Essay: What is heritage?

Spearritt, Peter (2011) Essay: What is heritage? Canberra, ACT, Australia: Australian Heritage Strategy

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Author Spearritt, Peter
Title of report Essay: What is heritage?
Parent publication Australian Heritage Strategy Public Consultation paper
Publication date 2011
Publisher Australian Heritage Strategy
Series Australian Heritage Strategy - commissioned essays
Place of publication Canberra, ACT, Australia
Total pages 14
Language eng
Subjects 430101 History - Australian
310102 Heritage and Conservation
Research Report for an External Body - Public Sector
Formatted abstract
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
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.
Q-Index Code AX
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ
Additional Notes The Australian Heritage Strategy will aim to provide a common direction for government agencies and non-government groups alike for the benefit of all Australia's heritage. As part of the process to develop the Strategy, the department commissioned nine essays to help identify key issues facing the heritage sector. These essays aim to provoke thought and encourage discussion amongst the community about what should be addressed through the development of the Strategy.

Document type: Research Report
Collection: School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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Created: Mon, 16 Apr 2012, 09:29:46 EST by Kimberly Dobson on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry