Types of heritage


For the purposes of this State of the Environment (SoE) report, heritage has been categorised as natural, Indigenous or historic (consistent with the management framework used at the national level). Although movable objects, collections and records are widely recognised as ‘heritage’, they are excluded from this report, except where they form part of a heritage place.

Natural heritage

Natural heritage comprises the components of the natural environment that have aesthetic, historical, scientific or social significance, or other special value for the present community, as well as for future generations.4 One important factor that distinguishes natural heritage places from broader natural or social values is that natural heritage places relate to definable and valued locations or areas of land.5 For example, the values of a particular national park can be identified and defined as heritage values by applying assessment criteria such as those used to assess places for the National Heritage List (see Box 9.3).

Another factor that distinguishes natural heritage from general natural resources is that the place either has been or should be formally identified and set aside for conservation purposes or actively managed for these purposes (along with other uses). Such places might include national parks, reserves, botanic gardens and private conservancies, as well as significant fauna and flora habitats or geological sites. Although our natural heritage includes both reserved and unreserved lands, and listed and unlisted places, this chapter focuses on natural heritage that has been identified and protected. Other aspects of the natural environment are addressed in other chapters of this report.

Box 9.3 Natural heritage—Porongurup National Park

Natural places can be listed as heritage items at the local, state, national or international level. In Western Australia, for example, Porongurup National Park was included on the National Heritage List in 2009 as a place of outstanding geological and natural value. The park contains distinctive granite domes that are remains of the ancient Porongurup pluton, a bubble of molten rock that rose from Earth's core and pushed upward into the overlying base rock of the park.6 Located within the traditional lands of the Minang group of the Nyungar people, Porongurup is a living landscape of outstanding biological and ecological significance. As part of an internationally recognised biodiversity hot spot in the south-west region of Western Australia, the park contains an exceptionally high concentration of plants and animals in a relatively small area. Porongurup National Park is also significant for a number of invertebrates that have links to the Gondwana supercontinent, when Australia was joined to present-day Africa, South America and Antarctica before these land masses broke apart some 150 million years ago.7


Porongurup National Park, Western Australia (photo by Colin Totterdell and the Australian Government Department of  Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)

Indigenous heritage

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage extends back over many tens of thousands of years and is of continuing significance, creating and maintaining links with the people and the land.4 Human occupation of the Australian continent has left a rich legacy of places that bear witness to our evolving human history. Indigenous heritage places include occupation sites, rock art, carved trees, places with known spiritual values, important waters or landscapes laden with meaning to people from that country, and places with contemporary value to Indigenous people (Box 9.4).

Box 9.4 The Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan

For Indigenous people, the divide between the natural and cultural environment is artificial, because there is a continuing connection between people and country that requires ongoing nurturing and management through traditional cultural practices. This interrelationship is increasingly recognised through Indigenous land and sea management plans, as well as by specific management arrangements in particular places.

The Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan 2010–2020 was prepared through a collaborative, participative process at the instigation of traditional owners, building on work that started in the 1990s. The plan covers a huge area of around two million hectares in the northern part of the Kimberley, and provides a modern way to honour ancestors, share the story of how the land 'Uunguu' was made and look after the country in accordance with Wanjina Wunggurr law. The plan sets out how Wunambal Gaambera can live on country and make business, and use both traditional knowledge and western science to care for country and provide a healthy life to the place and to current and future generations.8


A seasonal calendar from the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan 2010–2020, showing the integrated relationship between natural and cultural aspects of the environment and the consequent importance of traditional Indigenous land and sea management (graphic design by Lois Haywood, ECI Insitu Pty Ltd, and the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation)


A planning workshop at Garmbemirri, from the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan 2010–2020; the traditional owners used a conservation action planning process to involve relevant people (photo by the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation)


Uunguu Ranger Raphael Karadada on a freshwater turtle survey (photo by Robert Warren and the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation)

Historic heritage

Historic sites relate particularly to the occupation and use of the continent since the arrival of European and other migrants, including pre–1788 Asian and European exploration, contact and settlement sites. Historic places tell us about the society we have formed in Australia over the past two centuries, and provide a tangible link to past events, processes and people.4 The Australian environment includes rare remnants of early convict history, pastoral properties and small remote settlements, as well as large urban areas, engineering works, factories and defence facilities. Historic heritage illustrates the way in which the many cultures of Australian people (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) have modified, shaped and created our cultural environment. By its nature, it will continue to evolve to represent the flow of history and changing community perceptions.

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Types of heritage. 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/1-2-types-of-heritage, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0