Population growth


Australia’s population is projected to grow to nearly 40 million by 2055 (ABS 2016). This increase will be concentrated in our capital cities. Population growth will affect all aspects of the environment, including heritage.

Along with population growth, associated increasing recognition and prominence of heritage places can result in increased visitation to heritage places, leading to opportunities for interpretation and transmission of heritage values, but also potential damage or vandalism. Pressures from damage are greatest in popular heritage areas. In general, pressures from vandalism tend to be greatest in remote, unregulated areas, and where there is poor communication about heritage values and appropriate visitor behaviour. In addition, increasing urban density and rural decline may result in reduced attachment to local heritage places (see also the Built environment report–Increased urban footprint).

However, there is also likely to be an increase in the average age of Indigenous Australians in the future (ABS 2009), with recent data suggesting that, in the lead-up to 2026, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will grow by 2.2 per cent per year compared with a projected annual growth rate of 1.6 per cent for the total Australian population (ABS 2014b). The increasing Indigenous population may create opportunities for transmission of knowledge and culture.

Community perceptions of value

The resources that Australian society allocates to heritage conservation reflect the perception of its value by the general community, and particularly by decision-makers. There are perceptions that the ‘cost’ of identification and assessment of heritage can be prohibitive, and that there is a substantial opportunity cost of retaining and conserving heritage places. If the cost of identifying heritage values and retaining significant places is perceived as too high, resources may be allocated to other priority areas, so less heritage will be identified and protected. Community perceptions therefore exert a strong influence on the conservation outcomes for heritage places (see Box HER6).

There have been no national studies of the importance of heritage in recent years, but, in 2015–16, the Heritage Council of Victoria commissioned The community’s perceptions of heritage: literature review (Boerkamp 2016). This project recognised that heritage is a broad concept that extends beyond traditional views of history to intangible natural elements, and that heritage operates on a global, national, community and individual level. The project report notes the importance and value of heritage to Australians, and concludes that there is strong interest in learning about and protecting heritage, which acts as a medium for storytelling and intergenerational communication. But, whereas heritage may be valued by communitiesand may be an important factor for people in deciding where to live, work and visitits economic benefits are not widely understood.

Elements rated as important to protect and preserve, including native animals, natural icons and nature reserves, were seen as being irreplaceable and highly important for the future of Australia, and there is a perception that not enough is being done, particularly in the areas of education and recognition (McDonald 2010). This reflects historical data (Allen Consulting Group 2005) that indicate that most Australians felt that not enough was being done across Australia to protect its heritage. There is recognition of a shared obligation between the community and government for heritage management, but greater guidance could be provided. Noting the Australian Heritage Strategy’s aspirations to broaden community engagement in the identification, protection and celebration of heritage, the project report recommends a heritage research program focused on the economic and social benefits of heritage, strengthened by input from state and local governments. The report also recognises property owners as important heritage stakeholders who require additional support.

Australia continues to grapple with how our heritage fits into the national narrative, our perception of who we are and the places that create our national identity. For example, the 2016 National Heritage place monitoring survey results suggest that decline in community appreciation is a significant issue (WHAM 2017). This is a matter that has been addressed in the Australian Heritage Strategy (Australian Government 2015a) and is currently under consideration by the Australian Heritage Council, in the context of the National Heritage List.

Population shift

The Australian population is not only growing but continues to move away from rural centres and towards cities and coasts (see the Built environment report). More than 85 per cent of Australians live in urban areas, making Australia one of the world’s most urbanised countries (ABS 2014b). This urban intensification causes significant pressures to which governments at all levels are seeking to respond.

The growth of urban and coastal populations places pressure on existing cultural sites, particularly those in areas selected for new suburban development. 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. However, there are also opportunities created, particularly for innovative conservation, through adaptation of significant historic buildings and precincts. In some urban areas, the rapidly increasing price of real estate has placed additional pressures on historic buildings that occupy sites that are perceived as ‘underdeveloped’. There is inadequate understanding of the nature and extent of coastal heritage, particularly relating to cultural connections and identity for Indigenous people (Feary 2015; see also the Coasts report). Meanwhile, in rural areas, significant heritage places become redundant or vacant, and local communities struggle to find resources to conserve them.

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Population growth. 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/population-growth, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0