Natural and cultural heritage
Jane L. Lennon
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
The assessment of the physical condition of heritage places and objects gives an indication of the integrity of their values. It also alerts managers to the pressures impacting on the heritage values of these places and objects and the need for conservation-based responses.
There is still no agreed measure for ‘condition’ of natural heritage places, although there are many indicators of ecosystem health, such as percentage of weed cover, presence of introduced animals, and presence of representative species. With nearly two-thirds in protected area reserves, public land managers should be able to assess the condition of their land . This is a key issue for resolution.
During the reporting period, significant progress was made by park agencies including Parks Victoria and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) (Department of Environment and Conservation) in preparing ‘state of the parks’ reports.
The Parks Victoria State of the Parks 2000 report summarises the natural values, environmental condition and key management challenges facing 125 individual parks (Parks Victoria 2000). The NPWS is developing a comprehensive ‘state of the parks’ reporting system. This system will improve the quality and quantity of information available to the public about natural and cultural heritage, the pressures faced by this heritage and the role the parks system is playing in its conservation. The inaugural NPWS report, State of the Parks 2001, represents the first stage in the development of this system. It provides a snapshot of conservation values at state level, and profiles a key set of 67 parks and reserves (NSW NPWS 2001).
In addition, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service has prepared the first State of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Report (PWS 2004). The report marks a significant step in making management of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) more open, informed, and accountable.
The main purposes of the report are: to provide a structured, evidence-based account of how management of the TWWHA is performing in achieving its management objectives and obligations under the World Heritage Convention (to identify, protect, conserve, present, transmit to future generations and, if appropriate, rehabilitate the World Heritage values of the property); to provide informed feedback that guides management to better achieve objectives and deliver desired outcomes; and to increase the transparency of management for the TWWHA. The main inputs to this evaluation were:
- scientific data and other measured evidence about performance indicators (especially in relation to the management objectives for protecting, conserving and rehabilitating the natural and cultural heritage)
- information and professional advice from experts (especially natural and cultural heritage specialists)
- the views of the general public and onsite visitors (especially in relation to the management objectives for presenting the natural and cultural heritage)
- assessments and critical comment on management performance by internal and external stakeholders closely associated with management of the TWWHA (Parks and Wildlife Service 2004).
Community appreciation of condition varies. Perceived by the public as catastrophic in the Australian Alps in 2003, bushfire is part of the natural cycle and it leads to new ecological stages in habitats. Yet there is evidence that prolonged burning will change the distribution of certain forest types, such as alpine ash, and may lead to loss of that natural heritage type (Gill et al. 2004). Dieback of vegetation from prolonged drought or climate variability, or from insect attack, may also lead to loss and changed distribution. Re-invigoration of Indigenous mosaic burning regimes in arid lands has been seen as a plus by Indigenous communities and ecologists, but as destructive by ecotour operators and often by the public as well.
On private land, the amount of funding requested from the Natural Heritage Trust for animal control, plant regeneration, exclusion fencing, weed control or replanting could be regarded as a surrogate indicator of poor condition of the land. The sorting of these funding applications by heritage listed places has not been attempted.
Legal ‘consents to destroy’ issued as part of planning development applications are a very minor proportion of losses to Indigenous places. Incremental loss through natural erosion processes, vehicular or pedestrian access, stock grazing, agricultural tillage and ploughing, deliberate earthworks or ignorance of the site features is more common. As discussed in 2001(Lennon et al. 2001, pp. 47–9), it is difficult to measure condition when Indigenous people generally prefer that the place is undisturbed; however, maintenance is required to ‘keep country straight’ by burning, cleaning out rock wells or protecting art sites.
Protection of Indigenous heritage places has improved as a result of increased involvement of Indigenous people in their management through myriads of Indigenous governance, natural resource management and regional agreements now operating. This is particularly the case with World Heritage areas (except the Great Barrier Reef), national parks and some other public reserves as well as in the increased number of Indigenous Protected Areas (see ‘Responses’ and areas handed back to traditional owners for joint management. In addition, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT have statutory requirements for decision-making to be delegated to Indigenous groups.
The sample survey of Indigenous organisations found the following key issues regarding protection of local Indigenous heritage (in order of priority):
- inadequate and uncertain funding to ensure managing indigenous heritage
- developments—housing estates, logging, quarries, wind farms and marinas—being constructed on culturally significant sites and destroying Indigenous heritage
- inconsistent or total lack of appropriate and timely consultation with Indigenous communities about developments concerning the regions
- lack of legal protection and enforcement to ensure that processes are followed
- lack of resources for local communities to physically manage their own cultural sites
- lack of commitment among the newer generation to care for country and carry on Indigenous traditions in the communities
- restricted access to freehold and leasehold land, which impacted on spiritual connection to heritage by being unable to conduct ceremonies
- infestations—pests, ants, rabbits, cane toads, invasive plant species—in cultural sites
- effects of weather, flooding, climate change, fire and soil erosion on Indigenous sites
- widespread farming had wiped out some species of vegetation once used by ancestors for medicines.
Managing tourism and access to heritage sites was an issue in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. While tourism was encouraged as a source of revenue by some Indigenous organisations, the funding to ensure site protection was often not available.
Functioning Indigenous heritage committees are a positive indicator of action to ensure survival of Indigenous culture, but many are inadequately resourced to support a range of staff functions. These committees are possibly the best means of ensuring protection of the integrity of Indigenous heritage in a region, although employment of a cultural officer or ranger was considered essential to facilitate consultation and heritage protection. Many committees are very unhappy about their reduced advisory ‘voice’ in the new administrative arrangements that post-date the Australian Heritage Commission.
The 2001 survey of 12 per cent of the historic heritage places entered in the Register of the National Estate was replicated for this report. The survey provides a simple overview of the continued existence, condition, integrity and use of a sample of the nation’s historic heritage, and allows trends in the health of that heritage to be identified. In all, 1287 places were inspected, but each sample local government area had a minimum of 20 listed places (Pearson and Marshall 2004, p. 1).
Unfortunately, large parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia were not effectively represented in the survey. This paucity of information about heritage sites in remote areas was identified in the 2000 survey, and remains an issue for heritage reporting. The 2004 study drew on revised citations from the Register of the National Estate, state and territory sources, as well as from the embryonic Commonwealth and National List registers, allowing better consideration of condition, integrity and works in the context of clearly articulated heritage values (Pearson and Marshall 2004, p. 6).
The survey found that trends in condition and integrity indicate minor changes during the 2000–04 period, with some incremental changes, but not many dramatic changes (Table 3).
|Number||% of sample||Number||% of sample|
|Survey sample size||1218||1257|
Source: Pearson and Marshall (2004, p. 17)
The slight decrease in the proportion of places with high integrity often indicates unsympathetic changes and decay. Conversely, there was a slight increase in the proportion with medium integrity, as a result of decline in integrity of places with previously high integrity, and improvements in integrity due to conservation work and removal of accretions. The lack of dramatic or steady improvement in the integrity and condition of heritage places might itself be an indicator of a problem with Australia’s historic heritage. That is, in an affluent society, improvement is expected and yet there is no convincing evidence of this in the two surveys. Other trends are listed in Table 4.
|Historic heritage condition||2000||2004|
|Commercial premises in urban centres and regional towns||Good condition; but exteriors have high integrity;
|Same trend: historical associations and functional significance much diminished|
|Prominent buildings in rural towns||Adapted by retail chains, especially clothing|
|Prominent buildings in cities and regional towns||Increasing number subject to facadism: converting to ‘modern’ retail standards|
|Vacant places||42% of those surveyed||Same %|
|Places subject to conservation works||Undertaken prior to 2000||Increasing deterioration due to no maintenance|
|Affluent regional centres, including coastal towns||Increasing land values threatening heritage integrity|
|Former government buildings||Many empty||Streetscape value maintained but modifications destroyed individual heritage integrity|
|Heritage listed places as a class fare better||Need for more systematic survey||Obligations placed on planning approvals to consider heritage|
|Heritage listing of places has not been systematic||Minimal protection at the local government level||Listings but many councils are overtly pro-development|
|Redundant rural buildings of heritage value||Noted as problem||True scale and extent of this problem still not known|
|Government buildings remains at risk||Echuca railway engine shed, Burra railway station and Rockhampton Post Office||Customs House Williamstown, Ararat Mental Hospital, Townsville Customs House, State Government Printing Office in Perth|
|Churches: highest integrity and best class of heritage place||Conservation problems developing, such as water penetration||Trend of ageing church fabric and inadequate maintenance funds continued; increasing redundancy|
|Subdivision of church land||Continuing trend impairing curtilage values|
|Masonry of heritage buildings||Painting: to detriment of heritage values and degrades integrity||Trend continues|
|Provision of interpretative information||Ranges from zero to good: Qld Heritage Trails|
|Interpretative material installed as part of conservation works||Deterioration observed in signage||Continuing trend: town streetscape panels and historic route panels are ‘tatty and tired’|
Source: Pearson and Marshall (2004, pp.17–19)
Heritage Victoria undertook a survey of condition of a proportion of the Victorian Heritage Register in 2002–03. Its self-selecting sample led to subjective interpretations of condition but positive outcomes have resulted: more detailed information about the places from those with the best knowledge of the place, and good relations with their owners and managers (Heritage Council Victoria 2004a, p. 37).
The EPHC noted that there had been no comprehensive survey of places whose heritage value had been destroyed either as a result of neglect or through modification or demolition (EPHC 2004, p. 2). The Productivity Commission has been unable to derive an accurate assessment of the condition of listed historic places and of trends in condition and quality (PC 2005, p. 38). It also reported on the debates about adaptive reuse of historic heritage places as a means of ensuring retention and future conservation versus those who regarded this as sacrificing heritage values, particularly with changes to churches and community buildings (PC 2005, pp. 20–21).
As the condition of heritage objects affects their ability to provide information on the state of the environment from which they were collected, assessing their condition is a necessary task. The 2001 sample survey of collections surveyed for preservation treatment, the amount of such treatment carried out, and the proportion of collections stored in appropriate environmental conditions has not been replicated. The Heritage Collections Council Needs Survey identified some needs that may be regarded as a surrogate for existing condition: conservation treatments and repair of objects was the second highest priority in the needs analysis of Collecting Institutions (Deakin University 2002, p 36)
Resources for development of public programmes and collection outreach have been at the expense of collection management activities. Consequently, collections management (for example, conservation, cataloguing and collection research) requires greater recognition by managers of collecting institutions and government, and adequate allocation of resources to undertake these activities. Key issues are listed in Table 5.
|Heritage buildings||Restrictions on alterations;
Cost of maintenance, particularly for small community museums;
Special needs of the moveable heritage collections housed within heritage listed buildings;
Local governments don’t realize that a ‘heritage’ building is not necessarily the most appropriate accommodation for their local heritage collection
|High cost of air conditioning||Prevents developing environmentally stable environments for housing collections in tropical places.|
|Lack of storage space for small museums||Common need but also reflects need for implementing collection development policies|
|Conservation - area of major and critical need for heritage collections in museums, galleries, libraries and archives||Big gap exists between what might be achieved and the level of funds and resources available to make reasonable progress|
|Conservation treatments||Major state and national collecting institutions appear to be ‘better off’ than small collecting institutions, as the latter rarely have any specialist conservation staff.|
|Conservation outreach is ‘ad hoc’||Majority of state and national heritage collecting institutions provide some conservation advice and support to regional collections but generally see the preservation of their own collections as top priority|
|Preventive conservation is widely considered to be the highest priority||This arrests deterioration of collections and so decreases need for expensive interventionist conservation in the future|
Source: (Deakin University 2002, pp. 65–66)
Preventive conservation can be effective only when the most significant elements of the collection are known. Therefore the highest priorities remain as significance assessment and collection management.
The effect of population change, technological change, economic restructuring and urban expansion, consolidation and development on the condition of heritage places continues a largely negative trend, except for the premium real estate value placed on some historic properties, such as those advertised in the prestige properties section of The Australian newspaper. In addition, declining demand for services offered by historic heritage places, the opportunity costs of renovation or redevelopment, and increasing costs of maintenance were also noted as pressures affecting historic heritage places (PC 2005, pp. 15–19).
There were about 20 million people living in Australia in 2005. Between 1994 and 1999, the fastest growing areas were located in urban fringe areas; urban consolidation has been reviving growth in established inner-city areas of Sydney and Melbourne. These patterns have implications for maintaining integrity in heritage places subject to redevelopment pressures or new subdivisions cutting up the previous patterns in cultural landscapes, particularly the colonial estates in the Cumberland Plain of Sydney or dairying landscapes along the coastal foothills.
Growth, of a lesser extent, has also occurred in some inland regional centres due to in-migration from surrounding regions; for example, Mildura and Ballarat in Victoria and Dubbo in New South Wales. This growth occurred because of agricultural restructuring and mechanisation (resulting in larger and fewer farms and lower demand for farm workers), and improvements in transport and communications (allowing industries and services in the regional centre to service a wide area). Crossroads hamlets and rural villages decline or vanish and heritage structures associated with agriculture and transport are abandoned or deteriorate as a result.
Population decline in rural areas dependent on mining was observed between 1994 and 1999 in Broken Hill, Mount Isa, East Pilbara, Mount Magnet and Laverton in Western Australia, and West Coast Tasmania. Major population declines in other regions can be linked to changing levels of activity in particular industries (ABS 2000). Abandonment of redundant, rural-based industrial heritage is a result; it goes unrecorded and its condition is subject to vagaries of natural decay, vandalism or theft. Loss of population usually means loss of connection with the fabric and stories of heritage places. The population decline in Broken Hill should be balanced against the city's success in developing heritage tourism as a major industry.
Trends discussed in 2001 continue with the term ‘sea change’ being given to the rush to live near the coastal edge in new settlements, high-rise developments, or sprawling suburban corridors. While the beach has long been a favourite holiday destination for Australians, the increasing tendency for people to live near the coast is shown by 61 statistical local areas with an average annual growth that is much greater than the Australian average of 1.2 per cent per annum (ABS 2004a). This growth puts pressure on local heritage places, as illustrated in the 2004 condition survey for historic heritage places. Increasing development along the coastline—constructing houses, aquaculture, marinas and boat ramps—is having a significant impact on coastal landscapes. This is a consistent pressure for the 61 above-average growth areas along the Australian coastline. In particular, wind farm construction has focused attention on the need to protect the integrity of coastal landscape values in South Australia and Victoria (EPA South Australia 2003, p. 160).
In the 2001 Census, 410 000 people were recorded as of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. While the largest proportion (31 per cent) lived in major cities, almost half (49 per cent) lived in outer regional, remote, and very remote areas combined, compared with 13 per cent of the total Australian population. The Indigenous population in very remote areas increased by 16 per cent between 1991 and 2001, largely due to rising birth rates. The increased propensity for people to identify as being of Indigenous origin was predominantly a factor in urban area increases. Maintaining connection to country becomes a key issue for urban Indigenous people, while intergenerational transmission of cultural heritage practices and ecological knowledge is an issue for maintaining integrity of traditions as illustrated in the 2005 survey of Indigenous organisations (Open Mind Research Group 2005).
Tourism is one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing industries. Heritage places are a pivotal component of many forms of tourism. In 2004, domestic and international tourists who visited a heritage place spent an estimated $7.8 billion on trips in which they visited at least one historic place (The Allen Consulting Group 2005, p. vi). Specialist tourism ventures whether nature-based, adventure, Indigenous, historic, cultural or ecotourism all rely strongly on heritage and heritage places. The New South Wales Historic Towns Project is encouraging heritage tourism by providing highway signs only for those towns that present a representative sample of genuine historic places.
As the impact of tourism on the condition of heritage places can be either negative or positive, the EPHC agreed in May 2002 to develop a national policy encouraging better integration of heritage into tourism. A task force published Going Places: Developing natural and cultural heritage tourism in Australia, an issues paper and a key opportunities paper (NTHT 2003). The Productivity Commission noted that benefits from the generation of economic activity in heritage-based communities were somewhat offset by negative impacts from the increased use, such as congestion, leakage of locally generated revenue, fluctuating demands on local infrastructure and resources, displacement of local services and physical impacts and degradation of properties and landscapes (PC 2005, p. 23).
World Heritage areas continue to be a magnet for tourism, generating regional economic development. This is exemplified by the trends for the Wet Tropics (Table 6).
|Numbers of visitors||Trends||Projections|
|Total visitors (‘000)||1 997||2 292||2 610||2 840||3 430||4 000||4 550|
|Average daily||29 523||31 830||36 764||40 164||49 137||57 808||66 233|
Source: Wet Tropics Management Authority (2002, p. 40)
Annual visitor numbers to these icon places have increased generally since 2001, especially for the Great Barrier Reef, Purnululu and the Tasmanian Wilderness. Their importance to the regional economy is underlined by this continuation. After the 2002 September 11 terrorism attack, there was a relative increase in domestic tourism to World Heritage properties (Table 7) compared with international tourism. Tourism figures can relate to both condition and integrity of heritage places and community awareness of the heritage values.
|Australian Fossil Mammal Site (Naracoorte)A||42 000||39 600||67 000||78 500||na||68 479||70 737||72 294||70 000|
|Australian Fossil Mammal Site (Riversleigh)B||3 000||3 000||3 000||3 000||3 000||4 000||4 500||5 000||5 500|
|Central Eastern Rainforest Reserve (Australia) (NSW)C||807 000||805 874||791 450||742 600||773 956|
|Central Eastern Rainforest Reserve (Australia) (Qld)D||1 238 750||1 269 500||na||na||1 331 000|
|Great Barrier Reef Marine ParkE||1 672 537||1 725 349||2 945 994||3 763 479||1 656 418
|1 854 423||1 922 318||1 920 350||1 948 768|
|The Greater Blue Mountains AreaF||526 423||527 737||565 303||528 636||580 520|
|Fraser IslandG||272 139||278 889||291 404||297 621||314 051||300 295||335 989||366 231||303 516|
|Heard and McDonald IslandsH||15||5||5||6||28||24||48||28*||28*|
|KakaduI||219 287||205 795||199 387||211 491||200 752||1197 527||189 134||170 423||169 955|
|Lord Howe IslandJ||9 059||9 731||10 688||14 671||6 565
|12 488||12 559||13 185||13 721|
|PurnululuL||21 451||21 060||21 411||22 816|
|Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton GardensM||349 958*||350 136*||432 479*||445 446|
|Shark BayN||83 672||93 178||102 081||103 076||88 948||101 946||104 607||106 364||96 740|
|Tasmanian WildernessO||453 023||449 005||474 155||500 645||483 497||539 000||540 000||615 000||655 000|
|Uluru-Kata TjutaP||337 018||337 735||339 605||371 939||387 065||394 315||391 574||362 428||345 638|
|Wet Tropics of QueenslandQ||4 770 000 in 1993
(No data collected during this period)
|4 650 000||4 650 000||4 650 000||4 650 000|
|WillandraR||30 546||33 078||16 038||35 118||36 400||40 807||na||47 361||na|
A Figures based on records of visitor fees
B Figures estimated by site managers
C Figures collated from vehicle and pedestrian counters, and ranger estimates
D Figures based upon number of camping permits issued, vehicle counters and ranger estimates
E Figures represent number of visitor days spent on commercial tour vessels within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.The total number of visitors, including private vessels would be much higher
F Figures collated from vehicle and pedestrian counters, ticket sales and ranger estimates
G Figures collated from number of people covered by vehicle service permits and commercial tour permits
H Figures represent the number of persons who go ashore Heard Island. *Australian Antarctic science program expeditions are generally organised by season, generally extending over the summer period, therefore the figures for 2003 and 2004 represent the same 29 persons
I Figures based on pedestrian counter calibrations
J Figures represent the number of head tax receipts for the Island Service Levy, paid by all visitors to the island
K Figures based on number of passenger landings from tour vessels
L Figures collected through the visitor centre on each entry into the park
M Figures are collated according to hirers of the venue, numbers are therefore approximate.
* The Royal Exhibition Building was only listed as World Heritage in 2004
N Figure represent number of people passing entry toll station
O Figures collated from agency estimates, track counters and the Tasmanian Visitor Survey (conducted by Tourism Tasmania)
P Figures represent park entry ticket sales
Q Figures calculated as average visits per year to 100 of the main visitor sites within the World Heritage areas\. Figures are based upon detailed site surveys in conjunction with vehicle counters
R Figures collated from vehicle counter calibrations
na – Figures unavailable for particular year.
Source: Heritage Division, Department of the Environment and Heritage 2005 (compiled from the various data sets)
The condition of many natural heritage areas visited by large numbers of tourists has improved due to construction of paths and boardwalks through fragile environments such as wetlands or Aboriginal middens. The condition of some historic heritage properties has been improved by conservation works as part of heritage trails programmes, such as the original 1859 Cardwell Post Office in north Queensland, or the conservation of buildings in the main streets of country towns and the reinstatement of verandahs on many buildings in Broken Hill and Mudgee. Repairs to dry stone walls are enhancing their condition in the landscape at Kiama and in the Melton Shire in Victoria, where a ‘Pride of Place Program’ grant of $180 000 enabled conservation of the cultural landscape patterns shaped by the area’s early settlers. Many historic buildings, temporarily unoccupied, have been developed for tourist accommodation such as lighthouse keeper’s quarters at Wilsons Promontory or the Pilot Station at Camden Haven.
Aboriginal tourism gives Indigenous people the chance to tell their story in their way, to share cultural insights, traditional practices and contemporary concerns with non-Indigenous Australians and international visitors. Indigenous communities view tourism as a means of both educating others about Indigenous culture, and creating employment and training opportunities at a local level. Despite these benefits, in New South Wales only 39 of 250 Aboriginal tour operations were Aboriginal-owned in 2001. Europe is the strongest market for Aboriginal tourism. While 35 per cent of German tourists made a trip to the outback, only five per cent of Japanese tourists made the same journey in 1999–2000. Significantly, 37 per cent of international visitors expressing ‘high’ or ‘medium’ interest in Aboriginal tourism left Australia without participating in an Aboriginal tourism experience (ABS 2004c).
Despite the conclusion in the 2001 State of Environment report (Lennon et al. 2001, p. 79)—that the monitoring of impacts was required to assess the condition of the iconic World Heritage places and surveys to evaluate whether visitors learnt about the heritage values of these places—neither has occurred. The diminishing resource of historical archaeology because of intensive urban redevelopment has been acknowledged in New South Wales, and there is, increasingly, encouragement for in situ retention and above-ground interpretation to mitigate this impact.
In 2004, 3.3 million Australian travellers on overnight trips took at least one activity related to history or heritage. An additional 1.9 million domestic travellers on day trips undertook at least one activity related to history or heritage, while about 27 per cent of international tourists visited heritage places with the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks, the Blue Mountains and the Great Barrier Reef in the top ten destinations (The Allen Consulting Group 2005, pp. 20–22).
Trends are as follows:
- There are still no agreed measures for condition of natural heritage places, despite many indicators of ecosystem health.
- Historic heritage places remain generally static without steady improvement in their condition; growth centres and coastal areas are experiencing pressures that impact on the integrity and condition of heritage places and surrounding landscapes through urban expansion, consolidation and redevelopment; rural decline can be expected to result in abandoned and deteriorated heritage places.
- The condition of Indigenous heritage places has improved as a result of increased involvement of Indigenous people in site management, but there are huge variations in resources, intergenerational involvement and the skills available.
- The condition of heritage objects and collections generally relates to storage condition, which are inadequate in many small museums and not environmentally controlled in places with climate extremes; conservation treatment of collections remains a high priority.