Heritage Conservation

The Penitentiary at Port Arthur (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Heritage Conservation is in this instance defined as the conservation of historical cultural heritage, often called 'historical heritage management'. The conservation of Tasmania's natural heritage captured the public imagination well before the historic character of the island's built heritage was recognised. Contributing factors were the comparative youth of European culture in Tasmania, the large stock of nineteenth century buildings in Tasmania, and ambivalence towards the remnants of the convict past.1 There was also a widespread attitude that the retention of historic buildings was incompatible with progress. The Scenery Preservation Board, created in 1915 as a reflection of community concern for the protection of scenic reserves (as tourist attractions), however assumed control of several buildings at Port Arthur in 1916 for the purposes of restoration.2

Public interest in heritage conservation was awakened by the loss of Tasmania's historic character through demolition and inappropriate development, an issue brought to the public's attention by respected commentators such as W Hardy Wilson (1924) and Charles Barrett (1945).3 Calls for the formation of a group like the National Trust in New South Wales to address such issues were initially unsuccessful, the perception being that the existence of the Scenery Preservation Board made it unnecessary, but the introduction of the issue into the public arena did result in the Board's acquisition in the late 1940s of Entally House, Richmond Gaol and the Shot Tower.

The establishment of the Tasmanian Society in 1935 and the Tasmanian Historical Research Association in 1951 helped to raise consciousness of the state's history, but efforts to preserve the built environment remained unco-ordinated responses to individual demolitions. The compilation of lists of buildings worthy of preservation as a basis for policy was not begun until the early 1960s. In 1962, the National Trust of Tasmania (formed in Launceston in 1960, initially to provide a vehicle for the purchase of The Hollies, now Franklin House) took over the task. Their listing introduced a classification system based largely on aesthetic and architectural considerations. For the next two decades the National Trust of Tasmania was effectively the key body for heritage matters in the state.

Although legislation in 1963 gave the Hobart and Launceston Corporations protective powers in respect of the demolition or alteration of buildings deemed historic, the 1960s saw several controversial demolitions including Cottage Green at Battery Point, which instigated the creation of Preservation Funds in Hobart and Launceston. During this period Battery Point became a battleground between developers and those interested in preserving Hobart's historic character. A split developed in the relatively conservative Battery Point Progress Association, itself formed in response to the uncompromising Cook Plan of 1945 which would have seen the disappearance of much of Hobart's historic fabric. The more radical Battery Point Society succeeded in getting the Builders' Labourers' Federation to place a green ban on further large scale developments in Battery Point. Concerns about the future of the warehouses in Salamanca Place subsequently led to the government purchasing these buildings. Community groups have also played a significant part in other heritage conservation battles, notably the North Hobart Residents Group in the 1970s and the Sullivans Cove Citizens Committee in the 1980s.4 Since the 1960s Hobart and its inner suburbs have been brought under a series of planning schemes which are intended to address conservation matters among other things.

In the late 1960s criticism of the Scenery Preservation Board came to a head,5 which ultimately resulted in the passing of the National Parks & Wildlife Act (1970) and the new autonomous National Parks and Wildlife Service. This new Act provided for the protection of important historic and Aboriginal sites. The 1970s saw the consolidation of isolated policy, actions and research into the beginnings of a framework for cultural heritage management in Tasmania. Enacted in 1975, the Aboriginal Relics Act was the first cultural heritage protection legislation in Tasmania, and from the late 1970s the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service employed an archaeologist for the management of cultural heritage on reserved land, the first dedicated position of its kind in Tasmania.

This development in the 1970s was part of a pattern of emerging systematic and government sponsored heritage conservation throughout Australia and which continued into the 1980s. It was assisted by the creation of the Register of the National Estate under the federal Australian Heritage Commission Act (1975) and the associated National Estate Grants Program funding. This funding allowed state government, local government and communities to carry out numerous heritage conservation projects (for example thematic inventory projects,6 conservation management planning and conservation works on historic places) from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, as well as celebrate the State's heritage through publications such as The Heritage of Tasmania.7 This work provided an important foundation for ongoing heritage conservation in Tasmania. Although State government funding was extremely limited at this time, the Port Arthur Conservation Project (1981–86), which employed several archaeologists, was a major government conservation initiative to arrest the deterioration of the convict ruins at Port Arthur (one of the state's most important convict sites).8 The project resulted not only in major conservation gains at Port Arthur, but it also contributed to the development of Australian historic heritage management.

During the 1980s and early 1990s a wide range of bodies became involved in heritage conservation and the scope expanded. The development of the Forest Practices Code saw the appointment of a full time archaeologist to Forestry Tasmania to provide heritage conservation for State forests. The City Councils of Hobart and Glenorchy appointed Cultural Heritage Officers while the Launceston City Council regularly published Heritage Launceston Review as a showcase of local heritage conservation. The two main museums in Tasmania, in particular the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, took an active interest cultural heritage management. Meanwhile, the Parks and Wildlife Service expanded their cultural heritage unit, the Institution of Engineers' Engineering Heritage Committee continued to promote engineering heritage conservation, and the National Trust continued with its programme. Considerable heritage conservation research was undertaken during this period.

The rest of the 1990s can perhaps be seen as a phase of post-expansion consolidation, but with some refocusing and diminishment. The consolidation was primarily expressed in increased heritage research which completed statewide programs or started to fill in gaps or detail,9 and the development of new, complementary mechanisms for heritage conservation. New mechanisms included the establishment of heritage databases to manage the increasing amount of heritage data being generated; the creation of the Mining Heritage Sub-committee to provide advice on Tasmanian mining heritage; the Aboriginal Potential Zoning to guide pre-operational heritage surveys of state forests; and the development of local government strategies such as municipal heritage studies and local area archaeological zoning plans. The national Regional Forests Assessment process assisted with consolidation as it promoted preliminary statewide heritage reviews and a range of detailed heritage assessments and audits of heritage in Tasmanian forests. The enactment in 1995 of Tasmania's first historic heritage legislation, the Historical Cultural Heritage Act, can also be seen as part of the consolidation. The Act however was poorly resourced and only limited outcomes resulted in the first five years.10 Also, by the mid-1990s with the cessation of NEGP funding but no new state or federal government funding) much of the heritage research and conservation in Tasmania wound down. The refocusing included the formation of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council in the early 1990s to represent the Aboriginal community in relation to Aboriginal heritage management,11 and the formation of Cultural Heritage Practitioners Tasmania (a network of cultural heritage practitioners with a heritage advocacy interest) in 1997.

In the late 1990s the Australian heritage industry was also reconsidering the way in which significance, a key aspect of cultural heritage management, was being assessed.12 This led to significant changes in the nationally accepted guidelines for cultural heritage conservation (the Burra Charter), primarily the routine consideration of social values and the recognition of intangible values, and these changes were also adopted in Tasmania. With this new focus, Aboriginal and historic heritage legislation and thirty years of experience, heritage conservation in Tasmania entered the new millennium with a strong foundation on which to develop.

Further Reading: Australia ICOMOS, The Australia ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (The Burra Charter), 1999 (revised edition); Australian Heritage Commission, The Heritage of Tasmania: The Illustrated Register of the National Estate, South Melbourne, 1983; F Bolt, Vanishing Tasmania, Kingston, Tasmania, 1992; BJ Egloff, The Port Arthur Story, Hobart, 1986; J Mflood & MC Truscott, 'Forests and the National Estate part 4B: Protecting the Cultural National Estate Value of Forests', Canberra, 1990; H Gee & P Waterman, An Archaeological and Historical Perspective for SW Tasmania, Sandy Bay, 1981; A Hudspeth and L Scripps, Battery Point Historical Research, Hobart, Hobart, 1990; T Jetson, In Trust for the Nation, Launceston, 2000; A McConnell, 'Historic Cultural Heritage in Tasmania in 2000 – A Practitioners Perspective', in L Nelson (ed), Tasmania's Historic Cultural Heritage, Papers & Proceedings of the National Environmental Law Association Ltd (Tasmanian Division) Seminar, April 2000, Hobart, 2001; A McConnell, 'Cultural heritage management as a new “soft” technology and a tool in forest management, and implications for existing forest management technologies', in L Bren & C Greenwood (eds),. Applications of New Technologies in Forestry, 1995; A McConnell (ed), With Every Step, Hobart, 2003; M Pearson & S Sullivan, Looking After Heritage Places, Carlton, 1995; CB Tassell, Tasmanian Rural Cultural Landscapes, Launceston, 1988; RL Wettenhall, A Guide to Tasmanian Government Administration, Hobart, 1968; D Young, 'The role of the National Trust in the conservation of Hobart buildings in the 1960s' in I Terry & K Evans (eds), Hobart's History, Hobart,1998.

Lindy Scripps & Anne McConnell

1. See David Young, Making Crime Pay: The evolution of convict tourism in Tasmania, Hobart, 1996, especially Part 1.
2. This is possibly the first example of a government heritage conservation initiative in Tasmania, but lack of money and staff hindered the restoration program.
3. William Hardy Wilson, Old Colonial Architecture in New South Wales and Tasmania, Sydney, 1924 and Charles Barrett, Heritage of Stone, Melbourne, 1945.
4. In response to the construction of an international hotel on the waterfront.
5. Over its failure to represent the conservationist interest in the Lake Pedder controversy (refer Wettenhall 1968).
6. The funding was used in Tasmania to research a diverse range of heritage studies including the Aboriginal heritage of the state on a regional basis, the historic heritage of Tasmania's state forests, rural landscapes, Chinese mining sites, whaling and sealing sites, the industrial heritage of Hobart and Launceston, and the heritage of the apple industry, the dairy industry and four milling.
7. The Heritage of Tasmania, South Melbourne, 1983.
8. Apart from the Port Arthur Conservation Project, State government funding in the 1970s–1980s was essentially limited to a small number of dedicated positions and contributing to the two Preservation Funds.
9. These studies included municipal heritage studies and other more detailed studies than the previous broad scale inventory type studies, and conservation management planning for individual places.
10. Primarily the development of the Tasmanian Heritage Register from existing lists (a requirement of the Act)
11. The TALC also trained Aboriginal heritage officers to ensure there was an Aboriginal voice and participation in all Aboriginal heritage management in the state, and developed policy.
12. This process was spearheaded by Australia ICOMOS and the changes in the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter (Australia ICOMOS 1999) effectively drove the changed approach adopted broadly in Australia at this time.