access for a fee. Along with historical documentaries, photos, and audio items of cultural significance, you can access items like Muriel’s wedding dress from the film ‘Muriel's Wedding’, Priscilla’s Oscar-winning outfits, Australia’s first Oscar (1943), and much more.
By midday, you might be ready for a break. The onsite cafe, Biginelli Espresso, is open weekdays from 8.30AM to 3PM. Take a coffee break and recharge with cake and other goodies.
You've checked Arc Cinema's session times ahead of time, so in the afternoon you could find yourself sitting down to a movie session. Examples of themes and films screened in the Arc Cinema include John Carpenter's horror and science fiction classics, and the work of Australian film directors like Gillian Armstrong. You can purchase one-off tickets for movie sessions or full passes if you're catching the entire series.
After your movie session, you can take a self-guided tour of the NFSA's Art Deco building. The building is on the Commonwealth heritage list and features a heritage sandstone facade, glass bricks, and period cloisters. Look out for the goannas, ferns, lizards, and waratahs carved into the columns and the front door.
Before closing time at 4PM, make time to head over to the Liversidge Space, which typically features changing photographic exhibitions. Recent themes include Life Through the Lens, a display highlighting the Commonwealth documentaries and educational short films in the Film Australia Collection capturing how life was in Australia during the 20th century.
Night and weekends
If you're visiting after regular opening times for special events, consider booking yourself in for a movie session or a special tour like the NFSA Ghost Tour. Other outside-hours special events also include gatherings for vinyl and music lovers, as well as documentary screenings.
What you might not know about the National Film & Sound Archive
The NFSA building housed human remains and animal specimens during its 50-years-plus stint as the Institute of Anatomy. It was for a time the home of Ned Kelly's skull and Phar Lap's heart, and at another, Canberra's first morgue. It's not surprising it's often highlighted as one of the most haunted buildings in Canberra or even Australia.
The ghost of Sir Colin MacKenzie, the founding director of the Institute of Anatomy, has reportedly been seen numerous times. Witnesses have claimed they saw an outline of an elderly man come out from the walls close to where MacKenzie's ashes are stored. Other apparitions, sightings, and unusual occurrences are commonly reported. Join the monthly NFSA Ghost Tour to find out more.
You can’t miss it
The NFSA is one of the most significant repositories of Australia's history and culture as recorded in audiovisual formats, so if you're dropping by for a tour, you'll want to plan your day well so you have the time to explore everything on your list.