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
Current condition of heritage places and objects and pressures affecting them (continued)
Population migration has become a political issue in Australia. The perception of decreasing rural populations and increasing urban ones is seen as linked to a number of social and economic issues, and it has been a theme picked up by some in relation to heritage places.
Changes in the number of people living in an area can impose pressures on heritage places. A loss of population can affect the community and in turn affect the social significance of places, and it can also limit the capacity of the local economy to sustain the conservation of heritage places. The loss of population can leave heritage buildings and sites abandoned in some towns and rural areas. Conversely, the increase in population can put pressure on heritage places through the need to expand or intensify areas of housing accommodation and associated support infrastructure, and can lead to changes in local industries, making some redundant and stimulating the modernisation of others. Further, the composition of the population through immigration will lead to different perceptions of heritage values in places.
A close look at the statistics can help focus the discussion on heritage impacts. For the last 50 years Australia has experienced a steady growth of its cities and a related depopulation of its rural areas. At the 1954 Census, 54% of the population lived in metropolitan areas, and another 25% in other urban locations (towns of over 1000 people). Only 21% lived in rural areas (in settlements with fewer than 1000 people, or on properties). By 1981 the proportion in rural areas had dropped to 14.2%, but grew slightly to 14.7% in 1986 (the actual rural population had grown from nearly 1.9 million in 1954 to just over 2.5 million in 1986). Decline then set in again, the rural proportion dropping to 10.9% in 1996, a decline of over half a million people from 1986. The pattern of proportional decline is shown in Table 18.
|Census year||Rural population||Urban population (capital city and other)||Rural population as a percentage of total|
|1921||2 027 859||3 378 119||37.5|
|1933||2 381 017||4 232 118||36.0|
|1947||2 354 248||5 206 507||31.1|
|1954||1 887 892||7 075 269||21.1|
|1961||1 872 180||8 610 720||17.9|
|1966||1 920 003||9 610 772||16.7|
|1971||1 826 301||10 912 114||14.3|
|1976||1 882 381||11 650 470||13.9|
|1981||2 068 956||12 494 407||14.2|
|1986||2 540 753||14 743 283||14.7|
|1996||1 995 951||16 315 535||10.9|
Source: ABS (1998).
Despite the declining proportion of rural dwellers, the overall rural population is still greater than it was in the period from early 1950s to the late 1970s, and the effects of population changes are likely to have more to do with overall population than with proportional representation. It should also be noted that the 'rural' proportion does not include the country towns of over 1000 people within rural areas.
In the decade 1986 to 1996, the number of towns with between 1000 and 19 999 people increased by 100 (from 578 to 678), but the distribution of towns gaining or losing population indicates that this increase was not uniform across the nation. About one-third of the towns of this size in 1986 sustained losses by 1996, with 10% of them losing 10% or more of their population. These towns were mainly in the inland wheat-sheep belts, dryland grazing regions and mining regions. At the same time, 47% of the 1986 towns of this size grew by at least 10%, most being coastal, located around metropolitan capital cities, or associated with the growth of particular industries, such as wine-growing, tourism or mining (ABS 1998).
Earlier in this section it was noted that the reporting of losses of heritage places from the government heritage registers does not indicate losses relating to depopulation or urban-fringe growth. It may be that local government inventories may better reflect the impacts of population change on heritage places, but most of this information is not readily accessible for analysis.
Observational information does suggest an adverse impact of rural depopulation and urban fringe growth. In 1996 an initial survey of seven homestead complexes in the district of Inverell in north-western New South Wales found that one-third had become redundant. Some had been abandoned, as property amalgamations were forced by the realities of contemporary pastoral and agricultural production (Burke 1996). In the absence of a larger sample of rural Australia, it is not possible to say that this observed redundancy rate is applicable more widely. It could be argued that a major cause of the observed pattern in Inverell may have been due to changes in the economics of agriculture, leading to farm amalgamation, independently of population change. Similar studies have not been done in the dryland pastoral and mining areas, but the Inverell study would suggest that a problem may well exist there also.
In outback towns in Western Australia, buildings that are abandoned when their owners move elsewhere revert to local Shire Council ownership for non-payment of rates. In many cases the Shires systematically demolish the buildings rather than spend money on maintenance, regardless of the heritage significance, as happened in the historic gold mining town of Cue (Burke 2000, pp. 8-9).
The pressure on historic heritage places caused by population increases in former rural areas surrounding capital cities is, again, suggested more by observation than by quantitative studies. The perceived threat to the often as yet unassessed cultural landscapes within a day's drive of metropolitan centres, for example, has been an issue in a number of areas.
The following are examples of how metropolitan fringe growth can affect heritage places:
- In the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, within commuting distance of Sydney, urban development has expanded dramatically in the last decade. One of the attractions of this district is as a modern-day 'hill station', where varied natural vegetation, rolling topography, former grazing and agricultural land, and created gardens contributing to a highly attractive landscape. The urban expansion is seen by many as putting the quality of the district (which includes areas and places of heritage value) at risk.
- Two large Commonwealth-owned defence areas to the west of Sydney (Holsworthy Military Training Area and St Mary's munitions factory) contain rare examples of Sydney Hawkesbury and Cumberland Plain vegetation and Indigenous sites. Both categories of heritage are significantly endangered because of the expansion of urban development in this area. These last large remaining areas of natural vegetation and Indigenous sites were proposed respectively as sites for an airport and a housing development. (See Cubbitch Barta National Estate Area)
An intensification of residential density has occurred in some inner-urban areas, accompanied by the conversion of land and buildings originally used for other purposes into residential property. This can be a two-edged sword. The increasing trend towards dual-occupancy of residential blocks in 'garden-city' suburbs in a number of cities is threatening to obscure or destroy the spatial and aesthetic characteristics that give some of these suburbs heritage value. The conversion of industrial and warehouse buildings into apartments has guaranteed their survival as prominent buildings in the townscape, but often this is at the cost of the interiors that contained the evidence of their original use, and at least part of their heritage significance.
Bond Store Group, Newcastle, NSW.
Built in 1880s, the bond stores have been converted to office use. The external appearance has been retained, but the interior adapted to smaller office spaces.
Source: Mike Pearson (2000)
Compared to the total Australian population, Indigenous people are more likely to live in rural and remote areas and less likely to live in major urban centres. The 1996 Census (ABS 1996a) showed an increase in the population of Indigenous people from 1991 of 33% to almost 353 000, which is twice what can be explained by demographic reasons. Ross (1999) says the increase is due to fluidity in identity, with a mixed population having the possibility of drawing on its ancestry to identify as Indigenous and choosing to do so more in the last Census than in the preceding one. According to the Census it appears that, by 1996, 60% of Indigenous people lived in urban areas (i.e. in cities and towns with more than 10 000 people), and 40% lived in smaller towns, on rural properties, or in remote settlements (see Table 5 in the Human Settlements Theme Report).
A high level of population mobility exists between Indigenous settlements in many regions of Australia. An analysis of Indigenous migration data from the 1981 and 1986 Censuses (Gray 1989) showed that 'at both inter-state level and country-to-city level, any Aboriginal migration flows in one direction tend to be almost cancelled out by a flow of similar size in the opposite direction', a finding subsequently supported through inter-regional migration analysis (Taylor and Bell 1996).
The impact of these trends for heritage places is not entirely clear. It has been suggested that the population movement away from country, and language loss, may make it harder for Indigenous people to care for their country and sites, with a consequent diminution of the heritage value of the places and of the likelihood of their values being retained by the next generation. But Indigenous people strongly maintain that loss of language and removal from traditional country does not necessarily result in loss of knowledge about heritage places. They have many other mechanisms for maintaining attachment to place, such as visiting family still living in the area, telling stories and meeting relatives at festivals and gatherings. Most Indigenous people who are physically separated from land still remain spiritually connected and knowing of that land. In addition, Indigenous persons will normally be found who have taken to caring for the heritage values of 'orphan country' or adopted country. Nonetheless, many Indigenous people apply for funding or mount land rights cases so they can return to country, to more effectively care for sites and to revive language in order to keep their knowledge strong. This indicates that for Indigenous people continued presence on their land and keeping or reviving language is seen as being of great importance in keeping their culture strong.
- There is evidence that population change is having an impact on heritage places but this impact is not being adequately monitored and reported. In rural towns and properties where population is declining, there is anecdotal evidence of damage to heritage places through either abandonment or administrative action in some areas.
- 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 and natural landscape. Again, this pressure is inadequately monitored and reported.