Natural and Cultural Heritage Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Jane Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates Pty Ltd, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06752 3
Current condition of heritage places and objects and pressures affecting them (continued)
These issues are closely related and are discussed together for that reason. They are pressures affecting conservation of heritage places for which there is little direct statistical evidence but much anecdotal and media-reported information. The range of pressures discussed is worthy of further investigation to establish which are the most significant in their effect.
From redundancy to ruins - a rural branch line railway, approaching Aramac in western-central Queensland.
Source: Jane Lennon (1995)
During 1995-2000 the usual processes threatening natural heritage continued. These included development - economic pressures from tourism, increasing resource use per person, increasing population and urban development, land clearance, and regional development.
Toilet block on Cape Byron, NSW, obscuring the superb view of Tallow Beach.
Planning processes need to take more account of heritage considerations.
Jane Lennon (1999)
The mid-term review of the National Reserve System Program (O'May 1999a) found that:
'Land clearing and land development continues to reduce options for biodiversity conservation in agricultural regions of Australia. It is a matter of urgency that the currently high level of land-clearing in some regions and of some ecosystems is dramatically reduced.'
In Queensland during 1995-2000 new legislation was drafted that would have a positive effect in protecting land from inappropriate clearing. However, while the legislation was being considered and before it could be implemented, vast areas of land, including some with heritage values, were cleared.
Information on a continental scale indicating development threats and outcomes for natural heritage places barely exists. However, monitoring of overall environmental condition and development pressures can be interpreted as being relevant to heritage sites within areas being impacted. As an example, Barson et al. (2000, p.40) reported the decrease in the area of woody vegetation for each State by cause of change - agriculture, grazing, urbanisation, infrastructure development, forestry and fire - over the period 1990-1995. The study area covered Australia's more intensively used agricultural areas. Using satellite data, the study showed that 1 786 440 ha changed from woody to non-woody land cover in the 4-5 year study period. Indications are that this rate of clearing has continued or increased, with best estimates for land clearing being 500 000 hectares in 1999-2000 and 378 000 hectares in 1998. More detailed information on land cover change is in the Land Theme Report.
While the 'land cover', 'land cover change' and 'structural vegetation' data sets will provide the basis for spatially explicit analysis of greenhouse gas emissions due to land use change, they will also provide valuable qualitative data for other uses, including assessing the effects on natural heritage.
Hence, although the data recorded to date provides no information for directly indicating the impacts of land clearing and other practices on the condition of natural heritage, it can be confidently expected that planned future updates of the Commonwealth's GIS data layers will be able to provide such information. The information will be on a State-by-State basis but should also be capable of being interpreted on the basis of either IBRA regions or vegetation types.
Development, which includes mining, pipeline corridors and dams on watercourses, raising of dam walls, and commercial fisheries, particularly where it involves surface disturbance may effect Indigenous places. This is especially so along coastal and estuarine shorelines, forested ridgetops, and in broadacre rural landscapes where new agricultural uses require major landform modification, as with cotton and rice growing.
Local Indigenous Land Councils, or other Indigenous organisations responsible for cultural heritage, are increasingly involved in surveys for environmental impact studies. However, there is no continental-scale reporting of this involvement and its success rate in protecting Indigenous places from inappropriate development, and we do not know whether this destruction is easing in the current reporting period.
It is apparent from the 2000 survey of historic places that the redevelopment of heritage properties for updated ongoing use or entirely new uses can result in the loss of heritage value. Buildings may have a use that is, on the face of it, appropriate to the long-term conservation of the place. However, it is sometimes the case that the changes to a building made to accommodate the new use, or to 'update' an existing use, are so extensive, or the nature of the changes so intrusive, that values are actually lost or placed in jeopardy. Examples noted during the survey included:
- a hotel converted to shops, which has destroyed values by completely stripping the hotel ground floor interior,
- a country town emporium converted to an arcade with individual speciality shops, destroying the interior spaces and fittings,
- many urban CBD shops converted to 'modern' style presentation, with changes such as loss of stairs and balcony railings, insertion of mezzanines and new stairs, lower suspended ceilings, removal of original display shelving, showcases and counters, and replacement of door and window fronts to a single-rise roller door or similar widening of entry,
- a former customs house absorbed into a casino as a walk-through cafe with removal of walls and total loss of sense of space and place associated with the original use,
- several industrial buildings converted to visitor centre use, with substantial removal of fabric for through-flow of visitors and provision of sales areas, flooring-over of engine pits, removal of industrial paraphernalia from inside and outside the building, and general loss of identity, and
- many examples in capital and regional towns of buildings totally rebuilt internally, leaving only a faade. Streetscape values are retained, but all other values are lost or severely diminished.
Gardams Building, Queen Street Mall, Brisbane, Qld.
Built in the 1880s, only the faade of the commercial building has been retained. The ground floor frontage has been totally reworked as a modern shop. This is a common fate for inner city commercial buildings.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
One possible conclusion drawn from these examples from around Australia is that people using heritage guidelines to assess planning approvals may need better training, encouragement and direction in the effective implementation of the guidelines.
Similarly, the continued use of some buildings has caused a loss of values. A common example is the many banks that have had their banking chambers refurbished to suit current tastes for modern facilities, reflected in standardised corporate design. Walls are removed, or new penetrations created, teller counters and writing slopes are removed or modified, and ceilings are damaged by the insertion of suspended ceilings. As the result of widespread modernisation, very few banks, other than the 'flagship' branches in major cities, retain original or restored interiors. The continued use of the buildings as banks is highly appropriate, but the execution of that continued use is a threat to the heritage values of the bank buildings. A similar story relates to the single modern corporate interior style applied to post offices, though in many cases this is built within the existing structure rather than replacing it. The fabric of the place may not be damaged, but the community is denied access to it, and knowledge of the hidden heritage nature of the interior will decline over time.
Victoria Bridge, Townsville, Qld.
An 1889 swing bridge, which is only one of two of its type surviving in Australia. It was leased to a developer in 1988 and modern commercial premises were built on top of the bridge. The bridge structure remains, but is not able to be appreciated.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
In some country towns, large shops have been taken over by wholesale and budget sales outlets. These uses are not necessarily damaging to heritage values, but often have a short-term effect of hiding the building and depleting the streetscape values of the area, through the installation of new over-sized hoardings with large advertising messages and the shop's name. This process has sometimes also resulted in the removal of original signage, and unsympathetic fixing of the new hoardings.
Olsens Home Hardware Store, Warwick, Qld.
This store was built in stages from the 1870s to 1908. It is currently covered with a hoarding that hides the faade - a common treatment in many towns. The problem is that the community doesn't see the old building and can forget it exists behind the modern billboards.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
The growing pressure of high rents and the location of heritage building stock in desirable locations in some more affluent regional cities and towns seems to be an important factor in accelerating the threats to heritage properties. In towns experiencing a high rate of commercial growth, such as Cairns, Port Douglas and many other coastal towns, there are increased risks for both commercial properties in the CBD and residential properties in zones of motel or apartment growth. While the streetscape values of former government heritage buildings might be retained (such as post offices, court houses, municipal chambers and customs houses), their uses commonly change, sometimes to inappropriate uses, or sometimes to appropriate uses but with damaging modifications. The result is a 'heritage look' with little or no appreciation or understanding of the heritage values involved.
Steel's Garage, Bolton Street, Newcastle, NSW.
Built in 1888 as a skating rink, the building was converted to a garage in 1939. Now it is mainly used as a pay car park. The facade is retained, but the interior has been largely modified. This is typical of an at-risk under-utilised heritage property in an area of high land value.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
Johnson & Kennedy Service Station, Armidale, NSW.
This is typical of early small-scale service stations that are now rare in Australia. Such stations are typically at risk due to commercial pressures to increase their scale of operations, including general retail sales outlets, and modernising their premises.
Source: Mike Peason (2000)
Another observed threat posed by town growth was the construction of supermarket complexes away from the old town centre. This sometimes acted as an attraction for the most viable businesses, and for the populace, leaving the town centre in decline. The attraction factor is compounded in Australia because the whole of the new shopping centre is airconditioned, while the old town centre obviously is not.
In all of these cases the level of sophistication in assessing heritage issues during development approvals process has to be questioned, as do the heritage knowledge and skills of the developer and design architect.
There is evidence that heritage places have been lost as a result of rural restructuring. While the National Trusts' Endangered Places Program and the ICOMOS Heritage at Risk report (ICOMOS 2000) are beginning to indicate pressures relating to rural restructuring, losses of heritage places are not yet being reflected in the heritage register information. One reason for the lack of quantitative information may be that heritage registers do not yet adequately represent the types of places and cultural landscapes at particular risk.
The population decline in inland areas mentioned previously goes hand-in-hand with rural restructuring. The old mainstays, such as the wool industry, have declined and have either not been replaced at all or have been replaced with more intensive agricultural activities, such as cotton and rice growing, which are more mechanised and require a smaller local labour force. Pastoral properties are being amalgamated for economies of scale, and as a result homesteads, woolsheds and other pastoral infrastructure are being made redundant and either abandoned or demolished. However, the extent and intensity of these effects have not been documented, so trends cannot be monitored.
Abandoned rural structures - a sawmill shed near Mt Mee in south-east Queensland.
Source: Jane Lennon (1998)
As well as the abandonment or reuse of rural structures, there is also the transformation of the rural landscape with the consequent loss of its distinctive cultural landscape features. This is particularly the case with broad-scale agriculture such as rice and cotton growing, which involves laser levelling of the ground surface that obliterates previous patterns or evidence of Aboriginal or pastoral occupation and use.
In some cases, rural buildings and infrastructure has attained a commodity value in itself, which is a threat to heritage values. In Queensland the removal and relocation of timber housing has become a real threat, with 600 houses being relocated annually in Brisbane, including eight heritage-registered houses that were relocated in the five years up to 1997 (Queensland Environmental Protection Agency 1999). In Western Victoria, the thousands of kilometres of dry stone volcanic rock walling erected between the 1850s and 1950s are now being dismantled by landscape companies to provide stone features in gardens in Melbourne, providing additional income for the farmers who can no longer afford the upkeep of the walls (Burke 2000, p.12).
A number of historic heritage places have been put at risk by changing technology, closely linked to changing approaches to the economics of industry and commerce. Some of these pressures, as they relate to government services, are dealt with in the next section.
The timber wharves, stores, roads and hydraulic goods-handling systems at Walsh Bay, below the Sydney Harbour Bridge, are together a rare example of 20th century port technology. Walsh Bay has been redundant for shipping purposes since the early 1980s, with shipping being taken over by either container terminals or bulk carrier terminals. Despite a Permanent Conservation Order under the New South Wales Heritage Act, listing as a heritage item in the Sydney Regional Environment Plan, entry in the Register of the National Estate, and classification of the site by the National Trust of Australia (NSW), the State Government has recently approved demolition of several of the wharves and store sheds.
After a concentrated publicity campaign by the National Trust of Australia, the State Government sought to negotiate a commercially viable project that would secure the conservation and renewal of the area. The resulting scope of demolition in the planned Walsh Bay project was significant, and the Trust successfully fought the development in the Land and Environment Court. However, the Parliament passed retrospective legislation that denies any capacity to formally object to the development. Demolition and redevelopment of the Walsh Bay wharves is to proceed.
Source: Burke (2000, pp. 6-7).
One of the Walsh Bay finger wharves in Sydney, NSW, built around World War One.
Source: Australian Heritage Commission
A Walsh Bay finger wharf that has been converted to non-shipping use.
Source: Australian Heritage Commission
Benalla Water Supply Depot, Vic.
This is a series of water tanks and facilities started in 1882. The older tanks are not operational and are at risk due to the ongoing need to find funds for conservation. This is a typical problem of redundant industrial/
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
Heritage cinemas and theatres are under increasing commercial pressure. Single-screen intact heritage cinemas (of which 11 survive in New South Wales, for example) are at risk because of the film exhibition policies of film distribution companies. These are designed to service the high-turnover multi-screen urban cinema complexes, and make demands that are impossible to maintain in small country cinemas and single-screen cinemas in cities. Both the social experience of cinema and the heritage buildings themselves are placed at risk as a result of the threat to cease film distribution.
Cygnet Cinema, Como, WA.
The single-screen cinema is in good condition and is still used to show films.
Source: Duncan Marshall (2000)
Economic rationalisation nationally in the dairy industry, with its new technology for milk storage, is causing large-scale abandonment of dairy farms, which with their distinctive buildings and paddock layouts created a familiar cultural landscape. This abandonment and significant reductions in areas devoted to dairy farming is particularly noticeable in north-eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland.
Abandoned dairy, now in Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve on the New England Tablelands of NSW.
Source: Jane Lennon (1999)
- There is no statistical data on the impact of technological change and economic restructuring on heritage places, but much site-specific evidence exists.
- Many of the pressures identified above have no simple solution; the process of technological change and economic restructuring are, in most cases, most unlikely to be reversed. The effects they have on heritage places, however, can be avoided or ameliorated. Many of the effects are the result of inadequate knowledge, as it is not recognised that the places involved are of heritage importance. Other places are damaged or destroyed because the State, Territory and local government planning and decision-making processes are not sensitive enough to the actual effects of such changes or development proposals, especially where the changes are incremental rather than sudden. There seems to be too little will to find conservation solutions, and too few alternative model-responses available for the decision-makers to draw upon.
- In all of these cases the level of sophistication in assessing heritage issues during the development approvals process has to be questioned, as do the heritage knowledge and skills of the developer and design architect. Assessing heritage values during development approvals is an issue across all jurisdictions. It needs to happen earlier in the planning process, when land is being identified for particular zonings. Local and regional heritage surveys to identify significant sites and areas need to be undertaken well before individual development proposals are submitted.
- Where places cannot be conserved, the loss of heritage through change, restructuring, etc. needs to be addressed through a recording program for significant places that will be destroyed or abandoned. The US programs HABS (Historic American Building Survey) and HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) provide useful models.