The effectiveness of heritage management is determined by decision-makers' understanding of the broader environmental and socioeconomic significance of heritage values and the current and emerging threats to those values. A basic issue is, therefore, the extent to which the heritage values themselves are understood.

Understanding values

In the absence of basic information about the nature and extent of the heritage resource, good decision-making is difficult, and proactive strategic planning is impossible. Systematic heritage assessment programs undertaken both geographically and according to theme—across both natural and cultural environments—are needed to provide the foundation for effective heritage management. The absence of such knowledge places additional pressure on natural and cultural heritage (Box 9.15).

Box 9.15 Inadequate understanding—the National Heritage List Priority Assessment List

One of the first listings under the new Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Priority Assessment List system was the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout. The city was nominated as a historic landscape because it reflects the original 1837 planned layout of Adelaide by the surveyor Colonel William Light. The city is configured as it was originally planned, as a metropolitan city surrounded by parklands, with wide streets, town squares and the Torrens River separating the city areas. The city of Adelaide is now the most extensive and intact 19th century urban green landscape in Australia.61 Much of the city is now owned by various levels of government, who seek approval for development through the Australian Government. Although this nomination resulted in the inclusion of this highly significant site on the National Heritage List, between 2007 and mid-2011 approximately 80 nominations were excluded and will not even be assessed (DSEWPaC, Heritage Division, pers. comm., July 2011).

Inadequacies in understanding the heritage resource extend across the full spectrum of places at all levels of jurisdiction and government. In 2004, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) analysed the World Heritage List and national tentative lists to contribute to a global strategy for a credible, balanced and representative World Heritage List. The ICOMOS report, The World Heritage List: filling the gaps—an action plan for the future,62 identified two main reasons for gaps in our knowledge of heritage resources: structural (such as lack of technical capacity or management frameworks) and qualitative (such as missing themes and under-represented regions).

The analysis found that religious properties, historic towns, and architectural monu target="_blank"ments and ensembles comprised 57% of the sites listed, while other site types (such as modern heritage) made up less than 1% of the total. When the properties included on national tentative lists were added, a shift in trends became evident, and the proportion of religious properties, historic towns, and architectural monuments was reduced to 32%.

Heritage listings have not yet been analysed for Australia, but it would be a timely and valuable exercise. It is reasonable to anticipate a similar distribution of past levels of heritage identification, with 'our glorious past' dominating and less visible cultural, modern and Indigenous sites, cultural landscapes and industrial heritage being poorly identified, and thus poorly protected (Box 9.16). At the time the National Heritage List was established, a number of thematic and typological studies were planned. Some have been completed and published (e.g. Pearson & Lennon63), but the resources and commitment to this process appear to have waned.

Box 9.16 20th century survey—proactive management of a low-visability resource

From 1981 to 2000,South Australia pursued a systematic program of regional heritage surveys to identify and record all the non-Aboriginal heritage of the state, on a regional basis. In 1981, the South Australian Heritage Register included approximately 1800 pre-20th century places, but only around 400 places representing the 20th century and less than 40 places of the era after World War 1. A survey concentrating on the post-war era was initiated in 2003–05, beginning with historical research for 1946–59, to establish the principal events and themes that characterised the physical, cultural and social development of that period.

Building on the initial model, ongoing studies in South Australia have developed surveys over 20-year periods, which involved both survey work and thematic analyses. In 2009, the 1928–45 survey identified 31 items for the state heritage register.

Understanding threats

A range of substantial threats to Australia's heritage emerge from the drivers of climate change, population growth and economic growth. Many of these threats are well understood and are being addressed through management responses. Some threats, however, are beyond direct management. Legacy issues, such as the impacts from widespread land clearing or the loss of an Indigenous landscape or tradition may threaten the integrity of a natural or cultural landscape, but are impossible to reverse. Some invasive species are now so well established that management intervention is extremely unlikely to reverse the degradation of heritage places that they cause.

Climate change itself is beyond the control of heritage place managers, but they can respond to the pressures that it causes. Altered wildfire management, active erosion control and dune and midden stabilisation all demonstrate awareness and response to climate change threats. Awareness of population pressures and emerging threats is also high—SoE assessment workshop participants across the public and private sectors were quick to identify the impact of rural decline and urban intensification.i

The majority of participants in the Australian heritage sector readily recognise the threats posed by development. Despite this, regulators fail to enforce protective provisions, even when seemingly obvious breaches of legislation and substantial impacts to highly significant places occur (Box 9.17).

Box 9.17 Burrup Peninsula National Heritage Place

The Dampier Archipelago was formed 6000–8000 years ago when rising sea levels flooded what were once coastal plains. The underlying rocks are among the oldest on Earth, and the archipelago is a sacred place, home to Indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years. Ngarda-Ngarlie people say ancestral beings created the land during the Dreamtime, and the spirits of Ngkurr, Bardi and Gardi continue to live in the area. The Indigenous people of this area have left their mark in one of the most exciting collections of rock art in Australia. The richness and diversity of this art are remarkable, with sites ranging from small scatters to valleys with literally thousands of engravings.64

In early December 2008, a mining company undertook a range of clearing, blasting and quarrying activities outside the identified mining tenement, within the Dampier Archipelago (including Burrup Peninsula) National Heritage Place (NHP). The affected area is approximately 50 metres x 200 metres, adjacent to the edge of a quarry pit and extending well into the defined NHP.

The clearing, blasting and quarrying are likely to have destroyed a number of archaeological sites in an area with generally high site density. Calculations based on the number of sites found in the immediate vicinity indicate that as many as three sites may have been in the cleared and bulldozed areas, although the exact nature and contents of these can now never be known.

An audit, systematic survey and recording of the impact area identified six new sites in the NHP.65 Archaeological sites were located around the margins of the disturbed areas, where intact landscapes were still visible. Sites found in the immediate vicinity of the disturbed areas included petroglyphs, a standing stone, an artefact cache and a quarry complex.66-67 The clearing, blasting and quarrying were assessed as having affected a contiguous high-density but relatively low-intensity archaeological landscape.

In attempting to prosecute this action within the NHP, the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts was constrained by the fact that the exact nature of the affected sites was not known, as they had not been archaeologically documented.65

In 2008, the Western Australian Government commissioned a heritage inventory methodology report, which recommended that 20% of the representative landscapes within the NHP be recorded systematically and intensively, and that a plan of management be written for petroglyph and stone structure sites (and the broader archaeological record) within the NHP. The absence of a general inventory of sites within the NHP (with the exception of a single 2 kilometre x 200 metre transect in Deep Gorge) creates a significant impediment to the implementation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 because the nature of the resource within the NHP has not been thoroughly documented, and therefore the occurrence or extent of any damage cannot be assessed.

her-box-9-17-burrup-sml.jpg her-box-9-17-burrup-2-sml.jpg

A petroglyph in the immediate vicinity of the area affected by clearing, blasting and quarrying works, Dampier Archipelago National Heritage Place, showing a small, complex, engraved panel (arrowed) among disturbed boulders, and an engraved lizard visible on the right hand side (see photo at right) (photos by Jo McDonald, Jo McDonald Cultural Heritage Management

i  Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand SoE 2011 workshop, 5 August 2010; Australian Heritage Council SoE 2011 workshop, 9 December 2010; Australia ICOMOS SoE 2011 workshop, 25 February 2010. Workshop notes are available on the SoE website, www.environment.gov.au/soe

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Understanding. 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/4-effectiveness/4-1-understanding, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0