Natural and cultural heritage: Building capacity

Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006

9.5 Building capacity

There is a shortage of qualified and experienced people who can identify and manage Australia’s heritage. Despite its responsibilities in environmental management, local government, particularly in remote and rural areas, has had the greatest difficulty. In this light, the provision of historic heritage advisors  by state and local government in most states is a positive move that has resulted in cost-effective delivery of heritage conservation outcomes to local councils, property owners and managers.

The number of Indigenous people employed by governments in heritage conservation activities—partly a measure of use of skills and expertise—has shown little increase from the very small numbers reported in 2001, with the exception of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.

The continuing decline in practical conservation skills in both the trades and the professions  and the lack of training programmes (particularly in rural areas) are of concern because heritage values will be recognised and effectively managed only if properly trained staff are available to do so. It requires capacity building through training, through formal, multidisciplinary courses at universities, and through volunteers.

The use of volunteers  has increased in recent years, but opportunities for volunteer participation in cultural heritage are still more limited than in environmental management. The greatest increase has been in museum and historic house management in cataloguing collections and guiding visitors to heritage places. This trend is also observed in physical conservation works such as those undertaken by Hands on Heritage teams (Heritage Council Victoria 2004).

Key points

  • Community interest in Australia’s heritage has continued to grow. There is increased appreciation of the relationships between natural and cultural values, and increased recognition of intangible cultural heritage and cultural landscapes.
  • There is some capacity to measure the condition and trends of Australia’s historic heritage, and minor changes have been identified since 2001. The lack of data remains a chronic problem for reporting on Australia’s heritage. Inter-governmental cooperation and resourcing are urgently needed to enable regular measurement of the condition of natural or Indigenous heritage, or of heritage objects.
  • Knowledge and management of Indigenous cultural heritage are limited. The number of ‘endangered’ Indigenous languages has increased since 2001. Some promising approaches are emerging to integrate Indigenous cultural values and community participation into natural resource management programmes.
  • New national heritage legislation came into effect in 2004, establishing a National Heritage List and improved protection for the heritage values of Commonwealth-owned and managed properties. Most states and territories have also revised the statutory frameworks for historic heritage since 2001. In terms of both resourcing and the development of policies and programmes, there is a continuing disparity between government provisions for natural and cultural heritage.
  • The growth in the role of local government has continued (particularly for historic heritage), although the outcomes and the capacity of councils to take on this role are patchy across Australia.