Heritage listings


In Australia, heritage is identified, assessed and listed through multilayered and overlapping statutory and bureaucratic processes that broadly parallel our multitiered systems of government. Heritage listing has a range of purposes and functions, including recognising and celebrating values, protecting heritage under the law, and informing management decisions and resource allocation. Heritage can be listed in a number of ways and by various authorities:

  • World Heritage List—World Heritage sites are places that are important to and belong to everyone, irrespective of where they are. They have outstanding universal value that transcends the value they hold for a particular nation. These qualities are expressed in the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention). Australia's obligations under this convention are met through provisions in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
  • National Heritage List—The National Heritage List, established under the EPBC Act, includes natural, historic and Indigenous places that are of outstanding national heritage value to Australia (see Box 9.1).
  • Commonwealth Heritage List—The Commonwealth Heritage List, established under the EPBC Act, comprises natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places that are either entirely within a Commonwealth area, or are owned or leased by the Australian Government or an Australian Government authority.
  • The Register of the National Estate—The Register of the National Estate is a list of important natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places throughout Australia, originally established under the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975. The Australian Heritage Commission entered more than 13 000 places in the Register of the National Estate. In 2004, responsibility for maintaining the register shifted to the Australian Heritage Council, under the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003. The register will only continue as a statutory register until February 2012.
  • The Australian National Shipwrecks Database—The Australian National Shipwrecks Database was launched in December 2009 and includes all known shipwrecks in Australian waters. Australia protects shipwrecks and their associated relics that are more than 75 years old through the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. This Act applies to Australian waters that extend from the low tide mark to the end of the continental shelf and is administered by the Australian Government, in collaboration with the state and territory governments.
  • State heritage registers—At the state and territory level, the process for listing heritage places is varied. All jurisdictions have dedicated national parks and reserves. Some jurisdictions establish additional registers of Indigenous sites, whereas others protect Indigenous heritage through blanket statutory control. Each state or territory also has a statutory list of historic places, but the criteria and threshold for listing vary and these registers are generally acknowledged as incomplete.
  • Local heritage—Heritage identification at the local level varies between many thousands of heritage or contributory items in dense urban areas, to a complete absence of any statutory listing or controls for some local government areas. There are many locally managed reserves, generally dedicated for reasons of natural heritage or amenity, but some of these also contain significant Indigenous places. Mostly, however, Indigenous heritage is neither identified nor protected at a local level, and comprehensive national data for local heritage listings are not available.
  • Nonstatutory lists—Heritage lists are also maintained by nongovernment organisations such as the National Trust of Australia, the Institution of Engineers and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. While these lists have no direct statutory force, they are sometimes used to inform decision-making processes such as development consent or statutory listing.

Box 9.1 The National Heritage List - Lark Quarry dinosaur stampede

Palaeontology plays an important role in highlighting Australian geodiversity and evolutionary processes. The Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, in Lark Quarry Conservation Park in central Queensland, provides unparalleled evidence of a dinosaur stampede that took place 95 million years ago. Almost 4000 footprints have been preserved in the former mudflats and are visible over an area of 210 square metres. Palaeontologists interpret these footprints as being caused by approximately 150 bipedal dinosaurs who fled a carnivorous Tyrannosauropus.2


Dinosaur footprints, Lark Quarry, Queensland (photo by Jaime Rankin and the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)

Heritage can also be unlisted. Our national inheritance includes vast areas and many places that have not been formally identified or listed, but nevertheless contribute to the nation's heritage, especially at the local level (see Box 9.2). This will always be the case, since resources dedicated to survey and assessment projects are never sufficient to allow comprehensive coverage, and notions of what constitutes intergenerational value and cultural heritage resources are constantly changing. Effective heritage management requires an all-encompassing understanding and respect for both listed and unlisted heritage, so that change and development occur in a way that respects all heritage values.

Assessing the condition of Australia's heritage places is hampered by an incomplete and unrepresentative set of formally identified heritage places, and by the absence of a comprehensive body of reliable national data. Available information tends to relate to inputs such as the number of protected places or funding levels, rather than outcomes such as the actual physical condition and integrity of listed places.

However, some conclusions may be drawn from sample surveys, surrogate data and indicators. The SoE reports for 2001 and 2006 both relied on a set of natural and cultural heritage indicators, originally prepared in 1998, as the basis for summary assessment.9 The same approach has been used here, augmented by some selected case studies and additional information now available from the national data collection project of the former Environment Protection Heritage Council, and Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand, which has provided some consistent information about heritage listings and human and financial resources.

It is recognised that this is a piecemeal approach that may not thoroughly address some of the complexities and subtleties in the heritage system, including multivalue cultural landscapes, regional perspectives and unlisted sites. However, the approach uses the available data and offers relevant observations.

The assessments in this chapter were also informed by a series of workshops held with relevant stakeholder groups, including the Australian Heritage Council; Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand; the heads of Australian, state and territory parks agencies; the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) Indigenous Advisory Committee; Australian representatives from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Australia ICOMOS); and the Australian Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ACIUCN). Although these workshops cannot replace empirical evidence, they have allowed a high degree of confidence in assessment based on consensus. In addition to workshops and literature reviews, three specialist consulting projects were commissioned to evaluate the condition and integrity of a small sample of places with natural, Indigenous and historic values.10-12 The information in this chapter presents a snapshot based on observation, rather than a longitudinal analysis based on comprehensive information.

Box 9.2 The Freedom Ride—part of our national inheritance

In 1965, a group of students from the University of Sydney, led by Indigenous activist Charles Perkins, travelled through regional New South Wales to highlight the inequalities and racism experienced by the Aboriginal population.3 This protest and its consequences were of pivotal importance in the history of Australian race relations. The spirit of the Freedom Ride is clearly part of our national story; however, it is not listed on any statutory heritage register. Many Australian heritage places have not been formally identified or listed. The route of the 1965 Freedom Ride embodies part of our rich social history—a history that helps us understand where we have come from and that we should transmit to future generations of Australians.


Students involved in the demonstration against discrimination against Indigenous people in Walgett, New South Wales, 1967 (photo reproduced with permission of Wendy Watson Epstein [nee Golding] and supplied by Ann Curthoys)

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Heritage listings. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/science/soe/2011-report/9-heritage/1-introduction/1-1-heritage-listings, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0