Jane L. Lennon
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Australia's heritage—the surrounding landscape layered with places and associated objects—tells the story of who we are, what we have done in Australia, and our relationship to the environment. We have shaped that landscape and it has shaped us and how we have lived, and formed our cultural identity. To Indigenous Australians, the environment itself is a cultural artefact, having been created by ancestral beings; Indigenous story and ceremony in ‘language', the Dreaming, maintains the country and a group's identity with that country. To other Australians, natural heritage places are landscapes of value.
Awareness of and attachment to this heritage motivate Australians to protect, conserve and celebrate it. Pressures on this heritage result from inadequate understanding, lack of legislation and protection programmes, lack of skills and resources, and developments that impinge on its integrity. Understanding these pressures enables Australians to respond with improved programmes for heritage conservation.
The 1996 State of Environment Report (SoE1996) outlined generic pressures on heritage places and objects, the state of these, and responses to conserve them. The 2001 report was a pioneering effort to test the 43 indicators that were devised in 1998 as a means of providing data about the condition of Australia's historic, Indigenous and natural heritage places and collections (Lennon et al. 2001). In this 2006 assessment, the range of heritage issues encompassed in the previous reports has been collapsed into 25 broader indicators that relate to knowledge, condition, response, skills and community awareness (see Appendix 1).
Data on which to base this report has been gathered in part by the Department of Environment and Heritage and provided through an online Data Reporting System. This commentary draws out the issues and responses, including in particular landscapes and regions. Other state of the environment themes relate to heritage; for example, there are links between Human settlements and heritage places, and Biodiversity is particularly relevant to natural heritage and landscapes, as Coasts and Oceans are for underwater heritage and marine reserves such as the Great Barrier Reef or Monkey Mia.