Historic heritage

2016

The major mechanism for managing historic heritage in Australia is through statutory lists and registers, which are neither cohesive nor comprehensive. Many heritage places in Australia are not heritage listed, but they continue to be well managed and cared for by their owners and managers. This augments and complements formal statutory places and reinforces the importance that Australians place on heritage.

The Australian Heritage Strategy recognises that the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List both require additional resources—for listing and for associated management and monitoring. Other heritage lists, including state and territory registers and local schedules and overlays, include more places, but may still not necessarily reflect the extent of historic heritage that is valued by the community. Several jurisdictions are focusing on improving the coverage and integrity of their heritage registers. Meanwhile, incomplete statutory registers may result in undesirable outcomes, including a reactive approach when major developments occur, and inconsistency between local, state and national governments.

Planning provisions, and building codes and standards that affect historic heritage management could be improved. The Australian Heritage Strategy focuses on partnership-based programs, new funding sources and improved best-practice guidelines for existing listed historic heritage. The need remains for more thorough systematic assessment, because, in the long term, comprehensive heritage registers can lead to better decision-making and incorporation of heritage values into strategic planning processes, and improved heritage conservation outcomes. Nevertheless, the outlook for heritage can be greatly improved through development, communication and implementation of consistent best-practice standards and guidelines for heritage conservation and management, such as the practice notes that Australia ICOMOS has prepared on aspects of the Burra Charter and its application (Australia ICOMOS 2016a). There is also a continuing downward trend in the skills base and specialist expertise available in historic heritage, which would best be remedied through government intervention.

The Glen Helen Meat House, Northern Territory, features unusual thatching, using local reeds. The loss of traditional heritage trades knowledge directly affects capacity for physical conservation of some historic heritage places

The Glen Helen Meat House, Northern Territory, features unusual thatching, using local reeds. The loss of traditional heritage trades knowledge directly affects capacity for physical conservation of some historic heritage places

Photo by Richard Mackay

The Glen Helen Meat House, Northern Territory, features unusual thatching, using local reeds. The loss of traditional heritage trades knowledge directly affects capacity for physical conservation of some historic heritage places

Historic heritage in Australia continues to face resourcing challenges, because the number of listed and unlisted places is high relative to our land area, our population and the consequent relative resources that are available to fund heritage conservation. Recognition of the contribution made by private owners through initiatives such as advisory services, development concessions, tax relief or advantageous land valuations would reinforce the community value of heritage, and might stimulate future private-sector conservation efforts. Although the Australian Heritage Strategy recognises the vital role of private owners in the conservation and management of heritage places (Australian Government 2015a), no direct incentives are proposed.

The outlook for historic heritage might also be considerably improved if government and industry committed to a process that acknowledged and rewarded conservation of embodied energy and transmission of cultural values of historic heritage places. This would be in addition to renewable and recycled building materials and energy efficiency, under the banner of ‘sustainability’.

The Australian Heritage Strategy commits to exploring innovative additional funding sources (Australian Government 2015a; Objective 7), but, as already observed in SoE 2011 (SoE Committee 2011), further rethinking of the national approach to heritage may be warranted. This may involve greater flexibility about the amount of change that may occur as ‘conservation’, different approaches that give heritage a life in the Australian community, or simply improved awareness programs that create wider community interest in our common heritage (Australian Government 2015a; Objective 10).

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Historic 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/historic-heritage, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0