Essay Submission Form – What is Heritage?

Name: Peter Spearritt


Peter Spearritt

Peter Spearritt BA (Hons) Syd, PhD
(ANU) is a Professor of History at the University of Queensland and
Chair of the University of Queensland Press Board.
Spearritt is a devotee of places. With colleagues at the University
of Queensland, he has recently completed the website
a guide to the 1100 cities, towns, villages and suburbs that can be
found in that state.

Spearritt has research interests in Coastal urbanisation and
Australian capital cities, the conservation of natural and built
heritage, the water, energy and transport crisis in south-east

and has published widely. He was the foundation director of the
National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, and in
the NSW Premier’s 2000 Australian History Prize


(UNSW Press).


Heritage is a
relatively new, catch-all term that in recent times has encompassed
both the built and the natural world. The word has gained wide
international acceptance and usage since 1972, when UNESCO created
the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention, which Australia
signed in 1974. For some decades now more and more countries have
vied with each other to get their built and natural heritage sites on
the World Heritage List.

But in another sense,
there is nothing new about heritage, not least because almost
everything designated to have heritage value is older than the
present, from rock art and stone churches to the Great Barrier Reef.
And while the European occupation of Australia might be just a tad
over 220 years old, archaeologists and anthropologists date
indigenous settlement back over forty thousand years.

In the 1950s and 1960s
National Trusts in each state had little difficulty in identifying
places they considered of state and national significance, from
churches and sprawling pastoral mansions to the grand houses of the
bourgeoisie in the cities. Likewise National Parks associations
found it relatively easy to identify natural environments that could
be regarded as ‘pristine’.

With the rapid
increase in scientific knowledge about ecological management and
human impacts and with new techniques to measure both the longevity
of Indigenous settlement and the impact of Indigenous land management
– from hunting to the use of fire – scholars came to see that
very few environments could be regarded as ‘untouched’
wilderness. In somewhat similar fashion, when scholars from a
variety of disciplines came to study a building or a site, they would
note changes to both the use of the place and its fabric over time.
This meant that simplistic arguments for either built or natural
heritage could no longer rest on claims that used words like
‘pristine’, ‘untouched’ or even un-altered.


For most of the time
since Captain Arthur Phillip claimed what we now call ‘Australia’
for the British Crown, this continent has been regarded and regarded
itself as a ‘new’ society. The early British settlers, from the
convicts to the naval and military, came to a landscape not only
without conventional buildings but without that hallmark of ownership
in Great Britain and Europe, the fence. Here was a fenceless
society, one in which Aboriginal tribes clearly congregated in
particular places, but as contemporary observers noticed, did not
recognize private land ownership, nor did they separate out
landscapes by fixed boundaries. They appeared to live and move
through the landscape.

Ironically, the early
canvas structures that most of the new arrivals first lived in were
less resilient than the wide variety of dwelling places created by
indigenous people, but few remarked on this at the time1.
The desire to create, in an orderly manner, European patterns of
settlement, saw the early surveyors lay out street plans and building
blocks in the port cities and allocate them to a variety of uses,
from military barracks and commissariat stores, to stables and sites
for churches.2

Those settlements
first built by convict labor, including Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane and
Fremantle soon saw substantial stone buildings to house convicts and
their jailers and to supply the needs of both the resident population
and the transient population, especially sailors from many parts of
the world. Sailors’ accommodation houses and missions from the
latter half of the 19
century have survived in some of our port cities.

Being so far from home
the new arrivals could not rely on produce from the ‘mother
country’, so much effort went into early agriculture and livestock,
not least to provide the basic food requirements from meat and dairy
to wheat and a little later to wool, which soon emerged as the
colonies’ greatest export. Such was the demand and enthusiasm for
agricultural production that riverine areas as far afield from Sydney
as Wiseman’s Ferry and St Albans were already being settled by the
1820s. As the wool export trade developed, warehouses and wharves
were built, both on inland rivers and in the port cities.

Aside from prospective
migrants, usually with an agricultural bent, from the British Isles,
Australia hardly featured on the world stage until the discovery of
gold in the 1850s in Victoria and New South Wales, in the 1860s and
1870s in Queensland and in the 1890s in Western Australia. Gold
rushes received an enormous amount of coverage in the British and
American press and in Chinese communities around the world. The
sudden onset of great wealth saw tent cities turn into substantial
towns and sometimes cities within a very short period of time.
Bathurst, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gympie, Cooktown, Charters Towers and
Kalgoorlie all thrived on gold. Other mining sites, including Broken
Hill and Mt Isa, grew rich on silver, lead and zinc. Many of the
grand structures built in these mining towns, from municipal edifices
to hotels to elaborate private schools have now survived for well
over century and almost all of those are prized for their historical
importance and landscape setting.

The railway system, on
a variety of gauges, developed in every colony. Passenger and
freight stations were built to cater for demand from the gold rushes.
Some, from the l860s, were so substantial, that they rivaled the
Town Halls and Cathedrals then being built. Colonies were proud of
their railway architecture, so at Wallangarra, on the New South
Wales/Queensland border, the railway station incorporates two
different architectural styles, enshrining local distinctiveness.

The Boer War, but more
particularly the Great War, forced Australians to think about
erecting lasting monuments. Before those wars most monuments
celebrated local pioneers or the reigning monarch. Queen Victoria
did particularly well with statues in Australia, not least because of
her long reign. The trade union dominated town of Broken Hill caused
a monument to the band on the Titanic to be erected. By the late
1920s every self-respecting town and many a suburb had erected a
monument to its war dead, and with 60,000 dead, there were many to
commemorate. The most elaborate war monuments were built in park
settings in Melbourne and Sydney, and at the top of an axial
boulevard in Canberra3.
These memorials, taken together, constitute the single most
important form of national memory, and all have been regarded as
sacrosanct, long before heritage legislation came on the scene.

By the 1920s and the
1930s, when all of the states, bar Queensland, celebrated either
their centenaries or their sesqui-centenaries, even the most
substantial of convict structures were prime targets for demolition,
to be replaced with new buildings more appropriate to the needs of
modern port cities. Just a handful of members of the Royal Australian
Historical Society, founded in l901, opposed the demolition of the
vast Commissariat store in Sydney in the early l930s, to make way for
new headquarters for the Maritime Services Board (now re-used for the
Museum of Modern Art). A Macquarie St redevelopment committee
planned to do away with the Hyde Park Barracks and the Mint and a
Circular Quay Redevelopment Committee advocated the removal of Fort
Bennelong, then serving as a tramway depot. Few in Sydney regretted
getting rid of convict structures, even though the convict ‘stain’
in Sydney was much less redolent than in Hobart, where a stagnated
local economy ensured that convict structures remained an obvious
presence in Hobart, as they did in Fremantle and Brisbane, where
there were few redevelopment pressures until the l960s.

Just 80 years later,
not only are convict-built structures revered by heritage
professionals and celebrated in tourist brochures, they are embraced
by governments: both the federal government and the state governments
supported a serial nomination of convict places to the World Heritage
List. While it is a truism to say that heritage is in the eye of the
beholder, we can nonetheless discern broad changes in both public and
professional attitudes to our past, from how we created and sometimes
destroyed our built environment to how we use and view the natural
environment. This essay briefly explores the evolution of both
professional and public attitudes to both our indigenous and European
past and how we have used, abused and sometimes attempted to conserve
built and natural landscapes.


The early European
settlers came from societies where most of the forested landscape lay
in private hands and the notion of public parks had been relatively
late to develop. Nonetheless by 1637 London’s Hyde Park, formally
held by royalty and the church, opened its gates to the public. In
Sydney Governor Macquarie, following British principles of town
planning and public places, designed Hyde Park in 1810 for the
‘recreation and amusement of the inhabitants’. Six years later
he excised from the Domain an area to be known at the Royal Botanic
Garden, and the following year appointed the first Colonial Botanist.
In 1823 Commissioner Bigge pointed out that the Garden had the
potential to diffuse ‘throughout the colony the most valuable
specimens of foreign grasses, plants and trees’. Botanic Gardens
gradually developed in all the colonies, designed as places of
contemplation, experimentation and practical application. Hundreds
of plants were tried out in Australia from all over the world, and in
turn native Australian plants were exported not only to nearby New
Zealand – where some created havoc – but as far afield as
California, as gum trees there still attest.

In Australia, with its
seemingly under-inhabited landscape, land did not appear to be a
scarce commodity, nor did it appear so in the United States where the
world’s first conservation area, Yellowstone, was created in 1872
when the federal government put aside an enormous area of 898,318
hectares, crossing three states. Some of its proponents pointed to
the desecration of Niagara Falls where the natural environment has
been suborned by tawdry accommodation and commerce. Native Americans
were more or less excluded from Yellowstone Park, administered by the
US Army, until the creation of a federal National Parks Service in

The 15,000 hectare
National Park south of Sydney, established by the NSW government in
1879, began, like Yellowstone, as a recreational and conservation
facility. It was the first area in the world to be named a ‘National
Park’ in an official proclamation. It only became ‘Royal’ in
1955, when the Queen, as the first reigning Monarch to visit
Australia, graced it with her presence on the royal train the year
before. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries bushwalkers and
recreational users were the focus of the park. Areas were logged,
ornamental trees were planted, while deer, foxes and rabbits were
introduced for sport. It is only in the last thirty years that the
Dharawal people, the original inhabitants of the region, have
received practical recognition in both the interpretation and the
management of the park.

Scenic and bushland
areas were put aside in all the colonies and states, from King’s
Park in Perth (1872), to Ferntree Gully (1882) and Wilsons Promontory
in Victoria (1898), to the Mount Lofty Rangers in South Australia
(1891), Tambourine and Bunya Mountains in Queensland (1908) and the
Mount Field and Freycinet Parks in Tasmania (1916). Many of the
parks created in the 1920s and l930s had strong bushwalker advocates,
from Dunphy in the Blue Mountains to the Lahey family in the
Lamington Plateau. All states passed state-wide park legislation
between the 1950s and the l970s, and the number and size of parks
increased markedly. Marine Parks often had separate legislation.
The federal government entered this territory in a spectacular manner
between 1979 and 1983, creating a vast Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
with a statutory authority to administer it, preventing both oil
drilling and mining.

By the 1970s and
1980s the increase in the size of national parks and the coming of
professional management coincided with the development of the
Aboriginal Land rights movement. Park rangers and state museum staff
had long been conscious of the rich variety of Indigenous sites in
the parks, first formally recognised by South Australia in its
Aboriginal and Historic Relics Preservation Act l967. Other states
either had separate acts (see table 1) and/or incorporated Indigenous
heritage issues in their National Parks and Heritage Acts. Popular
perceptions of Aboriginal sites in National Parks were usually
confined to specifically marked sites (many, sensibly, were not and
are still not identified for the public) until the 1990s, when it
became more and more common for Parks to be re-named after their
traditional inhabitants.

The long and complex
history of Uluru provides an intriguing case of changing legislation,
attitudes and practices. In 1920 the Petterman Reserve was declared,
incorporating Ayers Rock and Mount Olga, to ‘the Aboriginal
may…continue his normal existence until the time is ripe for his
further development.’ The A
people had no say when Ayers Rock became a National Park in 1950 and
a site of tourist promotion. The federal government returned the
title on the national park to the traditional owners in 1983 on
condition that it was immediately leased back to the Australian Parks
and Wildlife Service. In recent years the A
have requested that visitors not climb the rock, and the numbers have
fallen from 74 per cent of all visitors in 1990 to 38 per cent in
2010. More and more Australian and international visitors are
respecting the call for this site to be experienced in its landscape
and spiritual setting, but not climbed4.

From the 1970s to the
1990s well-organised conservation groups faced off with a series of
opponents to protect environments in every state and territory. In
Tasmania they faced the government-owned Electricity Commission,
forestry unions and forestry companies. This battle took to the
national stage in 1983 when the ‘South-west coalition’ placed the
first full colour political advertisement in Australia history, with
a photo of a river and forest landscape and the bold question ‘Would
you vote for a party that would destroy this?’. In Queensland,
sand mining, which had been phased out of NSW in the 1970s, continued
apace, especially on the sand islands of Fraser and Stradbroke. The
former was saved by federal intervention, while the Queensland
government has only belated announced that it will no longer extend
mining leases on the latter. In the rainforests of northern NSW
newly resident conservationists battled it out with loggers and saw
mills, with some sites entering the national conservation vocabulary,
including Terania Creek.

DEMOLITION: out with the old, in with the new

In the decade after
the end of World War Two, Australia and Australians committed to
Architects advised clients and governments to site
new, single storey houses, to catch the sun. Owner builders,
responsible for about half of all new houses at the time, took the
advice. At a time when even working class families could afford to
buy a block of land in the outer suburbs, 19th century terrace house
in inner suburbs – already pronounced to be slums in the 1930s –
got more and more run down, and many were slated for demolition, to
be replaced by high rise tower blocks and walk-up blocks of flats.

Cities and towns on
the itinerary for the Royal Visit of 1954 felt obliged to modernize,
and many removed verandah posts and replaced the old tin verandah
roofs with modern steel awnings. In the capital cities height limits
of between 130 and 150 feet had kept office blocks in check, but
these limits were overturned in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Suddenly buildings twenty stories and more emerged on the city
skylines of Sydney and Melbourne. These giant new structures
required large sites and necessitated the demolition of many
buildings, as in the case of Harry Seidler’s signature Australia
Square Tower Building (l965c). Parts of the Central Business
Districts of Sydney and Melbourne, and slightly later of Perth,
Adelaide and Brisbane, were almost obliterated. In Sydney pubs,
cinemas, arcades and even huge emporia gave way to the new high rise
towers. In more conservative Melbourne, many of the shopping arcades
remained, along with most of the old money clubs, including the
Melbourne Club, and even art deco office blocks. The Exhibition
Buildings, Flinders St Station, St Paul’s and St Patrick’s
Cathedral retained enough curtilage to maintain dignity in the urban
landscape, as did the Sydney Town Hall, St Mary’s Cathedral and
North Terrace in Adelaide. But in Brisbane, the only capital city
with a metropolitan government, the City Hall (1930) became boxed in
by office towers, leaving the city’s once dominant symbol robbed of
its commanding setting.

Nineteenth and early
20th century churches tended to survive in most of the cities, but
even some of those survivors are now simply foyer areas for new
apartment blocks. The same fate has befallen the grand banking
chambers of most of the big banks. A combination of amalgamations
and land values has seen only a few of these survive, and even some
of those have been turned into apartments. The Sydney GPO,
disgracefully abandoned by Australia Post, has been turned into an
up-market food court for a five star hotel. Melbourne’s GPO is now
a shopping centre, but has retained a modicum of its former dignity.
Post Offices in cities and suburbs, from Townsville to the suburb of
Kew in Melbourne, have suffered similar fates. The wave of urban
demolitions in the 1960s and 1970s wasn’t restricted to
corporations. The NSW state government, having decided to close its
tramway system, offered up the Bennelong Point Tram Depot (the former
Fort Macquarie) for an international competition to build an Opera
House. Bjelke Peterson’s Queensland government ruined Australia’s
most notable colonial intersection with the demolition of the
Bellevue Hotel (the pastoralists’ Queensland Club remains
diagonally opposite the colonial Parliament) and built a freeway on
the northern side of the Brisbane River, while Perth attempted to
encircle all its urban waterways with freeways.

Some of the most
representative buildings of the 1960s boom – Leslie Perrott’s gas
and fuel buildings in Melbourne being a prime example – soon fell
from grace, to eventually provide the site for Federation Square,
Melbourne’s low-key answer to the Opera House forecourt. In Sydney
the much-applauded, 32 storey State Government Office Block designed
by Ken Woolley (1967) gave way, just three decades later, to Renzo
Piano’s Aurora Place office block. Despite the size and might of
many such office block buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, many have
since been demolished or converted to apartments as the real estate
market changed course and inner city apartment dwelling suddenly
became fashionable for both owner occupiers and investors.


We can now say, with
the benefit of hindsight, that the 1960s saw more ‘historic’
buildings demolished than in any decade before or since. Both Labor
and non Labor governments courted the development industry,
encouraged insurance companies and banks to build new headquarters,
and vie with each other to build Australia’s tallest building. The
AMP and the MLC and their well-remunerated architects and engineers
relished this competition.

The most spectacular
redevelopment proposals were in Sydney, where the Askin
Liberal/Country party government, with the backing of overseas banks,
proposed to demolish and redevelop most of the Rocks and
Woolloomooloo. At the same time a handful of businessmen could see
some mileage in using historic structures for new purposes. Sam
McMahon, brother of William McMahon opened an Arts Centre in the
Argyle Bond buildings in the Rocks in 1965. Askin, a former Rural
Bank manager, was so out of touch with public opinion, that it took
an unlikely alliance of middle class professionals, especially
architects, and ‘green bans’ imposed by the Builders Labourers
Federation (BLF), under the leadership of Jack Mundey, to force a
pause in the plans of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority,
designed by Askin’s government to raze the Rocks and hand the sites
over to international hoteliers, bankers and insurance brokers.

Some other states,
most notably WA and Queensland, awash with mining boom funds, were in
the hands of development at any cost regimes, but in Victoria, under
the civilized leadership of Premier Dick Hamer, whose adult children
had re-discovered the charms of Carlton terrace houses, intervention
took very particular forms. Hamer even intervened to stop the sale
and redevelopment of Erskine House at Lorne, with a more intact
coastal curtilage than any other guest house in the nation.
Queenscliff in Victoria, with about as many grand guest houses as
Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, saw the advantages of the
conservation of such notable structures in their landscape setting.
Both these sites have variably survived on decades of honeymooners
and holiday makers.

Sites abutting surf
beaches have come under much more pressure. From the late 1950s a
stretch of land in southern Queensland marketed as the Gold Coast,
gave up on sand mining and turned to canal estates on the Florida
model. The wooden guest houses that once dotted the coastline, from
Southport to Coolangatta, were raised for new hotels, motels and
blocks of flats.5

In the suburbs and
country towns havoc had already manifested itself in the petrol
station building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, where no corner block
on an arterial road was safe from the petrol companies. Thousands of
houses were lost in an orgy of service station building, over two
thirds of which have long since closed. But it was the car-based
suburban shopping centre that posed the greatest challenge to the
architecture and ambience of traditional high street shops.
Brisbane, with its metropolitan-wide council, led off with Chermside
in 1957. Similar proposals in Sydney and Melbourne were delayed by
local council rivalry, but Chadstone and Warringah Mall soon came on
the scene. These new centres usually appropriated market gardens or
under-utilised industrial land, because of the amount of space
required, not for the shops as much but for the free parking. The
malls undermined the traditional shopping streets, many of which
never recovered. The malls also concentrated ownership, first in the
hands of the big retailers (Myers, David Jones and others) and
latterly with the rise of corporate owners, most notable Westfield.
Distinctive shop fronts, long associated with milk bars, pharmacies,
shoe shops, mercers and the like have given way to branded floor to
ceiling glass entry ways, redone every few years to keep up both
shopping throughput, retail income and rents. Many have attacked the
blandness of these centres.

Post-war Australians,
whether locally born or migrants, had seen their city centres
transformed. In Sydney and Melbourne they had also seen thousands of
terrace houses demolished to make way for high rise and walk-up
blocks of Housing Commission flats. In the suburbs most of the new
development took place on market gardens, race courses, dairies and
unutilized land zoned for industry.

The key political
actors of the time lived through this transformation of environments.
The architects and town planners had got to E.G. Whitlam, the
Canberra-educated member for the western suburbs of Sydney federal
electorate of Werriwa. They had also got to Tom Uren, who became the
first minister for Urban and Regional Development in the nation’s
history. They didn’t need to get to Neville Wran, leader of the
NSW Labor opposition, because as a city-based lawyer he mixed with
them on a daily basis.

In May 1973 the
Whitlam government appointed a Committee of Inquiry into the National
Estate. The composition of the committee is illuminated. Chaired by
Justice R.M.Hope, it included the poet Judith Wright, David Yencken,
an urban developer with a strong interest in architecture and design,
and the architect and environmentalist Milo Dunphy. The frontispiece
included quotations from J.F.Kennedy about the ‘national estate’
helping to recover ‘the relationship between man and nature’ and
E.G. Whitlam’s comment that the Australian government ‘should see
itself as the curator and not the liquidator of the national estate’.

This influential
report lead to the creation of the Australian Heritage Commission
(AHC), two years later, taking up residence in historic Casey House
in Canberra, a marvelous symbol of independence for a new statutory
authority, because it was not simply lumped in with other portfolios
in a standard Canberra office block. The AHC soon established its
mark, with seminars, publications and its Register of the National
Estate, which drew on and attempted to add much more rigour to the
registers of the National Trusts.

Victoria, with the
nation’s most urbane Premier, Rupert Hamer, enacted an Historic
Buildings Preservation Act in 1974, setting up an Historic Buildings
Council. The year before young professionals had campaigned to save
the Union Bank in Collins St.6
With its grand inner city buildings and suburban mansions from the
1880s boom, Melbourne became a heritage battleground as banks and
insurance companies eyed off CBD sites and home unit developers
devoured as many large suburban sites as they could get their hands

New South Wales was
next of the mark. Neville Wran, a worldly lawyer, defeated the
coalition government in 1976 and just a year later NSW had a Heritage
Act and a Heritage Council to administer it. The coalition
government had taken an interest in creating new national parks and
in Aboriginal heritage, which figured prominently in its 1974
National Parks and Wildlife Act, including specific provisions to
preserve Aboriginal sites. The South Australian government had been
first in this field in 1967, proclaiming its Aboriginal and Historic
Relics Preservation Act in this year. The year before South Australia
had become the first Australian state to outlaw racial

Those states with
strong architecture, town planning and even history lobbies followed
NSW promptly. South Australia passed its Heritage Act in 1978 and
Victoria a ‘Historic Buildings Act’ in 1981. The mining states,
where political corruption and real estate bribery were endemic,
namely WA and Queensland, took another decade to act, WA in 1990 and
Queensland in 1992. Ironically, the state with the most palpable
evidence of convict heritage, Tasmania, didn’t pass a heritage act
until 1995. But redevelopment pressures there were very modest and
Port Arthur had long been protected from unsympathetic tourist
proposals, having by that time already had a long a varied history of
tourist promotion and exploitation.8


Ever since the state
National Trusts embraced the idea of registers of historic buildings,
heritage has been associated with taxonomies and lists. The Venice
Charter, the Burra Charter, and the acts of each state heritage
council, along with legislation for the Australian Heritage
Commission, all note the importance of identifying heritage places,
from European buildings and natural landscapes to indigenous sites.
There has been a plethora of state and federal legislation on these
matters over the past thirty-five years, with both brief and prolix
definitions of what constitutes heritage.

representativeness, architectural excellence, scientific, economic
and historical importance feature in most assessment criteria. A
widely varied regime of protection emerged, from National Trust
listings, which had no legislative authority, to the development, in
some states, of permanent conservation orders administered by
statutory authorities. Many of these authorities, proudly proclaimed
when first set up, have had their powers curtailed, often by being
subsumed within a wider planning and/or environmental bureaucracy.
In the 21st century terms like protection and conservation have been
replaced by the dominant catch-word of the era, ‘sustainability’.

Heritage and/or
historic buildings registers were produced by the National Trusts in
the 1960s and 1970s, and by the time the state government heritage
councils came along, early versions of heritage databases began to
develop, many of which have now been re-configured for the web. The
culmination of the listings approach and the bible of this period of
heritage assessment and appreciation appeared as
Illustrated Register of the National Estate
a vast volume of over 1000 pages, published by Macmillan in 1981.
This volume had enormous professional influence, not just on the
immediate professional groups – historians, archeologists,
architects, anthropologists – but on those cognate professions that
operated more explicitly in the market economy, namely town and
environmental planners.

Critics of listings
invariably accused the compilers of being too property or site
specific, of taking too narrow a view about significance, or being
under the influence of a particular disciplinary paradigm (be it
history, architecture or archaeology), or of flabby notions of social
and cultural significance. Natural site conservation drew on other
disciplines, literatures and measurement techniques – ecology,
taxonomy, geomorphology, and carbon dating – and rarely interacted
with the cultural mob. The identification of indigenous sites and
artefacts came primarily from archaeologists and anthropologists, who
had a variable track record of consultation with local indigenous
but at least most appreciated the need to consult with local
communities. In assessing European structures, the local interest
groups were often deliberately ignored, either because they were
regarded as financially partisan – owners of buildings, prospective
developers – or lacking the appropriate professional expertise or
save our suburbs groups, community groups, unless they incorporated,
and sometimes employed, heritage professionals from architects to

firms were set up to undertake heritage assessments, and some
actually made a better fist of this than the universities. Here
expertise remained split between public history programs,
concentrating on the built environment, environmental assessment
groups which stuck with ecology, town planners and architects who
embraced the remunerative activity of being ‘expert witnesses’ in
semi-judicial hearings for either developers or government
heritage/conservation bodies attempting to curb the developers.

Leading heritage
advocates, most notably James Semple Kerr, developed the notion of
conservation management plans, which when combined with the regularly
reviewed Burra Charter, gave consultants a sound basis for preparing
such plans. Most major heritage sites in Australia now have such
plans, which also address issues of interpretation and public access.
These plans all analyse the ‘curtilage’ of a site – its
landscape setting, whether built or natural – and whether proposed
new developments will compromise the curtilage as to distract from
the heritage importance of the site.

Over the past two
decades many sites have benefitted from such plans, while others have
been so compromised that their importance is much diminished. The
1880s Yungaba migration depot on the Brisbane River has been given
over to Australand, a Singapore-government owned development company,
to be turned into upper middle class apartments. It will be open to
the public once a year. Erskine House at Lorne now houses new
apartment blocks, its curtilage irredeemably compromised. The
Abbotsford convent, on a spectacular bend in the Yarra River, has
retained most of its landscape dignity, unlike the Brisbane City
Hall, long crowded out by office blocks. The guest houses at Mount
Buffalo and Mt Kosciusko national parks and at Jenolan Caves remain
redolent with their history while the Gold Coast struggles to find
any sense of continuity in a landscape where almost all pre 1950
structures have now been demolished.


In the realm of built
heritage, particular types of buildings, especially when they have
relatively restricted purposes, can flourish and then fall into
disuse within just a few generations. Throughout the 19th century
colonial governments granted most major religions land and thousands
of structures of worship were built, from Cathedrals in the cities to
a simple Mosque and a modest Synagogue in Broken Hill. Since the
1960s many of these religious structures have fallen into disuse,
through a combination of falling congregations and sometimes – as
in the case of the Uniting church – subsuming churches belonging to
three different religious groups and then rationalizing those that
remained in active service. With the collapse of Catholic teaching
orders, sources of Catholic schools, especially in the smaller
country towns, were turned over to other uses, as were convents and
orphanages. Sometimes the school survived, but the abutting convent,
as happened with the three storey sandstone convent at Warwick,
Queensland, became a bed and breakfast establishment. Religious
sites in the inner city have only been subject to heritage
contestation. When La Trobe University sold the Abbotsford convent
site to Australand, the Singapore-government owned development
company, outraged locals and heritage professionals, with the notable
support of Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, managed to save the site and the
structures for more appropriate uses.

Churches, along with
notable houses of pastoral and urban capitalists, were among the
first properties to attract the attention of National Trusts. They
were usually well built, invariably architect designed and often sat
within their original curtilage, commanding notable sites in both
cities and the country side. Since the 1970s hundreds of churches
have been converted to bars, pharmacies, dwellings and all manner of
retail uses. Other churches have been allowed, under heritage
regulations and supervision, to make major changes to their internal
or external structure for practical purposes, such as shifting the
grave of Mother Mary McKillop from one side of the chapel in North
Sydney to the other, to better facilitate the movement of pilgrims
past her grave.

Gas plants and
electric powerhouses were among the largest land holders in most of
our cities. With the notable exception of Melbourne, where power
plants were located amid the Gippsland coal supply, powerhouses in
the other cities were located with their consumers. Brisbane’s
tramway powerhouse, at New Farm, has since been converted for
cultural purposes, with some sense of the original purpose and fabric
retained, unlike the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney where most of the
fabric was painted grey. Most of Sydney’s other powerhouses have
given away to port facilities (Bunnerong, on Botany Bay) or
apartments, including the Balmain Powerhouse. Coal-fired gas plants
followed suit. One of the few remaining urban gasometers in
Australia, to be found at Newstead in Brisbane, retains its external
steel structure, but not its storage cylinder.

Other major
landholders, from munitions plants to breweries, have given way to
new housing estates or in city areas, apartment blocks. Central
Sydney and central Perth have seen all of their major breweries
demolished and rebuilt in the suburbs. Sometimes remnant fabric on
the original brewery sites has been retained, including
pseudo-historical entrance ways for new apartment blocks. Only
Melbourne (Carlton United at Abbotsford), Adelaide (West End brewery)
and Brisbane (Castlemaine Perkins Brewery at Milton) retain any inner
city breweries, though in every case many of the older structures
have been replaced by new plants and huge parking bays to cater for
the voracious demands of delivery trucks.

Historic port
facilities in Australia have taken a battering, not least with the
move to containerization. Brisbane has rid itself of almost all its
port heritage, with hardly any evidence left that it was once a major
river port. All the action is now with containers near the mouth of
the river. Sydney, amazingly, has retained some of its great early
20th century wooden wharves, most notably the Woolloomooloo Finger
Wharf and the Walsh Bay wharves. While they have been given over to
apartment living, hotels and cultural pursuits, the overall form of
buildings still remains. Of all of Australia’s great urban ports,
only Sydney, Hobart and Fremantle retain much sense of their history.
Melbourne’s docklands development has seen many wharves demolished
to make way for apartments in one of the most wind-swept landscapes
to be found in any Australian city.

More plebian
structures rarely get the attention of heritage advocates, unless
they are housed in historic premises. So poker machine installations
in pubs and clubs, central to the expansion of gambling since the
1960s, have had little attention from heritage experts unless their
insertion threatened historical fabric. Major car-based shopping
centres, which are regularly re-fitted and even completely
re-configured – from Chermside to Chadstone – are also unlikely
to find themselves listed as items of heritage value. But unchanged
shop fronts, especially from the art noveau and art deco eras-
including the Paragon Café in Katoomba – get a lot of attention,
and few if any dispute those heritage listings.


In a property-owning
democracy, where over two thirds of households own or are buying
their residence, which is not subject to capital gains tax, the
temptation for constant redevelopment is hard to resist. It is even
harder to resist in the city centres, where new structures and new
land uses can produce a much greater return on many sites. Beyond
the urban areas, the biggest challenges have come from land clearing,
open cut mining, coal-seam gas extraction and logging, either for
hardwood or wood chipping. While some activities deemed destructive
of the natural environment have long been banned, including whaling
and the use of toxic aerial sprays, emerging industries raise new
issues for heritage conservation.

The challenge is to
maintain a sense of place in our cities and suburbs and towns, to
preserve what is left of relatively undisturbed natural environments,
including the more successful examples of regrowth, while allowing
agriculture to flourish and mining, which underpins the economies of
Queensland and Western Australia, to proceed subject to environmental
controls and a deep awareness of impacts on both Indigenous sites and
established farms and pastoral leases. Such ambitions inevitably
throw up choices, compromises and stand offs, especially at a time in
world history where technological advances no longer provide
guaranteed solutions to the world’s ills, from mass starvation to
climate change. Many of these contradictions are now simply masked
by slogans such as ‘sustainable living’. Advocates for built
heritage and the preservation of natural environments are fighting
for recognition and resources for their causes, just as advocates are
lobbying for more funds for medical research or the performing arts.

What both built
heritage and environmental advocates can plausibly claim is an
interest in our past, our present and our future. Sometimes
governments take these issues up with gusto, as they did in the 1970s
and early 1980s, but just as often governments lose interest, not
least when there are more electorally saleable issues and causes.
Prime Minister John Howard’s government took more interest in the
heritage of Gallipoli and cricket than it did in either the built or
the natural environment. If Australia had not been a signatory to
the World Heritage Property Conservation Act it is quite possible
that the federal government might have vacated the territory
completely. Instead its analytical heritage capacity was gutted and
replaced by an idiosyncratic and implausible small register of sites
of ‘national significance’.

Labor governments in
Queensland and New South Wales in the new century, and governments
from both sides of politics in WA, almost always sided with the
development industry when it came to redeveloping lucrative inner
city sites or creating more holiday accommodation capacity on the
coast. Some local governments have staunchly defended their built
and natural environments from grandiose developers, often with very
little support or even outright opposition from their respective
state governments. Byron Bay has resisted the blandishments of the
high rise development industry which has so cruelled much of the
landscape from the Sunshine Coast to the Tweed Shire.

Heritage preservation
will always involve contestation – whether it is competing land
uses, redevelopment proposals, or restoration after mining. Even
Bryon Bay cannot hide the terrible devastation caused by sand mining
there, whereas on the Gold Coast the evidence is hidden under
apartments, shopping centres and casinos. But the Gold Coast is now
seeking its past in an impressive local history collection at the
Southport Library and attempting to create a museum of coastal
development. Contestation may also be generational. Members of
National Parks and National Trust organisations tend to be older,
often retired, and hark back to less complex, more predictable
environments. The reason that so many of these organizations take
their public and educational roles so seriously is that they are
concerned to instill in coming generations an appreciation of our
landscapes and the sense of place that goes with them.






South Wales


Heritage Act 1977

Houses Act, 1980

Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974



Australian Heritage Act 1978

and Historic
Relics Preservation Act 1967

Heritage Act, 1988



Act of WA, 1990

Heritage Act 1972



Buildings Preservation Act 1974

Heritage Act 1995

and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972

Heritage Act, 2006



Cultural Heritage Act 1995



Heritage Act, 1992

Cultural Heritage Act 2003



Heritage Commission Act, 1975

Shipwrecks Act 1976

and Torres Strait Islanders Heritage Protection Act 1984



Conservation Act, 1991

Sacred Sites Act, 1989



Objects Act, 1991

Heritage Act, 2004

Heritage Property Conservation Act 1983


Many town planning and
environmental acts have had heritage provisions since the 1970s.
They are beyond the remit of this paper, which concentrates on formal
heritage and related acts, rather than the inclusion of clauses in
planning instruments or environmental regulation.

Sources: B. Boer and
G. Wiffen,
Law in Australia
OUP, 2006. See also chapter 2 in Pearson and Sullivan,
After Heritage Places
MUP 1995



There is a vast literature on both built and natural heritage in
Australia. All branches of the National Trust publish magazines or
newsletters, as do Heritage Councils or their equivalents in each
state. National Parks associations in each state also publish
newsletters, and the government departments that are responsible for
built, ‘natural’ and Indigenous heritage regularly produce annual
reports and publish reports on particular sites, buildings or places.

Studies of particular heritage places are to be found in both public
repositories and in the libraries of some of our largest consultancy
firms, from specialists in engineering, ecology, archaeology and
history. Increasingly these resources are to be found on the web,
but many remain inaccessible. Every local council in Australia has a
website, but only one Australian state has thus far produced a guide
to its major settlements, The heritage
databases held by the federal government and the state governments
are yet to be combined, so the sense of ambitious comprehensiveness
first anticipated by the Australian Heritage Commission in the late
1970s and 1980s, has faded and been replaced by a panoply of heritage
websites that are often more concerned with marketing than with
presenting useful information. Most of the government guides to our
national parks have more to say about camping fees than they do about
the history of the parks or the changing attitude to the environment
that can be deduced from this history.

Arthur, Bill and Morphy, Frances eds., Macquarie Atlas of
Indigenous Australia
, Macquarie Library, Sydney, 2005

Bonyhady, Tim, Places Worth Keeping: conservationists, politics
and law
, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1993

Davison, G and McConville, C eds., A Heritage Handbook, Allen
and Unwin, Sydney, 1991

Freestone, Robert Urban Nation: Australia’s Planning Heritage,
CSIRO 2010

Griffiths, Tom Hunters and Collectors: the antiquarian imagination
in Australia
, CUP, Melbourne, 1996

Hall, C.M. Wasteland to World Heritage: Preserving Australia’s
, MUP, 1992

The Heritage of Australia: the illustrated register of the
National Estate
, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1981

Hope, R.M., Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the
National Estate
, AGPS, Canberra, l974

Lines, William Taming the Great South Land: a history of the
conquest of nature in Australia,
Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1991

Lowenthal, David The Past is a Foreign Country, CUP,
Cambridge, 1985

Memmott, Paul Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal
Architecture of Australia
, UQP, Brisbane 2007

Pearson, M and S. Sullivan, Looking After Heritage Places,
MUP, 1995

Rickard, J and P. Spearritt eds., Packaging the Past? Public
, MUP, 1991

Seddon, George The Old Country: Australian Landscapes, Plants and
, CUP, 2005

Sullivan, Sharon ed., Cultural conservation: towards a national
, AGPS, Canberra, 1995