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
Australian history is almost always picturesque... It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies. And all of a fresh new sort, no moldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they happened.
- Mark Twain (1925)
This report discusses the natural and cultural heritage places, objects and Indigenous languages that are significant to Australians. Although heritage considerations appear in many aspects of our environment and its management, this report addresses the current state of the management and conservation of Australia's heritage places, ranging from vast World Heritage properties such as the Great Barrier Reef to locally significant single buildings, sites of rare plants, and rock art.
Ewaninga rock carvings, NT.
Source: Jane Lennon (2000)
Interpretative sign at Ewaninga rock carvings, NT.
Source: Jane Lennon (2000)
It also discusses heritage objects - in situ or in collections. Heritage objects may include: living or dead biological specimens in zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, herbariums and museums; or inanimate material culture objects in universities, museums, galleries, archives and libraries.
In this report the use of the term 'cultural heritage' refers to Indigenous, historic, aesthetic, scientific and social values expressed in places and their associated objects. Natural heritage incorporates a spectrum of values, ranging from existence values at one end through to socially based values at the other. The fundamental aspect of natural heritage which most clearly differentiates it from cultural heritage is that of dynamic ecological processes, evolution and the ability of ecosystems to be self-perpetuating. Where the dominant value of a place or places is being discussed, the place is referred to specifically by that value, as for instance an Indigenous heritage place.
This first chapter outlines the reasons why natural and cultural heritage is a key component of State of the Environment reporting, and the philosophy that underpins best practice management of heritage places and objects. It also addresses the legislative and administrative arrangements as they relate to State of the Environment reporting of natural and cultural heritage. These include the indicators used to measure the condition of our heritage places and associated collections and the issues encountered.
The succeeding chapters present an overview of the current state of Australia's heritage places, objects and Indigenous languages, and the major pressures that are influencing their condition. They also discuss social responses to the condition of, and pressures on, heritage, as well as the implications of those conditions and pressures.
The final chapter concludes with the trends observed since the last State of the Environment Report in 1996 - gains and losses, improvements and failures - and highlights the key findings about the current state of natural and cultural heritage.
The Commonwealth's new Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 defines environment to include:
- ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities,
- natural and physical resources,
- the qualities and characteristics of locations, places and area, and
- the social, economic and cultural aspects of a thing mentioned in paragraph a., b., or c.
It is clear that this definition encompasses Australia's natural and cultural heritage.
Australia's heritage, shaped by nature and history, is passed from one generation to the next. It encompasses many things: ways of living, language, law, traditions, histories, stories, values, places, objects, resources and knowledge. It is also reflected in the natural and cultural diversity of places and objects that help us to understand our past, our place on the continent, and our effect on the Australian landscape. This report is about places of natural and cultural heritage significance and their related objects and Indigenous languages.
The concern to protect the broader natural qualities of areas like Australia's rangelands, old growth forests, rainforests or coral reefs from degradation is an environmental, social and economic aim that is not limited to one place, and has very broad ecosystem and bioregional implications. Heritage values of natural heritage places are often difficult to disentangle from these wider biodiversity and other conservation issues, which are dealt with by other theme reports produced as part of the 2001 State of the Environment Report.
Currawinya Lakes near Hungerford, Qld.
The lakes are an important part of the Paroo River Region and forms an important wetland in the semi-arid landscape. The Australian Heritage Commission conducted a heritage assessment of the Paroo River Catchment using a thematic approach to identify places that recognise the indivisible links between our cultural experiences and the Australian environment.
Source: Australian Heritage Commission
The important factor which distinguishes natural heritage places from broader natural or social values is that they are related to definable and valued locations or areas of land. For example, the values of a particular national park can be identified and defined as heritage values through the application of the criteria for the Register of the National Estate (see Criteria for the Register of the National Estate), such as with Currawinya National Park in south-western Queensland, whereas the conservation of the biodiversity of its saltbush communities depends in large part on the occurrence of those communities in many places in that bioregion.
For Indigenous people the land is the life of the people. The Little Red, Yellow and Black (and green and blue and white) Book (AIATSIS 1994, pp. 2-3) describes this relationship in the following way:
'Our rights to land are hereditary and are shaped by complex social processes based on traditional principles of descent, kinship and marriage. Estates or 'countries' are each held corporately by a group of Aboriginal people who have certain rights and responsibilities in relation to the land. They enjoy the right to live off the resources of the land and to deny or grant permission to other people to enter and use the country.
The land holding group has the collective responsibility to "look after" the country by keeping out intruders, maintaining sacred sites, and performing traditional ceremonies to ensure the country's continuing identity and fertility.
Senior knowledgeable members of the group share the leadership in exercising these responsibilities. The members of each group regard each other as family and are descended from a common ancestor or ancestors. The ancestors are also the characters celebrated in the religious ceremonies whose exploits created the natural and social features of the world.'
Thus, an Indigenous language is intimately related to the stretch of country for which its speakers care and often reside. Over much of Australia, the story of place is transmitted between generations in traditional language, from those who know the traditional history of a place to those who have a right to know and an obligation of care for a place, so the survival of language is of crucial importance for the transmission and conservation of critical parts of the cultural values of place, as well as for the transmission of ethnobiological knowledge.
Historic places can be defined broadly as all heritage places associated with the Australian story since European settlement, but can include places with natural and Indigenous significance. While the stereotype of the Australian historic heritage place might include buildings and monuments, in reality it encompasses far more, including archaeological sites, gardens and entire landscapes.
Booval War Memorial, Ipswich, Qld.
Typical of most war memorials, conservation is dependent on community or local government funding. The Booval Memorial has had additional commemorative features built in the park around it, and its future seems secure.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
The historic environment also incorporates less tangible qualities, such as the spiritual and the ethereal, memories, views and perceptions. In terms of their meanings to people, historic places are often defined in terms of their values rather than their physical fabric alone.
Criterion A: A place's importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia's natural or cultural history.
A.1 - Importance in the evolution of Australia's flora, fauna, landscapes or climate.
A.2 - Importance in maintaining existing processes or natural systems at the regional or national scale.
A.3 - Importance in exhibiting unusual richness or diversity of flora, fauna, landscapes or cultural features.
A.4 - Importance for associations with events, developments or cultural phases which have had a significant role in the human occupation and evolution of the nation, State, region or community.
Criterion B: A place's possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Australia's natural or cultural history.
B.1 - Importance for rare, endangered or uncommon flora, fauna, communities, ecosystems, natural landscapes or phenomena, or as a wilderness.
B.2 - Importance in demonstrating a distinctive way of life, custom, process, land use, function or design no longer practiced, in danger of being lost, or of exceptional interest.
Criterion C: A place's potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Australia's natural or cultural history.
C.1 - Importance for information contributing to a wider understanding of Australian natural history, by virtue of its use as a research site, teaching site, type locality, reference or benchmark site.
C.2 - Importance for information contributing to a wider understanding of the history of human occupation of Australia.
Criterion D: A place's importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of (i) a class of Australia's natural or cultural places; or (ii) a class of Australia's natural or cultural environments.
D.1 - Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of the range of landscapes, environments or ecosystems, the attributes of which identify them as being characteristic of their class.
D.2 - Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of the range of human activities in the Australian environment (including way of life, custom, process, land use, function, design or technique).
Criterion E: A place's importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by the community or cultural group.
E.1 - Importance for a community for aesthetic characteristics held in high esteem or otherwise valued by the community.
Criterion F: A place's importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.
F.1 - Importance for its technical, creative, design or artistic excellence, innovation or achievement.
Criterion G: A place's strong or special associations with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.
G.1 - Importance as a place highly valued by a community for reasons of religious, spiritual, symbolic, cultural, educational, or social associations.
Criterion H: A place's special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Australia's natural or cultural history.
H.1 - Importance for close associations with individuals whose activities have been significant within the history of the nation, State or region.
Objects of heritage significance can relate to the natural or cultural environment and are often referred to as material culture collections. Domestic items, machinery, objects in or from archaeological deposits, Indigenous artefacts, fossils, Type Specimens, photographs, documents and many other objects are components of the heritage of the place where they provide important evidence of the human or natural history of the place, or where they have important associations with specific places. Such objects may be in situ, in public collections or in private hands. An example would be objects associated with a shipwreck which may be at the wreck site, in a public museum or in a private home; another example might be fossils exposed in a cliff face.
Woolmers Gardens, near Longford, Tas.
The gardens are in good condition and highly intact. They are part of an extensive historic rural estate now open to the public.
Source: Duncan Marshall (2000)
Natural and cultural heritage values are the qualities which make a specific and definable place or area important to the community. These values are often given expression in various heritage-related disciplines, and our education and training has resulted in the separation of those qualities into natural, historic and Indigenous categories. Heritage values are a cultural construct - people identify and value their existence - so different people may hold differing values, leading to dynamism and diversity in heritage issues and management. However, heritage managers are finding out increasingly that the three categories overlap to such an extent that responsible management demands that, where they exist, these values be catered for simultaneously.
Different people or communities might see different values in the same place. An example might be a hill where a rare plant species grows, that is significant to Indigenous people for spiritual association, was a lookout point for an early explorer, and is a popular bushwalking site for a local community. Any or all of these attributes comprise part of the place's heritage value. These values may be seen in a place's physical features, but can also be associated with intangible qualities such as people's associations with or feelings for a place. Governments assess the heritage values of these places against criteria such as aesthetic, historic, scientific or social value for the past, present or future generations. In the case of Indigenous heritage, the criterion sometimes used for assessing the significance of heritage values is their significance to Indigenous people as part of their traditions.
For Indigenous people their country is the landscape in which the ancestral and living beings have a spiritual and physical presence. Natural and cultural heritage is therefore inextricably interconnected for many Indigenous people and they do not necessarily distinguish between the two. Heritage professionals are also trying to develop a holistic approach to heritage in the landscape, and integrated professional assessments now consider the context of association with, and the meaning of, places and rely on multidisciplinary input.
Another crucial issue for Indigenous heritage is the fact that its control by the proper Indigenous custodians is essential for the continuing existence and significance of the heritage. Physical protection of Indigenous places, landscapes or objects in a reserve or a museum without active involvement and custodianship by representatives of the culture which created them, and without the web of meaning and context which only they can supply, does not constitute conservation in any meaningful sense. The High Court's Mabo decision (Mabo v. Queensland 1992) added strength to this argument by recognising Native Title and the ongoing cultural significance of Indigenous laws and customs that define and underpin Indigenous cultural landscapes.
Cultural significance means aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generations. Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its fabric, setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different individuals or groups.
- Definition from The Burra Charter: The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, 1999 edition
Natural heritage incorporates a spectrum of values, ranging from existence values at one end through to culture-based values at the other. The fundamental concept of natural heritage which most clearly differentiates it from cultural heritage is that of dynamic ecological processes, including ongoing evolution and the ability of ecosystems to be self-perpetuating. It also includes geodiversity - the geological and physical processes that shape the land. At many sites, clear separation of cultural and natural values can be difficult, undesirable from an Indigenous viewpoint, and indeed inappropriate, and more than one layer of values may apply to the same place. A mature forest, for example, may represent a stage in the natural cycle, yet it may also exhibit a physical structure resulting from cultural values applied through silvicultural treatments of its major species, and as well a forest it is also a cultural place with a variety of meanings for different people.
Natural heritage significance means the importance of ecosystems, biological diversity and geodiversity for their existence value, and/or for present or future generations of Australians in terms of their scientific, social, aesthetic and life support value.
- Definition from the Australian Natural Heritage Charter: Standards and principles for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance, Australian Committee for IUCN, 1996
There were significant advances in heritage methodology and best practice during the reporting period. The Australian Natural Heritage Charter was adopted in 1996. In 1999 a new version of the Burra Charter was released which addresses intangible aspects of heritage such as understanding, meanings and use, in addition to its traditional concern with the physical fabric. There has been more regard for Indigenous heritage values other than the specifically archaeological, and this has led to integrated assessments in the Regional Forest Agreements and other survey processes. Values tables showing the type, extent and distribution of all values have become part of these assessments.
Heritage places are those natural and cultural sites, structures, areas or regions that have natural or cultural heritage significance, as described above. Cultural heritage places are those sites or areas that contain evidence or associations of importance to communities.
The cultural significance may reside in a building, structure or piece of machinery, in an Aboriginal campsite or rock shelter, in natural objects which are part of Dreaming stories, in a location of an historical event or a cultural tradition or activity, or in a whole landscape associated with events, languages, traditions or activities. They reflect special human associations with human-created or natural places. Many places have both natural and cultural heritage values, although until the 1990s places were assessed using criteria for either natural or cultural values and now there is consideration of all heritage values.
Part of the Childers Conservation Area, Childers, Qld - an historic streetscape recognised by the National Trust.
Gaydons Building (just left of centre) contains a pharmacy that was established in 1894 and the ground floor now houses what is believed to be the only pharmaceutical museum in Australia.
Source: Australian Heritage Commission
Statutory regimes for protecting heritage may be based on assessments of significance through to blanket protection for particular categories of place (e.g. sacred sites in the Northern Territory, or Aboriginal archaeological sites in most states). Records of heritage places may be statutory registers of places assessed for heritage significance, or registers recording all reported sites of a particular category. These registers are a major repository of information about heritage places, even though they do not include all places that have heritage values. It is not possible to use them to measure change to the places they describe without an intelligent consideration of their physical and cultural context, which has also been part of their assessment.
Heritage objects are those possessing cultural heritage significance and which provide material evidence of Australia's natural and cultural environments or its historical and cultural life and biophysical evolution. They may be in situ at heritage places or held in collecting institutions - archives, libraries, museums, galleries, herbariums - or historic buildings (Purdie et al. 1996, p. 9-5).
Damelapel by Gullawun (Daniel Roque Lee), synthetic polymer painting on turtle shell, 1999.
The Larrakia people of Darwin lodged the Kenbi land claim in 1979. This painted turtle shell shows the last hearing for this claim in 1995 (the decision was still pending in 2000). The shell now sits in the National Museum of Australia as a symbol of Indigenous people's ongoing struggle with land claims.
Source: National Museum of Australia
For this report a study of museum collections found it impossible, on a broad scale, to separate those objects and collections relating specifically to heritage places from those collected for other reasons, such as representing typologies or personal interests of the collectors.
1955 model of a Hills Hoist.
The Hills Hoist has become an icon object of post-war suburban life in Australia. Models of the popular Hills Hoist were produced as toys and for shop window displays. They were more expensive to buy than full-sized hoists. This rare 1955 model is part of the Museum's extensive Hills Hoist collection.
Source: National Museum of Australia
When dealing with collections, documentary and archival records have not been considered in the brief for this report, yet they are fundamental tools in understanding the cultural significance of places.
Heritage landscapes or cultural landscapes, as they are defined in the World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines, are places of varying size illustrating designed, relict, organically evolving or continuing, and associative land use patterns. They incorporate heritage places which are also only dots in both the physical cultural landscape and the 'landscape of the mind' (that is, the perceived landscape). The Dreaming tracks associated with Uluru - Kata Tjuta, and the goldfield landscapes of central Victoria, are two examples.
The expansion of Victoria's Heritage Act 1995 allows for the listing of designed landscapes.
The intangible parts of culture, including language, are marginalised in our administrative framework in favour of heritage places. It might be useful to draw more on the 'cultural landscape' way of thinking about these issues to avoid this. The concept of cultural landscapes is a means of integrating, for any one place, aspects of natural, Indigenous and historic, aesthetic, scientific and social heritage values. It also makes us realise that the actual 'places' we have identified only represent selected concentrations of meaning or significance in a wider intellectual and cultural landscape context. Without a full appreciation of the heritage values of a cultural landscape the individual physical places within it could have no meaning.
The intangible heritage might be defined as embracing all forms of traditional and popular or folk culture, that is, collective works originating in a given community and based on tradition. These creations are transmitted orally or by gesture, and are modified over a period of time through a process of collective re-creation. They include oral traditions, customs, languages, music, dance, rituals, festivities, traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia, the culinary arts and all kinds of special skills connected with the material aspects of culture, such as tools and the habitat. For many populations (especially minority groups and Indigenous peoples), the intangible heritage is the vital source of an identity that is deeply rooted in history. The philosophy, values, moral code and ways of thinking transmitted by oral traditions, languages and the various forms taken by its culture constitute the foundation of a community's life. The essentially ephemeral nature of this intangible heritage makes it highly vulnerable. (UNESCO 2001).
Indigenous languages represent the major intangible heritage reported on in assessing the state of the Australian environment. Language is the medium of heritage transmission used by Indigenous people for maintaining traditional links to country and for passing on ethnobiological knowledge. In order to ensure this transfer of knowledge, access to 'country', to cultural items, to language and to education by the elders is vital: the cultural facilities a community has are an integral part of community awareness. Language is also an indicator of attachment to place and of heritage values in places, but other non-Indigenous languages spoken in Australia and Australian folklore were not included in this report. These latter topics are regarded as part of the broader study of Australian culture rather than as indicators of the heritage condition of the Australian environment.