Population growth


Australia's population is increasing, and the distribution of people around the Australian landscape is changing. This will affect all aspects of the environment, including heritage.

Along with population growth, the increasing recognition and prominence of heritage places results in increased visitation to heritage places. Ironically, this has the potential to lead to damage or vandalism. Pressures from damage are greatest in popular heritage areas, and pressures from vandalism are greatest in remote, unregulated areas and where there is poor communication about heritage values and appropriate visitor behaviour.

Community perceptions of value

Australia is a young nation, and we continue to grapple with our heritage and how it fits into the national narrative—our perception of who we are, and the places that create our national identity. Australia's national heritage narrative is not well told. Indeed, despite strong community interest and support for heritage,41 it seldom becomes a major agenda item in national debate and suffers seriously from under-resourcing.

Value...remains at the centre of all heritage practice; it is what justifies legal protection, funding or regulation; it is what inspires people to get involved with heritage. Indeed, in public value terms, something is only of value if citizens—either individually or collectively—are willing to give something up in return for it. Kelly et al.42

Heritage places become neglected if they are not adequately identified and recognised, if they become redundant or if they are not directly connected with economic activity.

In 2006, a survey-based study of community interest and participation in Australian heritage by Deakin University found that interest in heritage is high, even though direct participation is not (Figures 9.13 and 9.14).41 The respondents saw heritage management as a shared responsibility, not solely a government function, and preferred broad, inclusive heritage management that retains the use and functionality of protected items.

The review of heritage in the study went well beyond stereotypical colonial architecture to include natural items such as native animals, intangible concepts such as the contribution of immigration, experiences such as cultural festivals, and even very recent buildings and architecture. Elements rated as most important to protect and preserve, such as native fauna and waterways, were seen as being important to all Australians, as well as vulnerable and irreplaceable.

Despite the findings of this study and anecdotal evidence such as high levels of community participation in annual Heritage Week activities, regular media coverage of heritage issues or active opposition to developments that threaten heritage places, these opinions do not appear to translate into government policy or resources for heritage conservation.

Population shift

The Australian population is not only growing, it is shifting away from rural centres and towards cities and coasts. This is causing significant pressures to which governments at all levels are seeking to respond. In Melbourne, for example, the Melbourne 2030 strategy supports steady population growth on an environmentally sustainable basis, recognising the uneven distribution of population growth and particularly the decline in rural areas.43 Similar factors are at play in Sydney and throughout New South Wales.44

Regional and rural [New South Wales] have experienced substantial changes in their population over recent years and further changes are anticipated. Regional centres are growing while many smaller towns are experiencing population losses. New South Wales Department of Planning,44p. 23

The growth of urban and coastal populations places direct pressure on existing cultural sites, particularly those in areas of open space and historic buildings. Construction of new infrastructure (such as roads, airports, energy supply facilities and telecommunications networks) can affect both natural and cultural heritage. Communities are under pressure to allow residential densities to increase—freestanding dwellings are replaced by apartment blocks, open areas are subdivided and developed, and heritage items are demolished to make way for new projects. Meanwhile, in rural areas, significant heritage places become redundant or vacant, and local communities struggle to find resources to conserve them.

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Population growth. 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/3-pressures/3-2-population-growth, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0