Natural and cultural heritage
Jane L. Lennon
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
All states and territories now have heritage listing in their statutory planning systems. As reported in 2001, some only cover historic heritage (Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia) and there is separate legislation for protection of Indigenous heritage. Some jurisdictions include natural heritage under heritage legislation (for example, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory), while others rely on nature conservation or vegetation protection ordinances. Natural heritage listings have revolved around significant trees, geoheritage sites, and the expanding cultural landscape designations.
The lack of consistency in heritage recording makes uniform reporting very difficult. This has been recognised for many years but the problem remains. It is impossible to have an overview of the knowledge of heritage places across Australia without using imprecise and surrogate data.
At the end of 2000, there were 13 101 places entered in the Register of the National Estate, 75 per cent of which were historic places; New South Wales dominated with nearly one-third of all places. From 2001 to 2004, only 342 places were added to the Register of the National Estate, reflecting the slow-down in consultation procedures, dealing with the existing backlog of nominations, revision of citations, and much of the listing activity being undertaken in the states and territories as part of their expanding land use planning regimes.
Knowledge comes from disseminating findings of studies identifying heritage values in places and objects. In 2001, the Australian Heritage Commission published Australian Historic Themes, a framework for use in heritage assessments and management, and in 2001 it launched a series of research projects: Creating an Australian Democracy, Transport and Communications, Australians at War and Inspirational Landscapes. Chinese heritage in Australia was a priority, with the launch in all states and territories of Tracking the Dragon, a guide for finding and assessing Chinese Australian heritage places in 2002 and the establishment of state committees to follow up on nominations of such places to ensure their protection. Other completed thematic studies that were published in 2002 were: Women’s Employment and Professionalism in Australia: Histories, Themes and Places (Nugent 2002); Urban Heritage: The Rise and Postwar Development of Australian Capital City Centres (Marsden 2000),and Mining Heritage Places: Assessment Manual (Pearson and McGowan 2000). These studies were circulated to state agencies and universities teaching cultural heritage courses; their impact can be seen in the number of nominations to heritage registers of places related to these themes. Despite this effort, they have not led to strategies for following through with listings at all levels of protection.
In 2002 Ask First: A guide to respecting Indigenous places and values (Australian Heritage Commission 2002) was published by the Australian Heritage Commission and in 2003 a second edition of Protecting Natural Heritage, a guide to using the Australian Natural Heritage Charter, was published (Australian Heritage Commission 2003b). Scoping studies of Indigenous places, using promulgated frameworks, instead of the earlier Australian Heritage Commission site type ‘profiles’, have been undertaken to provide a comparative framework for the following:
- Aboriginal missions and reserves
- Aboriginal rock art
- massacre and struggle sites
- important Indigenous people
- prehistoric way of life
- earliest evidence of Aboriginal people
- Indigenous fish traps
- burial sites
- arrival of new people.
These studies also assess the level of significance of places. Indigenous heritage in Australian Government Defence properties has also been identified in consultation with Indigenous communities for Buckland, Shoalwater Bay, Bradshaw and Williamtown military training properties. An outcome of such studies is enhanced knowledge of all the values at a place and this is reflected in updated statements of significance for places and in some cases, revised boundaries (Australian Heritage Commission 2003a, p. 12).
Since 2001, Australia has had two more properties entered on the World Heritage List —Purnululu (Western Australia) and the Royal Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne. Australian World Heritage properties were the subject of periodic monitoring by the World Heritage Committee in 2003 and this highlighted both the values of outstanding universal significance in all 16 places on the List and their condition.
Provisions enabling the creation of a National List of Heritage Places came into effect on 1 January 2004 as a result of amendments to the EPBC Act to include national heritage as a matter of national environmental significance (see EPBC Act: Protected Matters). At January 2006 there were 22 places on the National Heritage List—one natural, 18 historic and three Indigenous places—some of these are landscapes with a range of heritage values at the national level such as Kurnell, Recherche Bay, and Castlemaine Diggings. By January 2006, 128 nominations had been received from the public.
The same amendments created the Commonwealth Heritage List of places owned, managed or leased by the Australian Government. Inscription on the list imposes obligations on Australian Government agencies to ensure the protection of heritage places under their control. The Commonwealth Heritage List was launched in July 2004 and it now has 339 places, 87 per cent of which are historic places (see Commonwealth Heritage).
Since 2001, approximately 130 ships have been added to the Historic Shipwrecks Register, which is maintained by the Department of Environment and Heritage in partnership with state and territory heritage agencies. In 2000, 6500 shipwrecks had been listed (Lennon et al. 2001, p. 37). This figure can be only an approximation because more identified shipwrecks are constantly added as they reach their seventy-fifth anniversary of being sunk.
Increases in historic places listed in state and territory heritage registers are expected, given the amount of survey and assessment work undertaken in urban renewal and urban development. In 2000, 13 160 historic places were listed on state and territory registers and this has increased to 14 148 in 2005.
The widening scope of state and territory registers is confirmed by the range of places listed, which includes cemeteries, theatres, parks and gardens, significant urban vegetation, recreation reserves, baby health centres, sawmill sites and associated tramways, multicultural heritage such as warning signs in Italian at Fitzroy public baths, Chinese stores and Greek cafes in country towns, or group settlements such as New Italy in northern New South Wales, aerodromes, and roadside heritage such as interwar service stations.
During 2003, the Victorian Heritage Council commenced a review of its Heritage Register on the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of the Historic Buildings Preservation Act 1974, the first state heritage legislation in Australia.The Council noted that ‘the definition of what constitutes heritage has widened considerably, as has public ownership of the concept of, and involvement in, the process of heritage registration.’ They also noted that many sites on the Register are complex in fabric and history, and fit into more than one theme. For instance, ‘… Point Nepean Defence and Quarantine Station Precinct … is an example of some 16 Australian Historic Themes, including grazing stock, defending Australia, developing Australian construction industry, going to war, controlling the entry of people and disease, migrating, policing Victoria, establishing schools, incarcerating people, providing services and welfare, providing health services, dealing with human remains, living in and around Australian homes, moving goods and people and commemorating significant events and people’ (Heritage Council Victoria 2004c, p. 8). In addition, the precinct has Indigenous values and remnant coastal vegetation.
In Victoria, local government continues to play a major role in the identification and protection of the state’s cultural heritage in accordance with the Planning and Environment Act 1987; a total of 73 of the 79 municipalities have undertaken historic place studies, leading to state listings or Heritage Overlay notification in the planning schemes, and three municipalities have undertaken detailed archaeological surveys (Heritage Council Victoria 2004, p. 16). While the Heritage Council listings provide some interesting trends, local government planning schemes are where most of the identification occurs—an estimated 100 000 places are covered by individual and area Heritage Overlay controls in 2004.
As a result of a targeted programme in 2004 in New South Wales, the community nominated 405 icons as heritage places of special importance that it wanted to have listed. A regional approach was also trialed in New South Wales to build a better state heritage register and fill in the thematic gaps. The methodology was tested in the central west in 2002 and, in close consultation with the local community, 600 items were identified. Of these, nearly 200 are potential state heritage items (NSW Heritage Office 2003, p. 3).
Of the 152 local government councils in New South Wales, 58 have more than 100 local heritage items in their local environment plans. Government agencies are required by the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) to integrate heritage considerations in all their asset management processes. More then ten per cent of items identified in Sydney Water’s heritage and conservation register are now listed on the State Heritage Register, including the Tank Stream and Hyde Park obelisk. In 2003–04, the iconic Sydney Opera House and Jenolan Caves were listed, as well as Cronulla Sand Dune, Wanda Beach Coastal landscape, Burra Bee Dee Aboriginal mission site near Coonabarabran (the first mission site to be listed on the NSW Heritage Register), Millers Point (perhaps the most significant urban precinct in Australia), community-valued ocean pools at The Entrance, Coogee and Newcastle, and the HMAS Parramatta shipwreck and memorials, and the Dunbar shipwreck group (NSW Heritage Office 2004, pp. 7–8).
Tasmania has increased the number of places protected by the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995 to 5288, while 29 historic sites are reserved under the provisions of the National Parks and Reserves Management Act 2002. Cultural landscapes, Chinese mining sites, and hydroelectricity sites of significance were identified (Heritage Tasmania 2005). Major heritage effort has revolved around issues of redevelopment in Sullivan’s Cove, Hobart and in Launceston.
Canberra’s ‘Garden City’ planned suburbs—with their original characteristic relationship between streetscapes, land use patterns and built forms—are part of the environmental, social and cultural heritage of the Australian Capital Territory. Nine suburbs have been entered into the ACT Heritage Places Register in recognition of their place in the history of urban planning and residential development in Canberra. Furthermore, some experts suggest that they are of international significance (see Ward 2000). Rural heritage in the ACT is threatened by the expansion of greenfields suburban development; three homesteads were added to the register in an effort to retain them in the rural landscape setting that is integral to their heritage significance.
In South Australia, the rate of listing slowed. The state has been comprehensively surveyed since 1981 except for the far west and far north; there is now ‘increasing community interest in urban character, that is, an interest in heritage beyond what is recorded in state and local heritage registers’ (EPA South Australia 2003, p. 16). Local councils have been slow to take advantage of the provisions of the Development Act 1993 to protect local heritage places—only 28 of 68 have created local lists—and they require assistance to do so despite the extension of the heritage advisory services. Many historic, contact and Indigenous sites have been recorded and made public—but not registered—from finalised Federal Court cases such as De Rose Hill and Ngaanyatjarra from South Australia.
In the Northern Territory, telegraph stations, church precincts and homesteads were added to the register, but major mining heritage was destroyed through lack of protection at Pine Creek. Development assessments are now monitored to determine impacts on heritage.
In Western Australia, listings continued steadily to the state register, but community consultation is a major issue for precinct listings.
In Queensland, mining places continue to feature, although 42 per cent of state listed places were located in three cities—Brisbane, Townsville and Ipswich in 2002—and 15 of the 125 local government areas have no places listed (EPA 2003). Registers of historical heritage are maintained by 31 councils, but 75 per cent of the places listed were located in three cities, leaving a scattering of identified places across 28 councils and 94 without any survey (EPA 2003). Funding of $2.725 million over five years was announced in March 2005 to update Queensland’s list of heritage buildings and sites to improve their protection and give more certainty to developers, property owners and local councils.
Local government listing of heritage places as an indicator of knowledge gives a much broader overview of the state of knowledge about heritage because it involves community level appreciation of and activity in identifying and protecting heritage places and objects. It may well be a better indicator of the state of community awareness about heritage than state and territory listings, but these latter are a better indicator of knowledge in that the citations for state and territory listings are generally required to give much more information about the listed place and comparative analyses than local heritage study data sheets. This state and territory listing information is available to the community through the heritage registers online. Non-statutory lists compiled by the National Trusts, Royal Australian Institute of Architects or the Institution of Engineers are precursors and guides for statutory listings.
In September 2005 the Productivity Commission surveyed the involvement of local government in historic heritage conservation. Almost three quarters of local councils responded—464 of 630 surveyed—and some 75 per cent of these have statutory lists that collectively cover more than 76 000 individual places and 1770 heritage areas (PC 2005, p. 34 and Appendix B). The number of individual places listed is an underestimate compared with the data supplied by state agencies, possibly because the Productivity Commission survey did not collect data on the number of individually listed places within these Heritage Areas.
Many states and territories have inventories of all recorded sites, rather then heritage-listed sites or Indigenous places. There has been a marked increase in recording Indigenous sites . This is a result of new reporting arrangements and increased survey activity, often associated with environmental impact assessments in Queensland and post-bushfire surveys in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. In Western Australia, sites are recorded through heritage survey reports—1240 from 2001 to March 2005—with an average of three new heritage sites reported in each survey submitted to the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites of the Department of Indigenous Affairs.
A survey of 24 Indigenous organisations across Australia was conducted in 2004 (Open Mind Research Group 2005) to replicate the assessment of the state of Indigenous cultural heritage conducted for Australia State of the Environment 2001 (SoE2001). Not as many or the same organisations were contacted as in 2001, although the survey covered all states and territories, urban and rural areas, and five types of organisations—Land Councils and Cooperatives, Aboriginal Corporations, Native Title representatives, Cultural Centres, and Indigenous Heritage Committees.
The survey found that heritage places and objects are generally well known within Indigenous communities, but not so outside of these communities; for example, Brambuk (Victoria) has 738 registered sites with only five major sites open to the public. Sometimes knowledge of heritage places was restricted to the families that are direct descendants of the traditional owners. Generally, the Elders considered that knowledge of heritage places was not sufficiently comprehensive within their Indigenous communities, particularly in the younger generation. Within the Tiwi Land Council, for example, there was ‘changing demographics with the older traditional leadership now dying out. Currently there are 900 under 14 years of age, of a total 2500 people’. This posed a substantial problem with ‘new Tiwi generational commitment’ (Open Mind Research Group 2005)
Knowledge of Indigenous languages has deteriorated nationwide since 2001. One of the main findings of the 2005 report was that the situation of Australia’s languages is very grave and requires urgent action. Of an original number of over 250 known Indigenous languages, about 145 are still spoken in Australia but about 110 are in the severely and critically endangered categories—they are only spoken by small groups of people mostly over 40 years old (see Figure 1). Eighteen languages are ‘strong’ in the sense of being spoken by all age groups, but three or four are showing some signs of moving into endangerment (Table 1). Many other languages are not fully spoken by anybody, but words and phrases are used and there is great community support in many parts of the country for reclamation and heritage learning programmes for such languages (AIATSIS and FATSIL 2005).
Source: AIATSIS and FATSIL (2005, p. 64)
|Age Profile Index||Endangerment status||1996||2001|
|1||Endangered||2 (5%)||6 (14%)|
|2||7 (17%)||11 (26%)|
|3||5 (12%)||7 (17%)|
|4||Not immediately in danger||10 (24%)||4 (10%)|
|5||18* (43%)||14 (33%)|
* includes two languages which should have lesser index
Source: AIATSIS and FATSIL (2005, p. 49)
There is no specific data for natural heritage places except for the 82 places added to the Register of the National Estate between 2001 and the end of 2003. These included endangered native grasslands, mound springs, fish fossil sites, and the flora and fauna of Bindoon and Mulchea Defence Training areas in Western Australia (Australian Heritage Commission 2003a, p. 40). The South Australian Heritage Register has 54 geological monuments registered of its total of 433 such monuments. There are other state and territory listings of natural places, for example, the NSW State Heritage Register includes the Bombo geological site, the North East rainforests, and Wingecarribee swamp, all of which also have cultural values.
Surrogate data from the biodiversity indicator ‘extent and comprehensiveness of terrestrial protected areas ’ show that there has been an increase in the area of terrestrial protected areas between 1997 and 2002 from 59.8 million hectares to 77.5 million hectares in 6755 reserves. This biodiversity framework does not distinguish icon habitats, the key natural heritage interest. The term ‘natural heritage’ has almost disappeared as the use of ‘biodiversity’ increased in popular usage and in studies (Dr Steve Cork, pers. comm.).
During the reporting period, the Heritage Division of the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage has acquired many data sets for its Australian Natural Heritage Assessment Tool (ANHAT) to assist in comparative analysis of heritage attributes such as species richness and distribution across bioregions. It is expected that this analysis will support the assessment of current nominations of natural heritage places and nominations that may be conducted in the near future for places such as:
- Western Australia—Mound Springs, Australian Alps National Parks, Sydney Basin National Parks, Stirling Ranges National Park, Cape Range and Ningaloo Reef and Barrow Island
- Queensland—Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park, Great Sandy Strait and Wide Bay Military Training Area
- Northern Territory—Western MacDonnell Ranges
- South Australia—Flinders Ranges
- Tasmania—Tarkine Wilderness Area.
Heritage objects are part of the significance of a place with which they were associated. Some heritage objects or collections may be significant in their own right. Victorian heritage legislation now allows such objects and collections to be registered without being associated with a registered place, whether or not they are held by a government collecting institution.
Knowledge of heritage objects nationally is largely confined to information about the documentation of collections of state, territory and Commonwealth collecting institutions, and local and regional museums and universities. These museum collections are often distinct from place collections.
At the end of June 2004, there were 548 public library and archive organisations operating through 1754 locations. These organisations had a total of 13 282 employees at the end of June 2004. They also had 6853 people working as volunteers during the month of June 2004. During 2003–04, there were 105 million visits to local government, national and state libraries, representing an average of five visits per head of population (ABS 2005b). It is assumed that all of the archives hold heritage collections. There has been a major focus on significance assessment in the last five years.
At the end of June 2004, there were 1329 museum locations operating in Australia, comprising: 160 art museums and galleries, 381 historic properties and sites, 673 social history museums, and 116 other types of museums. During 2003–04, there were 31.2 million admissions to Australia’s museums. Just under three-quarters (73.5 per cent) of museums had an Internet presence at the end of June 2004.
At this time, there were 54.9 million museum objects and artworks located in Australia's museums, but only 9.7 per cent (5.3 million) were on display for public viewing (Table 2). Museums with 20 or more employees held the largest proportion of museum objects and artworks (84 per cent or 46.2 million), but displayed only 2.9 per cent of their collection (1.3 million items) to the public.
|Museum objects and artworks||Size of institution (by number of employees)||Total number of objects and artworks|
|Nil||1–19 employees||20 or more employees|
|Number in collections||2 779 000||5 984 200||46 152 300||54 915 500|
|On display for public viewing (%)||61.1||38.3||2.9||9.7|
|Accessible to the public online (%)||1.3||6.4||13.1||11.8|
|Documented or recorded in manual or written form (%)||55.5||45.0||72.7||68.8|
|Documented or recorded in electronic form or on computer (%)||17.6||25.2||41.9||38.8|
|Surveyed for preservation or conservation treatment by a professional curator or conservator (%)||9.3||22.2||21.9||21.3|
|Assessed as requiring preservation or conservation treatment (%)||9.5||8.2||4.6||5.2|
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005, p. 12)
During 2003–04 there were 224 032 new acquisitions of museum objects and artworks, with the majority (73.8 per cent or 165 417) acquired through donations. For the same period, donations and bequests of artworks totalled 13 484 items and were valued at $45.6 million. At the end of June 2004, the majority (68.8 per cent) of museum objects and artworks were documented or recorded in manual (written) form, while 38.8 per cent were documented or recorded in electronic form (on computer). Museum objects and artworks could be documented and recorded in both forms (ABS 2005a).
There has been no survey to replicate that carried out for SoE2001 on collections management especially on cataloguing, which provides the data for this knowledge indicator. In 2002, the Heritage Collections Council commissioned a study into the key needs of collecting institutions . The sample survey had 408 respondents across all types. Although a majority of collections reported that most of their collections were accessioned, there is a high level of uncatalogued original materials in Australian heritage collections; furthermore, lack of uniformity in cataloguing systems across heritage collections has also created major obstacles in initiatives to create a national database of heritage collections (Deakin University 2002, pp. 67–68). It is hoped that the new Collections Council of Australia, which was established in August 2004, will address these issues.
Trends are as follows:
- New Australian government legislation has created a more coherent three-tier heritage system, with each tier of government responsible for the identification of heritage places and protection of heritage values so identified.
- Listing of historic heritage places continues at a slow but steady pace on state and territory registers, reflecting the results of thematic and regional surveys, but the major activity in the developed states and territories is in the local government area.
- Cultural landscapes are a new category of heritage place being listed in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales; progress is slow on listings in this category because of increasing threats such as urban expansion, wind farm construction, marina development, rural subdivision and new rural land uses.
- Recording of Indigenous heritage places has increased but listings under provisions of the EPBC Act have all but stalled.
- Cataloguing of heritage collections is static and requires national standards as well as resources.
- A more strategic approach is needed to target listing gaps cascaded down from thematic studies.