Thematic findings: Natural and cultural heritage

ndependentReportto the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
CSIRO Publishing on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06745 0

Thematic findings (continued)

Natural and cultural heritage

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Heritage defines our sense of place. Heritage places and objects provide cultural and physical links with the past, with the history of human habitation, and with the evolution of plants, animals and the physical landscape. Heritage helps define our identity, providing a context in which we find meaning and definition about who we are and who we might be. Heritage helps us express our values and aspirations about the world.

Baltzar Lookout, Grose Valley in the new Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, NSW

Baltzar Lookout, Grose Valley in the new Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, NSW.

Source: Andrew Morison, A.J. Morison & Associates Pty Ltd.

Australia is a land of unique heritage value. It is the home of the first Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) peoples, who have owned and cared for the lands and waters for at least 60 000 years. It is where the first Australians have accommodated major environmental and social changes into their unique ways of life.

The Wandjina figures - as depicted in this 1970 painting by Charlie Alyungurra - are creative beings of the Dreaming

The Wandjina figures - as depicted in this 1970 painting by Charlie Alyungurra - are creative beings of the Dreaming. Unique to the Kimberley Region WA, the Wandjina 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.

Australia has a rich and varied history of European settlement since 1788; and has more recently become the home of people from many countries with a consequent richness of tradition and cultural diversity. As an island continent, we can consider our heritage in an holistic way as the natural and cultural boundaries are clear and unambiguous, not like that of Canada or South Africa.

In considering the condition of our natural and cultural heritage, there are 11 key issues:

  • identification of heritage places
  • conservation and management of heritage places
  • Indigenous involvement in heritage protection and management
  • Indigenous languages
  • funding for heritage
  • legislation and strategies
  • data availability
  • heritage objects
  • role of professionals and volunteers in heritage
  • effect of tourism on heritage
  • threats to the sustainability of natural and cultural heritage.

A summary is presented in Key findings at the start of this report.

Springtime view of Big Ben, Australia's only active volcano, on Heard Island - one of Australia's new World Heritage properties

Springtime view of Big Ben, Australia's only active volcano, on Heard Island - one of Australia's new World Heritage properties.

Source: K Green, Australian Antarctic Division (2804D6).

Key issues

  • Identification of heritage places
  • Conservation and management of heritage places
  • Indigenous involvement in heritage protection and management
  • Indigenous languages
  • Funding for heritage
  • Legislation and strategies
  • Data availability
  • Heritage objects
  • Role of professionals and volunteers in heritage
  • Effect of tourism on heritage
  • Threats to the sustainability of cultural and natural heritage
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    Identification of heritage places

    With the addition of Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island and The Greater Blue Mountains Area, the number of Australian World Heritage properties increased from 11 to 14 (Figure 33).

    Figure 33: Location of Australia's World Heritage properties at December 2000.

     Location of Australia's World Heritage properties at December 2000

    Source: Environment Australia

    The absence of any World Heritage historic heritage site (e.g. the Sydney Opera House) is a noticeable gap in the representation of Australia's heritage places of outstanding significance.

    The Sydney Opera House is an internationally respected example of modern architecture heritage

    The Sydney Opera House is an internationally respected example of modern architecture heritage.

    Source: A Tatnell, Big Island Photographics.

    RFA surveys and some large-scale regional studies (e.g. in the Murray Mallee, Paroo and Cumberland Plain-Outer Sydney regions) have resulted in the further identification of heritage sites, although most have not yet been recorded in heritage registers. About 3000 heritage sites were identified through the RFA process. These surveys were important as the first large-scale attempts at integrated assessments of all heritage values.

    Currawinya Lakes near Hungerford, Qld

    Currawinya Lakes near Hungerford, Qld.
    The Lakes are an important part of the Paroo River Region and form an important wetland in a semi-arid landscape.

    Source: Australian Heritage Commission

    During the reporting period, the number of places listed on the Register of the National Estate (recognised for their heritage values by the Australian Heritage Commission) rose from 11 000 to about 13 000. The list of Register places was made accessible over the Internet. Figure 34 shows all places registered or listed on the Register of the National Estate as at the end of 2000 and Figure 35 shows places added from 1996 to 2000.

    Figure 34: Distribution of all places listed on the Register of the National Estate 2000.

     Distribution of all places listed on the Register of the National Estate 2000

    Source: Environment Australia; Register of the National Estate Data Base

    Trend: Knowledge of heritage places
    There is an increasing trend in the number of natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places being identified; however, gaps exist and responses are adequate in some respects.

    Conservation and management of heritage places

    Overall conservation of heritage improved during the reporting period of 1996 to 2001. The Natural and Cultural Heritage theme report describes these improvements but the balance sheet is not a cause for complacency. Components of Australia's distinctive natural and cultural heritage are still being lost due to the inadequate identification and protection of heritage places and associated objects or collections and Indigenous languages. In addition, there are uncertainties about future heritage management arrangements and how these will affect conservation regimes.

    Woolmers Gardens, near Longford, Tasmania

    Woolmers Gardens, near Longford, Tas.
    The gardens are in good condition and highly intact. They are part of an extensive historic rural estate now opened to the public.

    Source: Duncan Marshall.

    Naval Brigade Stores, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Qld

    Naval Brigade Stores, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Qld.
    The stores were built between 1886-87 for the Queensland colonial navy and taken over by the Commonwealth after Federation.

    Source: Mike Pearson.

    A survey of 12% of the historic heritage places listed in the Register of the National Estate found that 95% of places were in fair or better condition. However, the survey found:

    • continuing occurrence of vacant and deteriorating government buildings, demonstrating governments' lack of interest in funding heritage assets in the various jurisdictions
    • growing ongoing and deferred maintenance for many churches will pose major conservation funding problems until 2010
    • continuing low but steady rate of damage to heritage buildings by inappropriate works such as 'modernising' of shop fronts and interiors, and insertions of windows.

    Management of heritage places has been affected during the reporting period by declining budgets allocated to public sector agencies for maintenance and conservation of heritage sites (with notable exceptions such as Victoria's Public Heritage Program). Cessation of the National Estate Grants program and the tax incentive scheme for owners of private heritage property and their replacement by a limited grants program has not helped. The trend is to support tourism infrastructure rather than conservation maintenance per se as exemplified by the range of funded heritage trails and localised grants for Centenary of Federation projects.

    The Norfolk Island convict-built pier being inspected for urgent repairs. It has been in constant use for more than 150 years

    The Norfolk Island convict-built pier being inspected for urgent repairs. It has been in constant use for more than 150 years.

    Source: Jane Lennon

    In many jurisdictions, there is still a lack of integrated management planning for the conservation of both natural and cultural heritage. This leads to unnecessary neglect of one or other aspect of heritage, even in conservation areas. This is despite some examples of this planning, especially in the RFA surveys.

    Surplus Mittagong (NSW) Railway Station building being offered for lease for alternative use

    Surplus Mittagong (NSW) Railway Station building being offered for lease for alternative use.

    Source: Ian Robertson

    Loss of historic heritage places continues at an uncertain pace as a result of:

    • urban redevelopment due to main street redevelopments and loss of functions due to construction of shopping centres
    • urban consolidation affecting the heritage character of older suburbs
    • abandonment of rural structures due to changing technology and new markets and products
    • public building redundancy due to movement of client population especially in rural areas, asset rationalisation and mergers
    • loss of cultural landscapes through changing rural use.

    These are difficult issues for people to respond to and it is hard to gauge community support for heritage issues statistically from the data collected. Media emphasis has been overwhelmingly on nationwide 'green' issues (e.g. forests or salinity), in comparison with local coverage of specific heritage places. These individual issues regarding heritage places have lacked coordination from peak interest groups because of the diffuse types and locations of heritage advocates. The exception has been the development of community interest in Centenary of Federation cultural heritage projects.

    Trend: Conservation and management of heritage places
    Condition of heritage places has remained static; however, losses are continuing and responses are adequate in some respects. In particular, there are uncertainties about future management arrangements.

    From redundancy to ruins - rural branch line railway, approaching Aramac in western-central Queensland

    From redundancy to ruins - rural branch line railway, approaching Aramac in western-central Queensland.

    Source: Jane Lennon.

    cobb & Co. Changing Station, Buangor, Vic. This coach and livery station dates from the 1860s. It has been modified for other uses but is now vacant

    Cobb & Co. Changing Station, Buangor, Vic. This coach and livery station dates from the 1860s. It has been modified for other uses but is now vacant.
    The store was built in stages from the 1870s to 1908. It is now covered with a hoarding that hides the facade - a common treatment in many towns.

    Source: Mike Pearson

    Olsens Home Hardware Store, Warwick, Queensland

    Olsens Home Hardware Store, Warwick, Qld.
    The store was built in stages from the 1870s to 1908. It is now covered with a hoarding that hides the facade - a common treatment in many towns.

    Source: Mike Pearson.

    Steel's Garage, Bolton Street, Newcastle, NSW

    Steel's Garage, Bolton Street, Newcastle, NSW.
    Built in 1888 as skating rink, it was converted to a garage in 1939. Now it is mainly a pay car park. The facade is retained but the interior is largely modified.

    Source: Mike Pearson.

    Indigenous involvement in heritage protection and management

    Indigenous heritage issues seem to be increasingly handled and, to a certain extent, controlled by Indigenous peoples. This is demonstrated by, for example, the presence of Indigenous site officers in government, industry and community employment; and the general strength of concern expressed by Indigenous peoples for their cultural heritage.

    Indigenous heritage issues have been at the forefront of the political debate during the reporting period. This has had some favourable results, but there has also been a strong polarisation of views especially in regional Australia, with some resentment of perceived favourable treatment for Indigenous Australians. Rejection by the government of significant aspects of the 'Stolen Generations' Inquiry Report (HREOC 1997) has led to public dispute about the facts of the treatment of Indigenous peoples since European settlement of Australia. Similarly, continued publicity (often inaccurate) about land rights and Native Title has made many country landowners suspicious of, or even destructive towards, Indigenous sites. These issues may have had some negative effect on Indigenous peoples contributing information about Indigenous heritage places. Several high profile controversial disputes concerning the importance of Indigenous sacred sites and their conservation versus other proposed land use demonstrate that there is still considerable disagreement and misunderstanding in the community about these complex issues and their resolution.

    Work on Native Title and land claims is encouraging detailed research into Indigenous tradition and recent Indigenous history, with an increasing number of sophisticated and integrated studies which present a holistic view of Indigenous culture. The study and celebration of recent Indigenous history by Indigenous peoples is demonstrated by the healthy publication rate of memoirs and regional Indigenous histories, and by nominations to the Register of the National Estate of significant Indigenous historic sites like the Wave Hill Walk Off sites in the NT, the Cubbitch Barta National Estate Area (commonly known as the Holsworthy Military Training Area, NSW) and the Cyprus Hellene Club in Sydney, the site of the first Aboriginal Day of Mourning in 1938.

    Major public events, cultural activities and media coverage, contribute to an increasing public awareness of Indigenous culture and heritage.

    The active program through the NHT to augment the national reserve system in Australia continues to improve the conservation of Indigenous places conserved in natural environments. Since 1998, 13 Indigenous Protected Areas have been established as part of Australia's National Reserve System.

    The number of heritage places and landscapes owned and managed by Indigenous peoples continue to increase above the 15.1% level that they held in 1996. The 1996 figure was an increase from 9.6% in 1983. This compares with almost 8% in National Park or conservation reserve tenures in 1996.

    The Return of Indigenous Cultural Property Program instituted in 1998 is facilitating the return of cultural property to Indigenous peoples from Australian museums and other collecting institutions. 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.

    Although Indigenous peoples are involved in Indigenous heritage management, many of the protocols for consultation and involvement instituted by local Indigenous communities are not always recognised and used effectively.

    Indigenous languages

    The number of Indigenous languages and the percentage of people speaking these languages has continued to fall between 1986 and 1996 (Figure 36), the trend accelerating over the 10 years. By 1996, only 17 of the previous 20 strong languages were still strong and three had become endangered.

    Figure 36: Comparison of 1986 to 1996 Census data on Indigenous language use in the home.

     Comparison of 1986 to 1996 Census data on Indigenous language use in the home

    Source: ABS (1996) data, in McConvell and Thieberger (2001)

    School lesson in an Indigenous language being held at the Halls Creek District High School in the Kimberley, Western Australia

    School lesson in an Indigenous language being held at the Halls Creek District High School in the Kimberley, WA.

    Source: Volodymyr Malanczak.

    Funding for heritage

    The NHT and the Centenary of Federation Fund provided substantial boosts to heritage conservation and management of heritage places and objects (e.g. World Heritage property management, the Queensland Heritage Trails Network and the new National Museum of Australia).

    The NHT program contributes significantly towards improving the adequacy and representativeness of the conservation reserve system through its acquisitions program. However, it does not provide sufficient funding to reach the target percentage of reserved environmental types.

    In contrast to the NHT's assistance for natural heritage places, there are no long-term national funding programs of similar magnitude specifically for Indigenous or historic heritage places.

     
    Legislation and strategies

    In 1998, the Cultural Ministers Council released Australia's Heritage Collections - National Conservation and Preservation Policy and Strategy. A survey found that environmental conditions for storing heritage objects in the major collecting organisations appear to be reasonable across all sectors. The proportion of collections catalogued across all heritage sectors appears to be improving.

    The new National Museum of Australia in Canberra, ACT, was created around the themes of land, people and nation

    The new National Museum of Australia in Canberra, ACT, was created around the themes of land, people and nation.

    Source: George Serras, National Museum of Australia.

    There were significant advances in heritage methodology and practice during the reporting period. The Australian Natural Heritage Charter was adopted in 1996. In 1999, a new version of the Burra Charter was released. The Burra Charter (see http://www.icomos.org/australia/burra.html ) now addresses intangible aspects of heritage places such as understanding, meanings and use, in addition to its traditional concern with the physical fabric. There has been more regard for Indigenous heritage values other than the specifically archaeological, and this has led to integrated assessments in RFAs and other assessments.

    Australia continues to be a leader in heritage practice. Within the reporting period, the Chinese government worked with the Australian Heritage Commission to adapt the Burra Charter to Chinese conditions. It remains the basic document from which all Chinese conservation policy is to be developed and implemented.

    Over three seasons, the AAP Mawson's Huts Foundation has conserved the historic 1911-14 Mawson's Huts in Antarctica

    Over three seasons, the AAP Mawson's Huts Foundation has conserved the historic 1911-14 Mawson's Huts in Antarctica.

    Source: Rob Easter, Australian Antarctic Division.

    There is major challenge to the management of Australia's heritage presented by the proposed new Commonwealth legislation, which will close the Register of the National Estate and consequently leave a vacuum in measuring trends using existing information. The Register is the only source of national data across all environments and arguably assists Australians to think of their heritage in an all-encompassing way. Whereas the effect of the changes in legislation will be discussed in future reports, there is already concern that state, territory and local governments will not accept their responsibilities. At the heart of the matter are the lack of agreed national standards and the inconsistency of the heritage place legislation across different jurisdictions. This creates a barrier to bilateral agreements for funding.

    The failure of the Commonwealth government to respond effectively to the Schofield Report on the condition of heritage stock in its possession is seen as a lack of leadership. It affects all Australians as, for example, post office buildings become redundant and are inappropriately reused or demolished. This remains a challenge and reminds us that what may be initially seen as progress can easily become a loss of familiarity and place in a local community. Similarly the Commonwealth government has failed to pass amendments to existing legislation to better protect Indigenous heritage places based on the recommendations of the Evatt Report.

    Data availability

    There is a problem of collection of data for heritage indicators across a diverse range of sources - natural, Indigenous, historic places, Indigenous languages, heritage collections and objects. Constant changes to the information collected, or not collected, and reported, means that it has not been possible to have a set of constant, robust indicators applied across Australia. In addition, there has been no organised collection of standard data between SoE Reports on which to base an analysis of trends.

    No suitable data are available for assessing condition of natural and Indigenous heritage places, other than that for natural heritage places within World Heritage Areas.

    Heritage objects

    A survey of museums found that there is no coherent, agreed, national definition or shared view of what might constitute cultural heritage collections despite the presence of the National Conservation and Preservation Policy and Strategy. Most small museums have little idea of the significance of particular items in their collections, and despite the introduction of Australian Museums & Galleries Online (AMOL) database to collect this information, we do not know how many objects by category are held in these 2000 museums. Nor do we know their condition. Small and large museums generally have documentation systems that are idiosyncratic and inadequate to meet current demands of scholarly and public access. Many of the collecting institutions highlighted a shortage of storage space as an issue, thus affecting the condition of objects.

    Bicornial baskets with their distinctive pointed ends are only found in the Cardwell and Cairns districts of northern Queensland

    Bicornial baskets with their distinctive pointed ends are only found in the Cardwell and Cairns districts of northern Queensland.
    This basket was collected in the 19th century.

    Source: National Museum of Australia.

    The Hills Hoist has become an icon object of post-war suburban life in Australia. This rare 1955 model is part of the National Museum's extensive Hills Hoist collection

    The Hills Hoist has become an icon object of post-war suburban life in Australia. This rare 1955 model is part of the National Museum's extensive Hills Hoist collection.

    Source: National Museum of Australia.

    Heritage collections generally are not perceived as relating to heritage places in which they were located, yet that is a primary interest for SoE reporting. For museum curators, the object or collection may be significant for many reasons other than place of origin. The archival or scientific value is not related to their place of provenance but rather to their story, as can be seen for example with dinosaur fossils in a museum rather than in situ at Lark Quarry or Riversleigh.

    Trend: Heritage objects
    There is improving documentation of objects in collections, pressures remain constant and responses are adequate to some extent.

    Role of professionals and volunteers in heritage

    The role of the volunteer is an often masked issue in historic conservation. As heritage becomes more professional in its methodology and seeks to attract employees with professional education and training, there is an increased divide between the roles of the volunteer and the professional. It is a constant source of tension and remains unresolved especially as there is very little government funded or sponsored support for community involvement in historic heritage conservation. The lack of integration of effort or recognition of what we each have to offer has severely weakened the cultural heritage movement and may, in part, explain the discrepancy in funding between natural and cultural heritage. However, the growth of local heritage groups and the demand for protection of local heritage exemplified by the Save Our Suburbs movement in large cities indicates support for community involvement.

    Trend: Community involvement
    There is increasing involvement in natural heritage but less for Indigenous and historic heritage.

    Effect of tourism on heritage

    The effect of tourism reflects the positive-negative conundrum of heritage. Governments and tour operators encourage tourism for its revenue but there are insufficient controls in place to balance conservation with revenue. There is also concern that we present and interpret the heritage values of our special places appropriately. Development of management plans at sites of high tourist interest is being used increasingly to overcome these pressures.

    Newcastle (NSW) Convict Lumber Yard Archaeological Site of the 1814-1850 convict establishment. The site was excavated, and building outlines were marked with metal structures. The site is an additional tourism attraction in this regional town

    Newcastle (NSW) Convict Lumber Yard Archaeological Site of the 1814-1850 convict establishment. The site was excavated, and building outlines were marked with metal structures. The site is an additional tourism attraction in this regional town.

    Source: Mike Pearson.

    Threats to the sustainability of cultural and natural heritage

    Sustainable heritage means that the nation's heritage is respected and appreciated by Australians and international visitors and that use of, and visits to, heritage places and objects contribute to the social and economic well-being of the nation without detriment to the heritage resources and its values. Yet there exist some significant threats to the sustainability of Australia's heritage (Table 11).

    Table 11: Natural and cultural heritage: key threats to sustainability in 2001
    Issue Detail Comment
    Knowledge about heritage places and objects Surveys have been undertaken but the resulting data about heritage places has not been assessed for registration Integrated assessments, identification and conservation of all heritage values on any particular piece of land is required
    Physical condition of heritage places and objects Little quantifiable data available and no national monitoring system is in place to assess the condition or health of heritage places Demolition, clearing and incremental losses continue
    Heritage assistance programs at the local level are inadequate but could assist assessments
    Cultural values of all types are being neglected in natural areas Indigenous heritage places can only be conserved effectively in situ and as part of the natural environment of which they are an integral component
    Protocols not being always complied with, thus lack of sustainability of the heritage resource
    Integrated conservation planning which provides for the protection for all values is essential
    Cultural landscape framework will assist in the integrated assessment of all values for a place
    State of traditional Indigenous languages The number of Indigenous languages and the percentage of speakers have continued to decline, although there is some language revival around one South Australian region There are an estimated 55 000 Indigenous language speakers
    Only 17 Indigenous languages are regarded as 'strong'
    Lack of speakers in young age groups is a concern
    Survival of heritage in areas of significant population change Many places are under significant threat from urban expansion, redevelopment and rezoning on urban fringes and from neglect/abandonment in rural areas Statistics reporting losses are poor especially for rural areas
    Disposal of heritage properties Government reorganisation in all jurisdictions has resulted in redundant heritage assets Loss of function has resulted in changed and lost heritage values for many places
    Community involvement There has been a declining involvement of people in historic heritage and an increase in natural heritage issues
    Indigenous communities are participating more in heritage protection
    As heritage becomes more professional in its methods and employment patterns change to shift and untenured work, there are fewer skilled volunteers available
    Impact of tourism Government policies encourage tourism for its revenue but there are negative effects from physical pressures on the heritage resource and from inadequate interpretation of the heritage values of places Lack of monitoring of effects is a continuing concern
    Lack of evaluation of visitor understanding of heritage values of tourist places
    Ignorance and lack of passion and vision for the future Heritage, like beauty, has a subjective element to it; however, widespread ignorance of Australian settlement history, Indigenous history and basic ecology means that many citizens are unable to make contextual judgments Heritage becomes a business and less able to inspire citizens about the privilege and responsibility of managing the only continent in the world occupied by one nation - Australia!
    Changing legal and administrative arrangements for heritage conservation Failure of national leadership to date to establish a set of minimum standards for the identification, listing and conservation of heritage places Gaps in the identification and conservation of heritage places if implemented before state, territory and local systems are developed to fill the gaps left by the demise of the Register of the National Estate
    No development or testing of models of sustainability applicable to heritage places Places are only sustainable as heritage sites if adequately funded and protected so that their values are known and respected Lack of monitoring of pressures affecting sustainability of historic heritage especially in urban areas
    Example of Indigenous tourism brochure

    Example of Indigenous tourism brochure.

    Source: Anangu Tours.

    Conclusion

    Natural heritage has been the most important aspect of heritage over the last five years with many significant achievements. Australia's position has been enhanced with the inscription of three new World Heritage sites and the contribution of Australia's heritage expertise being recognised on a world scale.

    Indigenous cultural heritage issues are becoming better known to Australians and the importance of heritage and culture recognised through the opening of the National Museum of Australia.

    But for almost every advance in heritage, there has also been a retreat (e.g. a loss of heritage places and a loss of Indigenous languages). The uncertainty in the legislative framework for heritage raises questions about future heritage management.