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
Key findings regarding heritage places and objects as part of State of Environment reporting 1995-2000
There is a vast amount of information gathered by State, Territory and Commonwealth Government agencies that would be relevant to State of the Environment reporting if it were better maintained and coordinated. However, in the case of the Commonwealth, the funding of data gathering and maintenance, the monitoring of outcomes, and State of the Environment reporting, do not appear to be wholeheartedly supported. This means that the data that is collected (often at some expense) is often not accessible, analysed, or kept up-to-date. A process of ongoing data collection for key indicators is necessary for cost-effective and transparent State of the Environment reporting.
There was a 16% increase in the number of places registered in the Register of the National Estate over the five-year period 1995-2000. This is a similar increase to that in the previous period, so that the growth of the Register of the National Estate can be interpreted as being relatively steady over the last decade. However, the rate of additions varied between the three heritage fields. Historic place additions to the Register of the National Estate remained comparable at approximately 16%, while natural place registration increased by 2% to 21%, and the Indigenous places rate of registration declined by 7.5% to 7%.
- In the reporting period, the number of natural places in the Register of the National Estate increased by 21% to total 2313 places, and there was also a significant increase in the number of smaller places listed, 69% being under 1000 ha.
- Three new World Heritage properties were listed for their outstanding universal values which met the World Heritage Convention's natural criteria - Heard and McDonald Islands; Macquarie Island; and The Greater Blue Mountains Area, NSW.
- The National Reserve System Program committed $85 million to a series of cooperative programs aimed at developing the National Reserve System, and in part the areas identified and purchased for reservation in high priority IBRA regions can be assumed to have heritage values, especially those in IUCN categories I and III.
- Data about Natural Heritage Trust funding of the identification of local natural heritage places and their conservation is not being collected in such a way as to provide information about the distribution and condition of the natural heritage.
- Not all Indigenous people wish to have knowledge of their cultural heritage widely disseminated or recorded in government registers, and this is particularly important in the case of sacred sites and sites such as burial sites. In many cases knowledge of cultural heritage may be culturally restricted to a few people, and maintaining these restrictions is part of the process of conserving heritage value.
- During the reporting period the Australian Heritage Commission established a policy of consulting with Indigenous peoples that ensures their involvement in, and informed consent to, the listing of sites. This has led to a 7% increase in the number of Indigenous places added to the Register of the National Estate. This is half the rate of listings from previous periods, but it reflects the new policy for consultation.
- The health of heritage is also measured by the demonstrated concern which the community has for heritage, which is not always expressed through registers. In fact this growing concern by communities to look after their own heritage could make centralised registers less relevant and less necessary as enforcement tools, although they will continue to have other uses. (This comment applies to all types of heritage, not just Indigenous heritage.)
- There was a 28% increase in places listed across all government registers, but the amount of double counting (resulting from the addition of Register of the National Estate listings to new registers) has not been assessed and is likely to be substantial.
- There was a 16% increase in the number of historic heritage places listed in the Register of the National Estate totalling 9875 places during the reporting period. However, the number of places in local government heritage lists (at least 37 000 places by 2000) now considerably exceeds the Register of the National Estate and may provide a basis for future State of the Environment reporting.
- The knowledge gap that exists in the heritage registers means that the nature and extent of historic heritage places across much of non-urban Australia away from the eastern and south-western coastal fringe is not identified. The coverage of heritage surveys in Australia has not been analysed to reveal gaps in spatial distribution by thematic types. A 'cultural landscapes' approach, on a catchment basis, to the listing process or planning systems might fill these gaps.
- The recognition of heritage landscapes by the heritage profession over the last decade is not reflected in community understanding or government administration, which largely continue to separate heritage into Indigenous, historic and natural components. There is a growing understanding that every part of life is part of a larger system, and each component interacts and changes accordingly. The only practical way to protect those linkages is by identifying significant landscapes, be they natural or cultural, rural or urban. The approach of listing individual places versus recognising those places in their broader context is yet to be widely advanced as an alternative approach. The closest approach has been the Regional Forest Agreement process and some regional assessments, such as those for the Murray Mallee and the Paroo catchment. The proposed National List approach may address this methodology in its selection of places of national significance.
- As Australians we value our diversity, but no up-to-date analysis exists of the diversity of cultural heritage represented on heritage registers and the adequacy of surveys of the heritage of various cultures or thematic studies. Heritage organisations tend to be dominated by the dominant cultural group rather than representing all cultural interests. The Australian Heritage Commission released Migrant Heritage Places in Australia - How to Find Your Heritage Places - a draft guide in 1995 and, based on experience in using it, published a final guide in 2000. The identification of more places of significance to contemporary migrants, like the Bonegilla migrant reception centre, as distinct from places associated with 19th century migrants, could be reported on in the future.
- The absence of any World Heritage historic environment nomination is a noticeable gap in the representation of Australia's heritage places of outstanding universal significance.
- The proportion of collections catalogued across all heritage sectors appears to be expanding, but small and large museums generally have documentation systems that are idiosyncratic and inadequate to meet current demands of scholarly and public access.
- Only 42% of small museums surveyed have 90% or more of their collections catalogued.
- There is no coherent, agreed, national definition or shared view of what might constitute cultural heritage or cultural heritage collections as they relate to State of the Environment reporting. Neither are there agreed national approaches to the management of collections across the major organisations with responsibilities in this area, despite the release of The National Conservation and Preservation Policy and Strategy for Australia's Heritage Collections.
- 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. The link between archival storage, accessibility of records and heritage places needs to be examined further and a method found to ensure those records are not lost.
- Although intangible heritage, like Indigenous languages, is often marginalised in heritage place/environment administration, it is worth noting that other kinds of intangible heritage (like stories, song and dance) are often conceptualised as central to the 'arts' arena. This traditional administrative demarcation merits careful reconsideration in heritage identification and conservation practice, and in the design of heritage conservation funding programs that integrate 'arts' and environment issues.
Despite various attempts, suitable data that could be extrapolated at the national scale could not be found for assessing condition of natural heritage places. A continuing very high rate of land clearance suggests that at least some aspects of natural heritage are under threat.
- There are no reliable data on condition of Indigenous places that can be extrapolated at the national scale. The systems of Indigenous place protection used in many jurisdictions are inadequate, or the reporting methods used are such that adequacy cannot be monitored. The low number of known or recorded/listed Indigenous heritage sites that have been destroyed in 1999-2000 reflects the reporting procedures rather than being an indicator of rate of loss and hence the threatened condition of such places.
- Information received from Indigenous organisations suggests that government and commercial interests' lack of respect for protocols established by Indigenous organisations leads to the destruction of sites on a daily basis.
- The mechanisms to ensure the involvement of Indigenous communities in decision making and protection of Indigenous places appear to fail in a number of situations, and might be improved with better integration of such mechanisms into updated legislation.
- The Commonwealth Government has yet to pass legislation based on the recommendations of the Evatt Report. As a consequence, there remains a lack of minimum national standards for Indigenous heritage legislation.
- With the exception of Indigenous sites of recent origin which relate to the contact period, Indigenous heritage places can only be conserved effectively in situ and as part of the natural environment of which they are an integral component. As a general rule, the best levels of conservation of the sites will be found in the least disturbed areas. There is therefore a close correlation between the nature conservation status of land and the condition of Indigenous heritage places.
- There is still no ongoing national program to monitor the physical condition of heritage places. However, the overall condition of Australia's historic heritage places, judged by surveying 12% of the Register of the National Estate listed places, is fair to good (95% of places being in fair condition or better).
- Nearly 6% of historic heritage buildings surveyed were not occupied, and many are deteriorating as a result. This includes a small but significant number of former government buildings such as post offices and railway stations.
- There is no appreciable difference in the condition of heritage buildings in private and public ownership, but publicly owned buildings have a significantly higher level of integrity than those in private ownership. The implication of this is that governments should take considerable care to ensure that there is ongoing conservation of their own buildings, and that adequate protection is guaranteed for disposed property. That vacant government buildings continue to deteriorate emphasises the need for governments to take more seriously their duty of care for the community's heritage that they control. The recommendations of the Committee of Review - Commonwealth Owned Heritage Property regarding this issue should be adopted by the Commonwealth Government. Incentives for maintaining the integrity of heritage values of buildings in private ownership are needed.
- While churches are in generally fair to good condition, the cost of maintaining them will pose major conservation funding problems over the next decade.
- The low but steady rate of damage done to heritage buildings by inappropriate work (such as the 'modernising' of shop fronts and interiors, insertion of windows, and additions on residential buildings, and the painting of masonry) is a continuing concern. An implication may be the need for an expanded program of targeted information, perhaps linked to local government information packages to owners and an increase in the number of heritage advisors as part of the local government planning system.
- Environmental conditions in the major collecting organisations appear to be reasonable in all sectors. Storage capacity is an issue highlighted by many organisations, however, and appears to be a priority issue for national attention.
- Conservation and preservation programs are driven by a wide range of organisational needs, and there appear to be limited resources available for the systematic treatment of collections.
- Although the rural proportion of Australia's population declined by 10% (over half a million people) in the decade from 1986 to 1996, the small town populations varied. Losses were mainly in the inland wheat-sheep belts, dryland grazing regions and mining regions, while towns that grew were mostly coastal, located around metropolitan capital cities, or associated with the growth of particular industries such as wine-growing, tourism or mining.
- In rural towns and properties where population is declining, there is evidence of damage to heritage places through abandonment, and through administrative action in some areas. This pressure is inadequately monitored and reported.
- In urban areas and urban fringe areas, where population is increasing, there is evidence of pressure on cultural landscapes generally, and on specific elements in the former rural landscape. This pressure is inadequately monitored and reported.
- There are no statistical data on the impact of technological change and economic restructuring affecting heritage places, but much evidence. The major areas affected include:
- loss of values through inappropriate redevelopment of historic heritage places,
- threats in regional town growth on historic streetscapes and buildings, open spaces and layouts,
- rural property restructuring, and
- redundant structures due to technological change in operations previously carried out in wharves, grain handling, postal and communication services, and banking.
- Many of the pressures identified above cannot be reversed, so the challenge is to lessen their potential impact on heritage places. 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.
- Impacts on heritage places might be avoided or ameliorated if there was adequate knowledge, as it is not recognised that the places involved are of heritage importance. Other places are damaged or destroyed because the government planning and decision-making processes, both state/territory and local, are not sensitive enough to the actual impact of such changes or development proposals. There seems to be too little will to find conservation solutions, and too few alternative response-models available for the decision makers to draw upon.
- There is an ongoing issue of heritage assessments being left to the end of the development process rather than being incorporated into the initial survey of an area prior to designing the development. Heritage could be incorporated into the development design at the earliest stages, but it usually becomes an impediment if it is not identified early enough. This is the cause of much of the negative reaction to heritage places, and the planning systems need to be changed to address it.
- A limited heritage understanding in some development approval processes, and limited heritage understanding by developers and their design architects, is having a negative effect on the heritage values of places.
- There are no statistical data currently available that can be analysed at the continental scale for assessing the impacts of tourism on the condition of heritage places, and no conclusive trends can be determined. However, there is evidence of effects.
- Tourism is one of Australia's main income producing industries, and visits to World Heritage properties are key activities. Insufficient effort is made by land management and heritage authorities to gather and analyse information about the negative (and positive) effects of tourism, and about the nature and effect of tourism-stimulated remediation and protective works and visitor facilities development.
Although the current Natural Heritage Trust program is a significant and substantial contribution towards improving the adequacy and representativeness of the reserve system, it does not provide sufficient funding to carry through that objective to the target percentage of reserved environmental types. This responsibility is shared by the States and Territories and the Commonwealth, but as yet there has not been a commensurate funding commitment from the States. A proactive and systematic targeting of IBRA regions where there are high threats (such as land clearing and intensive agricultural development) is required. The declaration of protected area reservations arising from RFAs and other regional assessments needs to be followed through. A number of initiatives at Commonwealth and State/Territory levels are attempting to address the issue of 'proactive and systematic targeting of IBRA regions where there are high threats'; for example, NSW NPWS regional assessments under Biodiversity Strategy, National Reserve System program, Western Reserves 2006 Program, and the Commonwealth National Biodiversity Audit.
Twelve Indigenous Protected Areas had been declared by the end of 2000 over Indigenous land, covering almost 2.6 million hectares and adding significantly to the National Reserve System.
It proved difficult to differentiate between funding for site works and research, and for other aspects of Indigenous heritage relating to the needs of Indigenous communities. The adequacy of government protection for identified Indigenous heritage places is unknown, although all States and Territories have legislation.
Protection for historic heritage places is generally through the use of heritage legislation provisions affecting protection of values or planning provisions for freehold properties and through lease/use arrangements for publicly owned places.
It is difficult, given the different and often non-specific reporting formats for government funding, to consistently separate the funds provided specifically for maintaining heritage values from the broader funding that is provided for operating heritage and land-management agencies.
In contrast to the Natural Heritage Trust's assistance for natural heritage places, there are currently no national strategies or long-term national funding programs of similar magnitude specifically for Indigenous or historic heritage places
The Natural Heritage Trust has been the major funding initiative in the natural environmental field during the review period. The Natural Heritage Trust is a six-year program, beginning in 1996 and utilising $1.5 billion, with a focus on five key environmental themes: land, vegetation, rivers, coasts and marine, and biodiversity. However it is impossible to categorise the proportion spent on listed natural heritage places in comparison to general environmental protection.
The National Reserve System Program committed $85 million in a series of cooperative programs aimed at developing the National Reserve System.
Environment Australia funding of about $27 million annually for World Heritage property management and protection has been for significantly increased funding for most properties, but with a substantial drop in funding for the Wet Tropics (from over $6m to less than $4m).
Although these data are incomplete, they suggest that there was a substantial drop in funding for Indigenous heritage research in the financial year 1996-97. In the financial year 1999-2000 there was a major increase in funding but this does not necessarily mark a percentage increase in real terms for the five-year reporting period.
While there has been some funding for community-directed research in order to establish land rights and Native Title claims, this funding was very low in comparison with other heritage categories, especially Natural Heritage Trust funding for natural heritage places. These findings show that the biggest and most extensive category of our heritage sites is the most neglected in terms of financial resources for their preservation and protection.
During the reporting period 1995-2000, the Commonwealth provided over $132 million for programs which in whole or part were aimed at historic heritage place conservation (although some programs, such as the National Estate Grants Program, also included natural and Indigenous heritage funding).
By far the largest of these funding programs, the Centenary of Federation Fund (74% of the total expenditure), was a one-off budget allocation, and only a proportion of the funding was for direct heritage conservation (as it included substantial funding for infrastructure and public presentation development).
Funding programs in the States and Territories varied considerably in their size, and totalled $147 million during the reporting period.
Government rationalisation programs are having a significant impact on heritage conservation: railways, hospitals, education facilities, fire stations, health centres, and other identified and potential heritage places throughout Australia. This is reflected in the following actions:
- changes in government infrastructure, such as railway closures, privatisation of assets,
- Commonwealth property disposals at an unrecorded rate, and
- changes in government organisation through downsizing and contracting out of services.
Practising material conservators are few, although membership of their organisation AICCM numbers about 500 people, and about 350 heritage practitioners are members of Australia ICOMOS. The latter number includes conservation architects, historians, archaeologists, town planners and conservation administrators.
The proliferation of tertiary training courses in cultural heritage management (as distinct from conservation of cultural materials, for which there has been only one new course in the last 20 years) has been a feature of the reporting period. However, there is still a need for site management training, but often not to tertiary level in all subjects.
Community attitude surveys illustrate a continuing concern for environmental issues, as well as the broadening of the concept of heritage to include local places in addition to international icons like Kakadu. They also illustrate the increasing concern of young people about broad environmental issues.
Competitions conducted by the Australian Heritage Commission illustrate how many Australians are quite passionate about all types of heritage and places.
Membership of peak heritage organisations shows that while there has been a 50% increase in the numbers in one national natural heritage advocacy body, a host of community organisations and pressure groups aimed at protection of particular places or classes of place have emerged. Groups in the capital cities such as the Save Our Suburbs groups are resisting urban redevelopment pressures from altering the existing heritage values of their areas. The numbers and attitudes of these groups need to be captured during the next state of the environment reporting period. Partnerships between community and government need to be strengthened to bring about adequate conservation outcomes.
Major public events, cultural activities especially popular Indigenous songs, dance and art, and media coverage, are contributing to an increasing public awareness of Indigenous culture and heritage.
There has been an increase in use of Indigenous languages in place names and associated signage, in popular music, and on the Internet in the last 10 years. This is not necessarily always with the agreement of Indigenous people, or to their benefit. In fact in the recent period Indigenous people have increasingly contested the right of others to appropriate their cultural and intellectual property.
The issue of promotion of Indigenous cultural heritage awareness through the provision of cultural heritage facilities is heavily dependent upon the funding which an organisation or community has available to undertake the work to create the facility. ATSIC funded 25 such facilities during the reporting period.
There is significant work being carried out by people working on Indigenous languages, including in particular in recent years Indigenous researchers on Indigenous knowledge systems related to heritage and the environment.
Indigenous people have highlighted concerns about the perception that Australian society undervalues Indigenous cultural heritage, and how poorly Indigenous people regard the level of attention the government is giving to Indigenous site management and heritage funding.
From a State of the Environment reporting perspective, there is still insufficient reliable quantitative information with continental coverage to make clear statements about the scale of change over time, but the incomplete information that is available does suggest:
- Increasing numbers of Indigenous people live in urban areas thus risk losing their regular physical connection to their country.
- The number of heritage places and landscapes Indigenous people own and manage continue to increase above the 15.1% level which they held in 1996. The 1996 figure was an increase from 9.6% in 1983.
- The numbers of Indigenous people employed by government agencies who are using their knowledge of their cultural heritage stood at more than 293 in 1999-2000.
- There were increased efforts for the repatriation of Indigenous materials by Australian museums within the reporting period, especially for human remains and secret, sacred objects.
Information provided by Indigenous organisations suggests that:
- The ideal way for Indigenous communities to maintain control over their heritage is to have ownership of their lands.
- The distribution and availability of tangible resources for cultural heritage varies greatly across the nation.
- Protocols for working with Indigenous cultural heritage are not always observed by outside instrumentalities, including government departments. This suggests that the strategy of developing protocols, as an assurance that Indigenous cultural heritage will be protected in culturally appropriate ways, is not necessarily an adequate response to the pressures confronting maintenance of Indigenous cultural heritage.
- One way in which Indigenous communities can reassert some control over their cultural heritage is through gaining possession of cultural heritage materials, including human remains and Indigenous artefacts, that are held by museums. The return of these items to a community can enhance the young people's knowledge of their culture.
- Not all Indigenous communities wish to have cultural heritage knowledge widely disseminated, particularly in the cases of sacred and burial sites. In many cases knowledge of cultural heritage may be culturally restricted to a few people. Some communities do not tell government agencies when they find sites because they are concerned about how the information will be used. One of the central issues is security of information, and in these cases an Indigenous organisation, or respected individuals, may be entrusted with the information for safe-keeping.
- Some communities do see increasing academic knowledge of their cultural heritage as crucial to their survival. These communities may use the knowledge acquired from academic studies in 'connection reports' for Native Title claims and other processes entered into for gaining control over land. The information may also be used in the education of the young and in order to increase non-Indigenous Australia's cultural awareness. In addition, it may be used in heritage tours or guided walks for tourists. In all these cases, encouraging academic involvement in research is a tool used by a community to strengthen the presentation of its identity, usually to the outside world.
- Funding for Indigenous heritage projects is an issue. Many Indigenous organisations run these facilities with limited resources and under very difficult circumstances. While initial funding may be available for the establishment of facilities, there is rarely any reliable funding available for the long-term maintenance of these projects. They often rely on voluntary labour for their survival. This means that if a volunteer is sick, moves or dies, the whole project may no longer be viable.
Positive steps have been taken in the last decade to recognise Indigenous languages and give them a place in our society instead of destroying them, as has happened all too often in our history. Yet the pressures working against the languages at the beginning of the 21st century remain as strong as ever, presenting a bleak picture of language endangerment which could all too easily lead to the loss of all Indigenous languages in this century.
The number of Indigenous languages and the percentage of people speaking these languages has continued to fall in the period 1986-1996, and the trend has accelerated over the 10 years. Language revival has had an appreciable effect on increasing the number of people identifying as speakers of an Indigenous language in at least one region around Adelaide.
Under-counting of Indigenous people in the 1996 Census, together with an 8% greater number of respondents saying they know an Indigenous language than saying they speak it at home, suggests that there may actually be in the order of 55 000 speakers of Indigenous languages in Australia.
Of the 20 languages categorised in 1991 as 'strong,' three should now be regarded as 'endangered'.
The decline in numbers of speakers of Indigenous languages is also spread across the urban/rural divide.
In some regions there has been a decrease in speaker numbers in the 30-39 age group, but more people under 30 are now identifying as speakers, possibly heralding a revitalisation of languages. There is a trend in most Indigenous languages for knowledge of language to be inversely proportional to age; that is, the younger people are, the less likely they are to speak an Indigenous language. This is considered to be a symptom of language shift, and of the language being endangered.
There has been an increase in the amount of recording and documentation of Indigenous languages in the past ten years and 141 of the 764 named Indigenous languages have wordlists or dictionaries.
Particularly significant and productive has been the establishment of Regional Aboriginal Language Centres and language management committees under Indigenous control from the mid-1980s onwards; there are few parallels to this development elsewhere in the world.
There have been significant new initiatives developing curriculum and programs related to Indigenous languages in the last ten years for primary and high schools. Major new networks of Indigenous language programs have been set up in South Australia and Western Australia, although the reversion from Bilingual to English-only education in the Anangu lands in South Australia in the 1980s must be weighed on the other side of the balance. There is some evidence of a tailing off of support for Indigenous languages in other parts of Australia in the late 1990s. Particularly detrimental has been the dismantling of the Bilingual Education programs in Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory, where Indigenous people make up 29% of the population.