Heritage Chairs and Officials Meet

The Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand (HCOANZ) meet each year to discuss topical issues, areas of common interest and hear from guest speakers about innovative practices emerging across the historic heritage sector.  This year’s meetings were held in Brisbane in early April and included a site visit to Queensland’s oldest European structure, the Brisbane Windmill, and Old Government House.

The Chair’s Forum included some excellent presentations on the use of technology and historic heritage tourism.  This included a presentation by Ms Brett Torossi, the Tasmanian Chair, on the importance of tourism, heritage registers and The Tasmanian Collection project.  It was well received, especially given the interest nationally in considering the future of heritage registers and their relationship to tourism.  This gathering also presented the opportunity to share our new Works Guidelines and War Memorial Conservation Guidelines, both of which were applauded by our counterparts as being practical and user-friendly resources.

The Forum included presentations on the use of new and emerging technology and how it might be applied in the future to support education and research; enhance the visitor experience; and provide people with online experiences of heritage sector.  Demonstrations used virtual reality, 360-degree technology and a visit to the Cube at the Queensland University of Technology to illustrate their potential.

Parks NSW gave a really engaging presentation on their work to bring historic Fort Lytton to life at night.  It is a site with an interesting history, one that not is so easily told using traditional means of interpretation.  Knowing this, and that there’s a shortage of events and activities for visitors to engage in the early evening, the Parks Service developed an engaging experience that uses actors to help to relay some of the stories of the people of this interesting site and its features, using electronic hand-held lanterns, with built-in speakers, and selective lighting to create an intimate and compelling activity.

Each of these examples were useful in highlighting the capacity of new and emerging technologies to be used creatively by the heritage sector, both now and into the future, to augment and complement more traditional approaches to interpretation and the presentation of historic sites and precincts.  So watch this space and do a search online if you’re interested in finding out more.

A presentation from Tom Perrigo, from the Australian Council of National Trusts (ACNT), gave the Chairs an opportunity to hear more about the work the National Trust is doing nationally and to explore some areas where there may be benefits in the two bodies working closer together. Jurisdictional reports highlighted the fact that at least half of the Australian jurisdictions are engaged in legislative reform; the development or implementation of heritage strategies or strategic plans; and working on or supporting the reform of their resource management and planning systems. Funding for conservation grants is limited, but other incentives and support mechanisms continue to be available.

More operational discussions gave Heritage Officials the opportunity to explore the similarities and differences between each State, Territory, the Commonwealth and New Zealand.  These highlighted a number of areas of commonality, but also reinforced the fact that in a federated nation each jurisdiction reserves its right to have different legislative and operational provisions.  In a number of areas consistent themes emerged and our discussions by both the Chairs and Officials recognised the value of exploring what areas, if any, might benefit from greater collaboration on national projects of common interest. 

Feedback from the Commonwealth was focused on their efforts to start to implement the Australian Heritage Strategy, including exploring how a national lottery might be delivered. This discussion also highlighted the impact the Williams (School Chaplains) Case has had on the provision of grants from the Commonwealth, as this High Court challenge has forced them to limit the allocation of grants for conservation and other projects to Australian places that are on the National Heritage List (NHL) and/or the World Heritage List (WHL).

Discussions about the National Heritage List reinforced the need to populate it in a strategic way, so all Australians are confident its contains the historic, Indigenous and natural heritage places that best represent our most significant heritage places, valued by Australians, visitors and prospective visitors. It was also noted that while the World Heritage List (WHL) in Europe is dominated by cultural sites, by contrast in Australia natural heritage sites tend to dominate. It is hoped that better balance in the List, and greater recognition of African and Asian/Pacific heritage sites, will help to address this current imbalance.

Meetings of Australia’s Shipwreck Delegates, a role Pete Smith fulfils for Tasmania, also spent time discussing plans for Australia to endorse UNESCO’s 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, and gave in-principle endorsement to establish a national work plan to outline the effort delegates and practitioners will pursue nationally to complement and augment the good work that’s being work done in individual jurisdictions. These discussions also agreed on the need to set policy guidelines around the de-accession of relics, diving standards and the need to update Shipwreck Inspector training.

As each jurisdiction only has one Chair and Official working in this sector, these meetings are an invaluable way for us to share insights; compare notes; and network with our colleagues.  It is also reassuring to use it as a litmus-test, to see how we compare with other (larger) jurisdictions. In this regards, we can be confident that even though we’re a small jurisdiction, we continue to do very well as a small jurisdiction.  

Ms Brett Torossi, THC Chair, and
Mr Pete Smith, HT Director, DPIPWE

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