Dr Estelle Lazer
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Key issues are remoteness, extreme environment and a changing climate.
There is considerable variation in the condition of sites on the continent and on Heard and Macquarie Islands. Monitoring and regular maintenance are essential for the continued survival of standing structures, including standing ruins, such as the transit and absolute magnetic huts at the site associated with Mawson’s Huts. Many of the portable artefacts associated with these sites are slowly deteriorating and have only a limited lifespan. As it would be too costly to conserve the majority of these artefacts in situ and their significance would be compromised by removal, managed decay has been adopted as a strategy for moveable heritage at most sites. This management approach should be monitored to ensure that loss of cultural significance over time is minimised.
Deterioration rates can be seen as a reflection of environmental change. There is limited time to preserve and document sites in these regions because of increased risks associated with climate change and other factors. Management needs are therefore likely to increase.
Isolated sites should be visited regularly to complete documentation and ensure they are maintained and monitored. Given the changes to climate and the age of structures and other artefacts, acting on management plans should be seen to be a priority.
Management plans that have been produced for the Australian Antarctic Division address tourism management (Heard and Macquarie Island Management plans, Godden et al. 2001, pp. 122–3, 146–7) and some research has been undertaken in relation to Mawson’s Huts (Hayman et al. 1999, 49–77; Lazer et.al. 1998b). One result of the Mawson’s Huts study was that many visitors did not recognise the value of poorly preserved artefacts in scatters as a cultural resource (Hayman et al. 1999, 65–66, 68, 72). It can be difficult to monitor visitors without the presence of a government-appointed guide. Education can partly alleviate this problem and, to minimise the impact of tourists and to increase compliance for the protection this site, the Australian Antarctic Division produced a briefing video and pamphlet with guidelines for visitors to Mawson’s Huts (Mawson’s Huts Historic Site … 2004; AAD c.2004). Considerable protection is afforded by listing isolated sites so that permits are required for visitors, although without an appointed representative on the site, the impact of visits can be difficult to monitor. Because of the isolation of areas like Cape Denison and Heard Island, there is the potential for illegal visits.
The Antarctic Heritage Register enables the rates of deterioration of cultural heritage elements to be monitored so that effective conservation programmes can be developed. There is also provision in the Antarctic Heritage Register for flagging hazardous material, so that priority can be given to its management. Strategies are being developed to remove contaminants at historic sites, such as Atlas Cove and Wilkes, without compromising heritage values. Explosives found at historic sites, such as Mawson’s Huts, have been destroyed by experts (Hayman et al. 1999, p. 27).