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Lennon Paris Down Under -World Heritage Impacts in Australia

Lennon Paris Down Under -World Heritage Impacts in Australia

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Paris Down Under -World Heritage Impacts in Australia
Jane L. LennonThirty years ago Australia joined
The Convention Concerning the Protection of theWorld Cultural and Natural Heritage
and ever since World Heritage has had animpact on Australians – in their legislation, in their tourism and in their conceptsabout nature and culture. Today the 15 World Heritage areas in Australia arehousehold names, icons of popular heritage and major tourist destinations but onlyafter bitter contests with a variety of communities and commercial interests. WorldHeritage in Australia has been a very political issue. The Convention deals with heritage of outstanding universal value. UNESCO’sCommittee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage referred to an“International Estate” but its use of the word “heritage” signalled a major shift in theunderstanding of this term applied to features of the built and natural environmentrather than as a spiritual notion.In 1973 a new Labor government which had campaigned on a platform of environmental conservation established a Committee of Enquiry into the NationalEstate. This committee recommended the creation of the Australian HeritageCommission whose primary role was to establish a Register of the National Estate of those ‘things we want to keep.’ Despite the name, places did not need to be of national significance to be listed. However, the name “National Estate” createdconfusion and controversy for the next 30 years. Historians saw this national heritage
movement as part of a wider international trend in the 1960s and 70s, and the creationof the National Estate “might as readily be seen as an indirect creation of UNESCO asa symptom of Whitlam’s new nationalism” (Davison, 1991:118).
National characteristics
The six separate British colonies formed a federation in 1901 as the Commonwealthof Australia, which is the only nation to occupy a whole continent. Under theconstitution, the Commonwealth is responsible for national matters like defence,customs, quarantine, taxation and matters associated with international treaties andconventions, while the States and Territories are responsible for heath, education andmanagement of the environment including heritage places.Australia has 7.6 million square kilometres of land, 70,000 kilometres of coastline, 16million square kilometres of marine area and 6 million square kilometres of Antarctica. It is biologically diverse and the undisputed world centre for marsupials.The vegetation is dominated by two genera –
, and many plantsare adapted to dry conditions and low nutrient soils; yet there are rainforests covering0.1 per cent of the land area and protected in reserves and three major World Heritagedesignations – the Wet Tropics, the Central Eastern Rainforests Reserves, and theTasmanian Wilderness.The first Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, have occupiedthe continent for at least 60,000 years. They modified the environment through theuse of fire, and this coupled with continuous hunting may well have driven thePleistocene megafauna to extinction and changed the species composition of bothflora and fauna (ASEC, 2001:7, 73). They gave the landscape its creation stories andpeopled it with heroic ancestors. They gave us non-architectural but spectacularevidence of their culture, in rock art, ancient occupation sites and sacred landscapes.They made the whole of Australia a cultural landscape, a fact not well recognised inheritage management practice in Australia.The impact on the Indigenous landscape of the varied waves of European migrationsince the 1788 settlement of Sydney has been dramatic. Within a few generations,large tracts of the country were irreversibly modified by European land practices of clearing and introduction of hoofed domestic animals for farming and grazingAustralia is home to people from many countries and in 2001 nearly 25 per cent of Australians were born overseas. The population of 20 million is highly urbanised with62 per cent living in the five largest cities and 85 per cent living within 50 kilometresof the coastline.
 Management of heritage places
On a continental scale Australia is very diverse. Heritage is an amalgam of all thoseplaces important in the cultural identities of Australia’s population. Creating aRegister of the National Estate has kept Australians aware of heritage following themany controversies about listing these places. In November 1976 the Federalgovernment instructed that Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, be entered in
the Register and mining of mineral sands ceased after a decade of battling theQueensland State government and the miners, notably US Dillingham Constructions.Where States did not have adequate planning protection, conservation advocates usedthe National Estate listing process to draw attention to threatened places ranging frompotential World Heritage sites to local landscapes of remnant native vegetation.In 1981 the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living organism, Kakadu with itsrugged landscapes, expansive wetlands and Aboriginal art and Willandra Lakes, aseries of former lakes and dunes containing the oldest documented human remains inAustralia, were all entered on the World Heritage List. This reinforced the view thatour big landscapes had international value. In 1982 the Tasmanian Wilderness, onequarter of the State of Tasmania, was World Heritage listed, despite completeopposition from the State government. A new Federal government had won theelection on this issue of protection of wilderness using the external treaties power inthe constitution and passed the
World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 
in 1983,the only nation at that time to have legislation to protect World Heritage properties.World Heritage listing was truly used as a policy instrument to protect key Australianlandscapes, especially in those States which did not use their land managementpowers appropriately for conservation.In many ways, this set the scene for some of the key elements of World Heritagemanagement in Australia - the emphasis on universal as opposed to local values, theemphasis on the natural as opposed to European heritage values and the imposition of a centralist model of decision-making versus local involvement and consultation, atrend which is now being reversed. The problem of having no jurisdiction exceptthrough the external treaty power to prevent inappropriate land-use is one of thereasons for the invention of the National List of Australian heritage places.In 1996 the Australian Heritage Commission commenced community discussionabout the best system for protecting Australia’s heritage. It advocated moving to asystems model, which recognized that an integrated approach to heritageidentification, conservation and management was essential (AHC, 1996:14). It alsorecognized that over 60 million hectares or 8% of the Australian land mass wasmanaged for nature conservation with 4,100 protected areas (Worboys et al., 2000:75)and many of the 13,000 places entered in the Register of the National Estate were nowcovered by State, Territory and local government heritage legislation.The Council of Australian Governments reviewed the roles and responsibilities forheritage identification and environment protection, including the major gap betweenWorld Heritage and National Estate sites in their protection regimes. This resulted inthe Commonwealth’s new
 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
(EPBC) which defines environment to include Australia’s natural and culturalheritage. Actions “likely to have a significant impact on a matter of nationalenvironmental significance,” require Ministerial approval. The matters of nationalenvironmental significance are: World Heritage properties, Ramsar wetlands of international importance, listed threatened species and communities; migratoryspecies protected under international agreements, nuclear actions, and theCommonwealth marine environments (seehttp: //www.environment.gov.au/epbc

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