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
Australia is a land of unique heritage value:
- it is the only developed country in the world whose biodiversity is defined as megadiverse,
- it is where for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the ancestral beings inscribed the law on the lands and waters as they created the landscape,
- it is the home of the first Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have owned and cared for the lands and waters for at least 60 000 years,
- it is where the first Australians have successfully accommodated major environmental and social changes into their unique ways of life,
- it has a rich and varied history of European settlement over the last 210 years,
- it has become the home of people from many countries around the world, with a consequent richness of tradition and cultural diversity, and
- it is the only nation whose territory includes a continent.
Wandjina figures (painting by Charlie Alyungurra, 1970, National Museum of Australia).
Wandjina are creative beings of the Dreaming. Unique to the Kimberley, WA, the Wandjina are the 'Bringers of the Rain'. They made their world and all that it contains, and set down the rules and rituals that govern human behaviour and living with the land.
Source: National Museum of Australia
Australian landscapes are the result of 80 million years of evolution of the land and its flora and fauna since the separation from Gondwana, of at least 60 000 years of Indigenous occupation, (Thorne et al. 1999) and 210 years of European and wider cultural interaction. As such, they are cultural landscapes that can only be managed and understood effectively if the interactions between cultural and natural components are recognised and valued.
'Sense of place' is not an attribute shared equally and identically by all Australians. It is an intensely personal response to the environment, both social and natural, which the individual experiences in daily life, and at a broader level it can be the individual's perception of the whole region, state or nation. In this context individuals might have more than one 'sense of place'. They might include, for example, the sense of place relating to the intensely urban environment in which they currently live; the emotional sense of place attached to where they spent their rural or urban childhood, and where their family has roots; the reactions they have to the natural areas in which they go bushwalking or see in documentaries; and the generalised perception they have of what sets their State apart from other States, and Australia apart from other countries. Equally, immigrants and their children might also have yet another sense of place that relates to their country of origin. Any community's sense of place can only be a combination of the common elements of each individual's cultural memory, experiences and perception, and it evolves as the life-experiences of those making up the community change.
'Sense of place' is a component of 'cultural identity', and some shared attributes such as religion and cultural practices can contribute to a shared sense of place as well as being part of the cultural identity. The range of cultural identities held by Australians is just as varied as the range of senses of place. One of the cherished self-conceptions of modern Australia is that it has managed to embrace many cultural identities in comparative harmony. If there is any single identifiable Australian cultural identity, it has to be a pluralist one which accepts that it is comprised of different communities which have a right to hold and celebrate their own cultural identities, while respecting others and contributing to a common, evolving, Australian identity. Yet a curious dichotomy exists: on the one hand there is this rhetoric of diversity, but on the other there is a monocultural approach in which this diversity is expected to be delivered through institutional structures that seem doomed to failure because they exclude a diverse cultural participation.
Heritage, on a continental scale, is an amalgam of all those places that are important in the sense of place of the cultural identities of Australia's diverse population. The perception of heritage has evolved as the society has evolved. The post-World War II efforts of the National Trusts concentrated at first on the cultural heritage of the dominant community - the British immigrants and their descendants - and through historic places and related objects, celebrated what was seen as the success of that culture in 'taming' Australia. Cultural heritage legislation was progressively introduced from the 1960s, and the concept of heritage broadened, recognising Indigenous place heritage, and reflecting the changing make-up of the Australian community and a maturing perception of what was significant to that community as a whole and to its constituent parts. From the 1980s the growing knowledge and recognition of Indigenous cultural heritage in the wider community contributed to the current movement for reconciliation.
Natural heritage was long considered separate from cultural heritage, and in fact still is by some State and Territory governments. National parks and nature reserves were official recognition of natural heritage, but in the 1960s communities started to identify with, and crusade for, other places with natural heritage values. The Register of the National Estate became one of the few avenues for the public recognition of natural heritage places not formally reserved by governments. Since the 1970s the recognition of the close association between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and natural heritage has grown steadily, and is now an accepted (though still at times contentious) part of the assessment and management of heritage places.
Australians have been increasingly aware of heritage following the very publicly debated establishment of the Commonwealth's Australian Heritage Commission in 1975. The Commission was charged with creating a Register of the National Estate from 'those places we want to keep'. This has not been a simple process. Some places such as Uluru - Kata Tjuta and Bondi Beach have iconic status, but choosing and listing others has not been so straightforward. The framework from which we derive our cultural identity is evolving. This is reflected in the places we list on statutory registers as part of the planning development process, in the commercial values we place on heritage properties, in membership of conservation organisations; in short, in these indicators of people's involvement with their heritage.
While it is not possible for non-Indigenous people to comprehend the meaning and nature of Indigenous heritage as Indigenous people do, a degree of increasing recognition of Indigenous heritage over the past decade by heritage practitioners has contributed to a rethinking of heritage issues generally, and has led a new understanding of heritage and landscape. This intellectual understanding is supported by significant official recognition, such as that incorporated in the High Court's Native Title determination (the Mabo judgment).
From the viewpoint of Indigenous people, the relationship between Indigenous and immigrant in Australia has been characterised by the absence of 'two-way' exchange from the start, despite the cherished notion of 'a fair go.' Not only was the land appropriated from the original inhabitants, but until the High Court's Mabo judgement there was no acknowledgement that a system of land ownership existed.
For Indigenous knowledge systems, similarly, the last quarter-century in Australia has seen the beginning of a painful process of righting some of these wrongs. One example that has animated some Indigenous people in this process is that of 'two-way' exchange - first articulated by a Gurindji man regarding 'two-way education' in the 1970s, and now elaborated further among the Yolngu (Aboriginal people of north-east Arnhem Land) in the 1980s and 1990s (McConvell, 2000). Known first as 'two-ways' or 'both-ways', as it developed, Yolngu people began to use different words from their own language to give it more substance - ganma and garma.
Both of these ideas are based on metaphors of place and space, and the first is also a water metaphor, as water is often taken to represent knowledge in Yolngu philosophy. Ganma is defined and described by Raymattja Marika (1999, p. 112) as follows:
'an area within the mangroves where the saltwater (non-Aboriginal knowledge) coming in from the sea meets the stream of fresh water (Yolngu knowledge). The water circulates silently underneath and there are lines of foam circulating across the surface'.
Figure 1: Ganma 'both ways' exchange.
The metaphor here is that while the knowledge from different cultures gradually mix in the ganma, each system is preserved (as the sea and the fresh water remain distinct) and respected.
Garma is defined and described as follows:
'an open ceremonial area that everyone can participate in and enjoy...Garma also means an open forum where people can share ideas and everyone can work hard to reach agreement' (Marika, 1999, p.114)
In its application to the intercultural interface, garma means a set of opportunities to build protocols for culture and knowledge exchange in an open and equal way between groups. This sharing of the meanings and interpretation of different fields of heritage exhibited in Australian places is one of the key requirements for a more sustainable and holistic conservation practice. This principle of garma could have currency for all of the diversity of Australia and could be incorporated into all facets of administration and government.
Garma is also the name given to an annual intercultural festival. Garma has become perhaps the key concept in recent years - and that is the reason why it is the title of the latest album of the band Yothu Yindi, whose leader Mandawuy Yunupingu has been a major proponent of two-way education.
The challenge for State of the Environment natural and cultural heritage reporting is to identify and assess key aspects of this complex and evolving heritage that best reflect the current condition of heritage, and to identify any trends in the pressures affecting heritage and the nature of responses to them, including reconciling the different cultures and attitudes concerned with conservation of heritage places and their associated collections.