9 Heritage | 5 Resilience of Australia's heritage
State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
At a glance
Australia's heritage is a highly valued but fragile resource that is susceptible to changes brought about by external shocks. The resilience of Australia's heritage can be considered in relation to both individual heritage places and the total heritage resource. The ability of individual places or wider resources to withstand shocks depends on the nature of specific heritage values and their tolerance to change. Although management actions, including regular maintenance, can remove or reduce threats to the value of individual places, the resilience of the overall heritage system is directly related to what is known, what has been identified as heritage and what is protected through the reserved lands system or individual heritage lists and registers.
The current resilience of Australia's heritage cannot be readily assessed based on available information. However, there are opportunities to improve the resilience of Australia's heritage through better data gathering, specific risk-preparedness and disaster planning, and engagement of communities so that they are ready to respond.
Resilience is defined in this report as:
… the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, integrity, and feedbacks. Walker et al.,107 p. 1
In the case of heritage, attributes such as function, structure and integrity are fundamental to the identified values of the place that give rise to its designation as a heritage item. Therefore, with respect to heritage, resilience may be understood as the ability to experience shocks while retaining heritage values.
Resilience is partly an aspect of the nature of the place itself, partly an aspect of the nature of its value, and partly a function of the manner in which it is managed. For example, the resilience of a large natural landscape will be vastly different from the resilience of a small archaeological deposit. In addition, physical change will affect heritage values in some places, while intangible qualities such as use or beliefs are more important in other places. Loss of knowledge may therefore have a greater adverse effect on heritage values than changes to the physical aspects of a place. The resilience of Australian heritage, while influenced by drivers such as climate change, population growth and economic development, is also strongly affected by governance arrangements, resources and community attitudes.
Heritage resilience may be considered and managed at different levels. For example, individual heritage places may be very susceptible to shocks such as fire, flood, demolition or loss of traditional knowledge, but the total natural or cultural resource base may be sufficiently robust to withstand the loss of individual places without substantive overall loss of value.