By Ann Hardy, National Trust of Australia
Over the past few decades the implementation of heritage legislation has become ‘rubbery’ and the robust operation of the Heritage Act 1977 has declined with the role falling by the wayside for Governments during the 1990s and 2000s. This dismantling of heritage legislation coupled with real threats to heritage has led to the resurgence of conservation groups and many grassroots organisations in NSW are now active defenders of cultural heritage in NSW.
Traditional heritage communities are aligning with environmental groups and are becoming conscious of sustainability and wider ‘green’ issues.
Building on the work of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the Total Environment Centre, groups are taking the baton and acting against threats to cultural and living landscapes in NSW. Take for example the campaign against the Tillegra Dam proposal which threatened the precious eco-systems of a historic township and landscape. Here environmental and heritage groups came together with the Greens and won to stop the dam. Another example was the proposed large scale residential development at the historic mining hamlet of Catherine Hill Bay near Newcastle with individuals, the community and various conservation groups rallying with the Greens to protect ‘heritage’.
‘Heritage’ in the twenty-first century is becoming more aligned with cultural landscapes and, intangible concepts and ideas such as Aboriginal Dreaming stories. Now socially inclusive aspects, like memory, community engagement and social identity are recognised in valuing cultural heritage and are becoming intertwined with environmental conservation and economic sustainability.
Conservation and protection of significant Aboriginal sites has not been given the same diligence as European heritage. In Newcastle, Australia’s largest KFC outlet was built on a site of exceptional cultural, social, scientific and Aboriginal significance, with the potential to reveal knowledge of Aboriginal occupation for the past 6,700 years. Research and proper interpretation was not fully realised at this site, artefacts were not fully explored, and so subsequently buried under the outlet.
A parliamentary call for papers by Greens NSW Heritage spokesperson David Shoebridge highlighted the failings of our current heritage laws to support adequate research at heritage sites destined for development.
Strong heritage policy and planning legislation is more essential than ever today to protect cultural heritage in NSW. Communities want to advocate and take action to protect heritage. They want to engage in a meaningful way to build identity. Heritage policies that support protection and sustainability of culturally sensitive places are paramount. Significant benefits for the health and well-being of communities can flow from this. The social benefits to communities in the long term can be immense, both in physical and mental terms. The community has a deep attachment to cultural heritage and early participation in cultural and environmental issues is the key. This can both empower and provide the momentum needed for positive change to occur, and enhance the well-being of communities.
Ann Hardy is a Culteral Heritage Researcher and a Board member of the National Trust of Australia (NSW). She has also been secretary of the Hunter Region Commitee of the National Trust since 2006.
For more information on the new Greens NSW Heritage policy visit www.davidshoebridge.org.au/planning-heritage