Condition and Integrity: Types of Heritage

2016

This section examines the condition and integrity of Australian heritage places according to both jurisdiction and type. For previous SoE reports, the condition and integrity were sampled and surveyed, allowing comparable application of the same natural and cultural heritage indicators. The resources available for SoE 2016 have not enabled such surveys, so the assessments are not directly comparable. Indeed, a general lack of condition audits and monitoring for listed heritage places presents a continuing challenge for conservation and management, and places a growing number of heritage places at risk. (This issue is further addressed in Effectiveness of heritage management.)

Natural heritage

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 5 considers the physical condition and integrity of a sample of natural heritage places

No sample surveys of natural heritage places have occurred to provide data for SoE 2016. This report therefore relies on surrogate data sources and expert opinions, including workshops with the Australian Heritage Council (DoEE 2017c) and the Australian Committee for the IUCN (DoEE 2017b), and surveys of the Australian Heads of Parks agencies (DoEE 2017d) and members of the Australian Committee for IUCN (DoEE 2017e)

There is no ‘central’ picture of the condition and integrity of natural heritage places, although this is an issue that was identified in Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030 (NRSTG 2010).

Indigenous heritage

SoE 2011 considered 2 indicators of the state of Indigenous heritage: the physical condition and integrity of a sample of Indigenous heritage places, and the use of Indigenous languages, based on summary data from the 2005 National Indigenous Languages Survey (AIATSIS 2005). These indicators parallel the natural and cultural heritage indicators used in previous SoE reporting (Pearson et al. 1998).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 7 considers the physical condition and integrity of a sample of Indigenous heritage places

No sample surveys of Indigenous heritage places have occurred to provide data for SoE 2016. This report therefore relies on surrogate data sources and expert opinions, including workshops with the Australian Heritage Council (DoEE 2017c) and the Indigenous Advisory Committee of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE 2017f) and a survey of representatives of Indigenous heritage agencies (DoEE 2017g).

Indigenous heritage is managed through multiple jurisdictions, and, as outlined in SoE 2011, a cohesive picture is difficult to achieve.

Conflicts about destruction of Indigenous heritage remain common, and there are diverse perspectives about whether the support available for Indigenous culture and heritage programs is adequate. As noted in ‘Incremental destruction’, one of the main threats to Indigenous heritage places is conscious destruction through approved development—that is, development where decision-makers are aware of Indigenous heritage impacts, yet authorise the destruction of Indigenous heritage. In some jurisdictions, a more robust and inclusive process involves traditional owners in decisions regarding the potential impacts on their cultural heritage. This involvement may range from an approval role to direct engagement and negotiation with land users to seek to avoid impact on culturally significant places. However, the process of reactive decision-making for individual sites or areas, sometimes combined with a general lack of understanding of the interconnected landscape scale of Indigenous heritage, or limited controls where unknown heritage ‘may’ exist, mean that individual decisions on assessment and development continue to result in progressive, cumulative destruction of Indigenous cultural heritage (DoEE 2017f).

Indigenous people play an important role in managing Indigenous heritage and sustainably managing Australia’s natural resources, including an increasing percentage of Australia’s reserved lands. The relationship between nature and culture, and Indigenous people’s rights to use, access and manage lands, waters and natural resources for cultural purposes are increasingly recognised. For example, the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA) provides for joint vesting of conservation reserves. In the Kimberley region, a number of terrestrial and marine reserves are, or will be, jointly managed by Western Australian Parks and Wildlife and Aboriginal traditional owners. There is also increasing recognition that incorporating traditional ecological knowledge augments western conceptions of land and sea management (see Box HER21).

However, the capacity of Indigenous people to care for their own heritage, exercise responsibility for Country and transmit cultural practice to new generations also continues to be hindered by governance arrangements, as well as social and economic disadvantage, as acknowledged in the Australian Government’s Closing the Gap initiative (COAG 2008).

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 24 is a survey of use of Indigenous languages

Indigenous language is an indicator of the health of Indigenous culture, and has therefore been used as a surrogate indicator of the condition of the nation’s Indigenous heritage (Pearson et al. 1998). It would be useful and instructive to measure the extent to which Indigenous heritage sites are preserved in areas where traditional languages are spoken; however, such a study is beyond the scope of this report. Indigenous language is included here, despite this shortcoming, to provide a measure of comparability with previous SoE reports.

Reporting on Indigenous language has focused on numbers and proportions of speakers, using data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and, more recently, the National Indigenous Languages Survey, a comparative assessment of the endangerment status of individual Indigenous languages across the country (Marmion et al. 2014).

The second National Indigenous Languages Survey (Marmion et al. 2014) was undertaken by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 2014. The aims for the project were to build a better understanding of :

  • the current situation of Australian languages
  • activities supporting Australian languages
  • people’s attitudes towards, and aspirations for, their languages
  • views about the most effective types of language action.

The survey found that there is an overwhelming desire to strengthen traditional languages among Indigenous people of all ages across Australia.

The findings of the survey reveal a complicated picture, with signs of both language recovery and decline (see Box HER22). They suggest that there are now only around 120 of 250 languages still spoken, compared with 140 in 2005. Only 13 of these languages are now considered strong, compared with 18 in 2005. Approximately 100 languages are assessed as severely or critically endangered, but around 30 of these have had significant increases in use levels as a result of language programs.

Most of the widely spoken Indigenous languages are spoken in remote areas of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. In these areas, the focus of language policy and programs is on maintenance and preservation. In other parts of the country, particularly in the south-east and along the south-east coast, Indigenous languages are no longer fully or fluently spoken. The focus in these regions is on language revitalisation—a process that has been the subject of increasing interest and support from the Indigenous community during the past 5 years.

Historic heritage

Natural and cultural heritage indicator 6 considers the physical condition and integrity of a sample of historic heritage places

No sample survey of historic heritage places has been done to provide data for SoE 2016. This report therefore relies on surrogate data sources and expert opinions, including workshops with the Australian Heritage Council, Australia ICOMOS, and Australian Heritage Officials (DoEE 2017a, c, h), augmented by some online surveys and consultation with officers from the Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy.

There is a substantial gap in the process of monitoring the state of the historic environment. Management plans for National Heritage places are required to include monitoring, but there are no corresponding requirements for places of state or local heritage value. The National Heritage monitoring survey—which was instigated by the Australian Heritage Council and is being implemented by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy—provides a method for national-level comparison and reporting for National Heritage places (see WHAM 2017; Box HER23).

Survey responses from Australia ICOMOS (DoEE 2017i) and Australian National Trusts (DoEE 2017j), and workshop discussions with state and territory heritage officials (DoEE 2017a) suggest that, overall, the condition and integrity of historic heritage (and particularly publicly owned heritage assets) are good. There is, however, a high correlation between good condition and places that are actively used, inhabited and maintained, or have been repurposed through successful, sympathetic adaptation.

As noted in SoE 2011, heritage place maintenance is cyclical and responsive to economic conditions. Historic places particularly may be conserved as funds become available to the owner or manager. For example, grant funds may instigate a one-off major conservation exercise. Alternatively, after a long period with no maintenance, an owner may decide to undertake overdue works, or deferred maintenance may occur when a place changes ownership. In such circumstances, the condition of the place may be reported as deteriorating, when in fact the observed condition may be part of a relatively normal maintenance cycle.

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Condition and Integrity: Types of Heritage. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/heritage/topic/2016/condition-and-integrity-types-heritage, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0