The general aim of heritage legislation and heritage lists across Australia is to support the identification and conservation of our most significant heritage places and precincts. However, the way in which the significance of those places is ‘conserved’ is generally reactive rather than proactive.
The State Heritage Unit in South Australia is addressing this issue through a fieldwork project to find out how many places are at risk or vulnerable, and to identify the main causes. The project process includes visiting places to assess and photograph all significant components, including noting condition, occupancy, apparent usage, integrity, and any apparent risk factors that are affecting the place, such as weather, vandalism, subsidence, plants, disuse and neglect.
Trends and lessons learned
So far, 41 per cent of South Australia’s state heritage places has been assessed through the project, and a wealth of valuable data have been collected. Based on these data, around 11.6 per cent of the state places are ‘at risk’—about 265 places. In addition, around 30 per cent of state heritage places are classed as ‘vulnerable’, with only 58 per cent being considered ‘safe’. Reasons for places being at risk are varied, but many are unoccupied or neglected, often because owners no longer consider them useful or viable. Much of this damage could be prevented by strategic intervention.
What could be done?
Assessing and then continuing to monitor the condition of heritage places is an important missing link in efforts to protect significant heritage. Protection will require a proactive program that identifies the places that are most at risk and supports the best interventions for preserving them. There are some successful programs that might guide such a program, including the Victorian Living Heritage Program audit. An initial condition audit, which allows an understanding of the nature and scope of the conservation challenge, is an important first step.
Source: Anna Pope, State Heritage Unit, South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources