Cultural Landscapes

Postcard of Franklin Square, c 1886 (ALMFA, SLT)

Almost all landscapes in Tasmania could fit the definition 'cultural landscape'; that is they are natural land areas modified by human activity. The state has a particularly rich cultural landscape history, given its size and relatively small population. Cultural landscapes have emerged slowly across time, as landscape layers reflecting patterns of land use at particular times have changed. Composite and complex patterns of interrelationships between people, places and events have remained in the landscape, carried forward across time. Tasmanian cultural landscapes illustrate both the spatial and temporal inheritance of former land use patterns and land use change, providing a valued spatial window on the past. Conservation of historic landscapes moves beyond the better understood site identification of built form; it connects the language of the 'open' spaces and built forms into a meaningful spatial historic whole. Aesthetic and social significance is considered along with natural topographical features, vegetation, hedges, forested hill slopes, water bodies, roads, tracks and fields. Cultural landscapes may contain a symbolic value, linked in time by mythologies such as Arcadia; some Tasmanian cultural landscapes are particularly significant in this respect.

Tasmanian cultural landscapes are ancient. The Indigenous peoples across thousands of years created patterns in the landscape prior to white settlement and research into, registration of, and understanding and interpretation of such fragile landscapes is seen as vitally important. With the arrival of the British in 1803, the ancient indigenous Tasmanian landscape underwent a fundamental change, one still occurring today. Nineteenth-century northern hemisphere landscapes were implanted on the earlier indigenous ones, and it is important to note that at the time of their inception, England was undergoing a philosophical landscape debate as to the ideal country landscape. Significantly these ideas translated quickly to Tasmania, though the landscape patterns that developed here were quintessentially Tasmanian. Today, those nineteenth-century landscapes also reflect historic significance as a part of the cultural landscape tapestry of this island. They have a unique character, containing a sense of place and community attachment. Until the present, Tasmanian landscapes changed relatively slowly when compared with many parts of mainland Australia, though this is now not the case.

Cultural landscapes are sometimes classified into broad groupings. Size can vary from large regional areas to quite small micro-spaces. Organically evolved landscapes such as those referred to above can be large in scope, but have certain common characteristics. In Tasmania, valley settlement, the pattern of size, orientation and shape of old grants bordering rivers, forested hill slopes, external and internal farm boundaries marked with hedges or vegetation lines, extensive scenic 'prospects' either across or along the valley, rapidly changing scenic frames are characteristics which occur across a wide spectrum of different organically evolved cultural landscape types. Diverse landscape character differences occur where different crops or agricultural uses became identified with particular regions of Tasmania. Poplars for example are associated with the hop landscapes in the upper Derwent Valley, where too, there are particular built form infrastructures that include hop kilns. Wooden pickers' huts and small farm sizes are associated with the berry fruit landscapes of the Channel and apple orchard landscapes of the Huon region. Pastoral Tasmanian Midland landscapes have very different cultural landscape characteristics reflecting a more open, 'park'-like landscape which copied parts of the English country estate in the 1800s and early 1900s. The associated built form can be likened to that of the English country landlord.

Designed cultural landscapes are possibly more easily identified by the public at large and are often quite small. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens is an example of a designed botanical garden, while Franklin Square is a micro-cultural landscape that was designed in the 1860s and has evolved as public open space since that time. The Cliff Grounds at Cataract Gorge, Launceston, is a further cultural landscape example. Government House is a designed nineteenth-century private garden space.

Associative cultural landscapes form another group of cultural landscapes. Recognition of places with a community sense of meaning and place across time is essential in cultural landscape recognition. The place may have religious or military significance as well as historical significance (for example, the Soldiers Walk on the Queens Domain), it may have scientific, technological or artistic significance (for example, John Glover landscapes or those of William Piguenit), or be places for which people have a deep sense of attachment (for example, Mount Wellington and its foothills). Associations may relate to natural landscapes; material cultural evidence may be insignificant or even absent.

Cultural landscapes can be linear in scope and include for example old roads, tracks, rail routes, coach or stock routes, and logging tramways. An example of a linear cultural landscape is the Pioneer Memorial Highway which extends from Hobart to Launceston, adjacent to the present Midlands Highway. It is unique in Australia. Places can be treated thematically or with multiple themes. Obvious themes in Tasmania are landscapes connected to hydro-electric activity or specific mining activity, for example gold, tin.

Cultural landscapes were recognised by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in 1994, and the European Landscape Convention signed by eighteen countries. The Australian Council of National Trusts, Heritage Victoria and Heritage NSW have policy documents or documentation dealing specifically with cultural landscapes. In Tasmania to date there has not been a co-ordinated approach by relevant agencies such that particularly the recognition of, and drive towards, conservation of organic landscapes is firmly on the agenda. Yet Tasmania has some of the most extant nineteenth-century cultural landscapes in Australia. Its landscape has been recognised across time as beautiful, symbolically Arcadian and one of immense diversity; one of unlimited value to the tourism industry. At the time of writing, the state's organically evolved cultural landscapes are not protected by its heritage legislation, nor generally well recognised in local government planning schemes. Cultural landscapes have not been acknowledged in forest policy, forest legislation or forest management at a time when rural and forest landscapes are being dramatically changed by the advent of large-scale industrial tree plantations. Rural residential subdivision on the outskirts of cities and large-scale coastal spot development are growth development planning problems also altering cultural landscapes. There is a notable lack of relevant research data which hinders registration.

Further reading: Heritage Victoria, Landscape assessment guidelines for cultural heritage significance, Melbourne, 1997; V Coleman, 'Cultural landscapes Charette', August, 2003; G Sheridan, 'Is Arcadia under attack?', Planning Institute of Australia, Planning on the Edge conference, 2004, Hobart; Tasmanian Heritage Council, 'Cultural landscapes…', Hobart, 2001; K Taylor, 'National policy for the conservation of cultural landscapes', Australian Council of National Trusts, 1999.

Gwenda Sheridan