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Speech
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Melbourne
13 October 2002

Royal Exhibition Building Nomination for World Heritage Status


Minister Delahunty, Lord Mayor So, Doctor Greene, Minister Terrick, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you have just seen, Australia's 14 World heritage properties represent an outstanding diversity of places and values that combine the best of our natural and our cultural heritage.

From the wild subantarctic outposts of Heard and MacDonald and Macquarie Islands to the rainforests of the wet tropics of Queensland and the spectacular Uluru - Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks so culturally important to indigenous Australians, you can see that there is a great diversity of heritage values represented in the areas that Australia has listed.

Australia also has the world's largest World Heritage place, The Great Barrier Reef and four places that are listed for both their natural and cultural heritage. And that signifies the previously unrecognised, and now increasingly recognised fact that human history on this continent is an enormous part of the cultural history of mankind.

Over the last six years the Commonwealth Government has committed over $450 million towards improving the management and protection of Australia's World Heritage properties. The purpose of this funding is to assist State Governments in fulfilling their important role of being responsible for the day-to-day management of most the World Heritage properties in Australia.

Achieving World Heritage status means that a property is globally important for all man kind. No matter which country they are found in, and who experiences World Heritage properties, they can inspire and humble those who experience them. In fact that's probably a test of World Heritage properties, whether you can walk in and you do feel inspired and feel humbled at the extraordinary achievement or the great natural beauty in the property.

Many of these properties serve as important symbols of national identity, such as the Acropolis in Greece, the Pyramids in Egypt, the Banks of the River Seine in Paris or the Taj Mahal in India. These properties are also important to the global community for their place in human history and the demonstration of the creative powers in humanity. It's for such reasons that they attract millions of visitors from all around the world every year.

But throughout Australia, and throughout the Pacific Region there are no buildings listed for their World Heritage significance. And if any of you go to the internet site for world heritage properties, this is a quite remarkable fact because most of the World Heritage listed is cultural and built heritage and the vast bulk of World Heritage listings attributed to other countries are built and cultural heritage and yet within Australia and the Pacific region there are no examples of built heritage.

When this building was completed in 1880, the opening encapsulated the optimistic spirit and enterprising values that were driving the development and internationalisation of economies around world and particularly show cased the exuberance and optimism that opened the decade of marvellous Melbourne which made this city one of the outstanding centres of urban development around the world in its day.

These values were of global openness, of peace and prosperity and of the struggle for a better world for our children. They are values are just as relevant today as they were for the colonists that built these halls in which you are now seated.

Over its history perhaps no other building in Australia has been so interwoven with our history and the development of the Australian nation as this one.
The building was built by Dame Nellie Melba's Father David Mitchell and has staged many concerts and artistic events. Its walls have absorbed the glorious sound of Dame Nellie Melba's voice.

In 1901 Australia's first Parliament was held in these halls to reflect the coming together of the Australian colonies in the only nation on earth responsible for an entire continent. A scene which has been immortalised in Tom Robert's famous painting an exhibition on which is displayed across the hall from where we are now seated.

Above out heads perched on the gold-guilded great dome that was based on Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence, the Australian flag was first flown in 1901. This building has played a part in many of the great events and moments in the history of our country. After the First World War it received and housed many of the relics and trophies of that War and began to fulfil (inaudible) vision of an Australian War Memorial that would remind the Australian people for ever the price of liberty.

In the great influenza epidemic of 1919 it acted as a hospital. In the great depression Sydney Myer provided free Christmas lunch for 11,000 people. After WWII, as the nation entered with enthusiasm, into the building of our multicultural society, this building housed the Migration Reception Centre and acted as a temporary home to migrants before they moved out to other migrant hostels.

The theme of the foundation of this building, the technological advance of industrial society continued as the central function of the exhibition building. The first mass produced motor vehicles were displayed here and in the 30's and 40's of the popular Home Shows the revolutionary new home labour.

During the 1956 Olympics the building housed and hosted the weight lifting, boxing, fencing, pentathlon and basketball events.

During the 1980s and 1990s the building's interior was marvellously restored to the decorative scheme of 1901. I want to acknowledge this morning the contribution of the Hon. Mark Berril who was Minister for Major Projects in the Kennett Government, who was responsible for the planning and refurbishment and funding of the exterior of this building, including the removal of the 1960s and 1970s structures which shrouded its Northern side and many of us who sat exams in those structures were not sorry to see them go.

However, what gives this building World Heritage significance is not the building's integral connection with Australian history but the fact that as Dr. Green said, it is the best preserved reminder and the oldest intact great exhibition hall from the movement of the 19th century.

Beginning with the great exhibition at Crystal Palace in London in 1851, these global exhibitions were staged around the world and symbolised the confidence and achievements of the industrial age. By bringing people and ideas together on such a grand scale, the movement supported the development of the global economy and the enterprise culture that underpins modern democratic society and global progress today. This building is a key symbol in the transformation of the West end of the world from the closed, authoritarian societies of the past to the open, democratic and enterprising spirit which has liberated so many hundreds of billions of people over the last two centuries.

It is therefore with great pride that I formally announce that the Commonwealth will be nominating this grand building and its gardens for listing under the World Heritage Convention.

This is an important first step for all Australians in formally recognising our built heritage as part of our national identity as part of the world (inaudible) and I can assure you this will not be the last item of build heritage that will be nominated for World Heritage recognition.

This is a proud moment for Melbourne. It's a proud moment for all Australians and the opening of a proud new chapter in the history of this wonderful building which has seen so much of our own and world history played out in its halls.

To be successful this nomination will need the cooperation of all levels of Government. I want to acknowledge here this morning, the magnificent level of cooperation there has been between the Commonwealth and Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne in bringing this nomination forward. It will give Australians a new chance to rediscover the building's place in our cultural identity as well as exhibit to the world the important place Melbourne played in the international exhibition movement and what that symbolised.

It is a nomination of which all citizens of Victoria, Australia and indeed the world can be proud.

Related Information

Commonwealth of Australia