Indicator: Heritage

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Between 2000 and 2003 the number of places and objects listed on the ACT Heritage Places Register increased from 66 to 80, while the number on the Interim Register increased from 34 to 446. The ACT bushfires of January 2003 damaged or destroyed many heritage sites, but also revealed others. It is difficult to gauge public commitment and interest in heritage, but there are broad indications of increasing awareness and knowledge of heritage values in the ACT.

What the results tell us
about the ACT

At June 2003, there were 70 places and 10 objects entered in the ACT Heritage Places Register. There were 446 places on the Interim Register, of which 424 were Aboriginal places, with an additional 185 Aboriginal places still being assessed.

At the time of the last report in June 2000, there were 66 places on the Register, 34 places on the Interim Register and 321 nominations.

Extra impetus for heritage

During the reporting period, the ACT Heritage Council and Heritage Unit began a three-year program working with key interest groups to review and update the ACT Heritage Register. The Council has also been reviewing a backlog of heritage assessments of approximately 330 mainly historic places and 2500 known Aboriginal places.

Additional Aboriginal heritage identified

Survey work, including that carried out following the wildfires in January 2003 that affected 70% of the Territory, identified and recorded additional Aboriginal places in the ACT. This will assist protection and management of these places in future land use decisions and developments.

Rural heritage protected

There has been a particular focus on surveying and registering rural heritage places as the urban expansion of Canberra places them potentially at risk. The Territory has a remarkably intact and diverse collection of rural heritage places including early pastoral estates dating back to the 1830s (such as ‘Lanyon’, ‘Tuggeranong’ and ‘Woden’ homesteads); farming properties established under closer settlement policies (such as ‘Wells Station’, ‘Horse Park’ and ‘Gungaderra’); and 20th century soldier settlement blocks (such as ‘Callum Brae’ at Woden).

20th century heritage assessed

Canberra is one of the world's great planned 20th century cities and it has internationally important 20th century heritage and architecture. In 2002, the ACT Heritage Grants program funded a study of the heritage of the post World War II urban form of Canberra. Additional assessments are underway for significant domestic, commercial and public buildings of the 20th century.

Multicultural heritage studies

A number of studies of multicultural heritage in the ACT are in progress, funded through the ACT Heritage Grants program, to identify the heritage of former migrant groups, including projects related to the Chinese and Italian communities.

The Australian Heritage Commission’s Register of the National Estate lists 247 places in the ACT.

Data availability a concern

There has been no consistent and continuing data collection or monitoring process for assessing the condition of heritage places in the ACT.

Post-fire assesments

Assessments of many places were carried out following the January 2003 fires. The fires had a significant impact on many natural and cultural heritage places, with the burnt area encompassing 91% of Namadgi National Park, 99% of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 99% of the Murrumbidgee River Corridor, 68% of ACT Forests land, 57% of rural lands, and areas within the city.

Many sites destroyed

As well as damaging the ecosystem (refer to the Biodiversity section for more detailed reporting of impacts of the fires on natural heritage and ecosystems) the fires also destroyed many sites, and significant infrastructure for interpretation, education and research, and this in turn has had an impact on tourism, educational and recreational use of heritage sites.

Aboriginal sites that were either destroyed or severely damaged included scarred trees, rock shelters and rock art sites. At sites such as those at Birrigai, Rendezvous Creek and Hanging Rock, visitor infrastructure was destroyed and the granite subject to exfoliation.

Historic heritage places which were destroyed or severely damaged included the Mount Franklin ski chalet, settlements at ‘Mount Tennent’ homestead, ‘Nil Desperandum’ and ‘Rock Valley’. A number of lesser known sites were also destroyed, including brumby yards, border markers, blazed trees, forestry workers’ huts, and a salt trough.

The ACT Government commissioned a research project early in the recovery process to carry out an emergency assessment of rock art panels to assess the degree of damage and potential impacts due to changes in site microclimate.

Some new sites identified

Cultural heritage survey work resulted in recording of new sites, revealed as a result of enhanced visibility following the fires.

Surveys noted significantly more artefact material on some of the known Aboriginal sites that were revisited, and recorded 261 previously unknown Aboriginal sites. Many of these additional sites were on the several hundred kilometres of containment lines that were surveyed, with 129 located along urban containment lines, and 40 along containment lines in southern Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

Helicopter survey of remote peaks and swamps in Namadgi National Park resulted in recording of more than 25 new artefact scatters, two rock shelters and additional Aboriginal stone arrangements. Other previously unknown Aboriginal sites were recorded during survey work as part of an audit of historical places in areas managed by ACT Forests.

Newly recorded historic sites included old roads, tracks, bridle paths, hut remains and a limestone oven/kiln. Post-fire assessments of known historic places have also revealed that some sites are more extensive than previously realised, with additional elements (such as structural footprints, paths and rubbish dumps) now clearly visible.

New findings, as a result of the fires and the results of other studies still in progress, will significantly improve understanding of the regional context of the cultural heritage resource in the ACT. In particular, the substantial increase in numbers and extent of Aboriginal sites recorded will increase understanding of past Aboriginal land use patterns in the ACT and Australian Alps, and will also contribute to future cultural heritage impact assessment in the Territory.

Awareness raised of Aboriginal heritage

During the reporting period, steps were taken to improve awareness and management of Aboriginal heritage. Heading this was the commencement of cooperative management of Namadgi National Park, with establishment in August 2001 of the Interim Namadgi Advisory Board, comprising five Aboriginal and five non-Aboriginal members to provide advice on management of the Park.

Communities contribute to heritage

The Territory Government has sought to approach conservation of heritage in the ACT as a partnership between the community and the Government.

Government support

In each year of the reporting period, the ACT Heritage Grants program funded 20 to 30 projects to help the community conserve and promote the heritage of the ACT. Projects are generally under $10,000 and many have some financial/in-kind support from the applicants. A proportion of funding is guaranteed for Aboriginal Heritage Projects and the ACT Heritage Festival.

Some of the funding is currently committed to a training program to provide Ngunnawal community members with an overview of archaeology and heritage in the ACT, and provide basic techniques of archaeological survey and recording. The participants will be able to put their new skills to the test during archaeological surveys in Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve to be carried out late in 2003.

Community awareness unassessed

There has been minimal data collection or monitoring for assessing community awareness of, and support for, natural and cultural heritage issues, or community participation and action in relation to places and objects.

For example, it is likely that broad community awareness and understanding of the importance of heritage and culture was raised following the opening of the National Museum of Australia on Acton Peninsula in 2001, presenting themes of people, land and nation.

Community volunteers contribute

Community volunteers helped with heritage surveys following the January 2003 fires, totalling about 180 person days of voluntary effort. Most of these volunteers were drawn from the Canberra Archaeological Society and students at the Australian National University, working with representatives of Aboriginal groups.

Funding for Conservation Volunteers Australia has facilitated engagement of local and international volunteers in a range of on-ground works. For example, in 2003 works were undertaken at St John’s Church, ‘Rose Cottage’, ‘The Valley’, Tuggeranong Homestead, Tharwa and ‘Wells Station’.

Each year in April the ACT Heritage Festival engages more than 60 organisations and conducts more than 100 events. The aim of the festival is to celebrate the heritage of Canberra and the wider region through diverse activities and events focused on a particular theme. In 2003 the theme was 'Journeys' and more than 10,000 people participated in festival events.

Heritage education proves valuable

During the reporting period, more than 700 students and 25 teachers participated in the Heritage Education in Schools program which is managed by the Heritage Unit. This program has generated some favourable outcomes for heritage places. For example, Burgmann Anglican School in Palmerston ‘adopted’ the pisé ruin from ‘The Valley’ property adjacent to the school. Activities were built into the curriculum, and broader community interest was generated through open days. Another initiative arising from the program involved Melba High School developing a nomination for Margaret Timpson Park in Belconnen.

Draft communication plan
being prepared

Substantial progress has been made by the Heritage Unit on a draft Heritage Communication Plan. It aims to develop a comprehensive approach to increasing public awareness and interpretation of heritage for enhanced experiences in heritage education and tourism. Elements of the plan include various options for integration of heritage trails, clear identification of heritage precincts through appropriate signage, increased information about significant heritage sites on web sites, and development of activities to promote awareness of Aboriginal, historic and natural heritage.

Changes to legislation in store

During 2002 the Government released an exposure draft for new ACT Heritage legislation to bring the ACT into line with other jurisdictions and strengthen the profile of heritage in line with community expectations and interest in heritage issues. The legislation will be considered by the Legislative Assembly in June/July 2004 and, if passed, will replace the Heritage Objects Act 1991.

The new ACT Heritage legislation will contain improved offence provisions and incentives for protection of heritage, and streamlined processes for inclusion of places and objects on the Register. Integration of heritage issues with the development assessment and approvals process will be maintained through links to the Land Act.

Data sources and references

ACT Government, Department of Urban Services website (Annual Reports) (now known as the Department of Territory and Municipal Services).

ACT Government, Environment ACT website (now part of the Department of Territory and Municipal Services).

Australian Government, Department of Environment and Heritage website at <>.

Australian Heritage Commission website (this agency is now known as the Australian Heritage Council).

Carey A, Evans M, Hann P, Lintermans M, MacDonald T, Ormay P, Sharp S, Shorthouse D & Webb N 2003, Technical Report 17 Wildfires in the ACT 2003: Report on initial impacts on natural ecosystems, Environment ACT, Canberra.

Pearson M, Johnston D, Lennon J, McBryde I, Marshall D, Nash D & Wellington B 1998, Environmental indicators for national state of environment reporting – Natural and Cultural Heritage, Department of the Environment, Canberra

A note about heritage data

There has been minimal data collection or monitoring for assessing community awareness of, and support for, natural and cultural heritage issues, or community participation and action in relation to places and objects. However, a number of sources of feedback have been available during the reporting period.

An annual survey commissioned by Chief Minister’s Department through ArtCraft includes performance indicators relating to heritage, and positive responses have gradually improved. Other indications of community attitudes are derived from focus groups for the ACT Heritage Festival, surveys related to other events, and comments sought as part of the processes for The Canberra Plan.

Information supplied by staff of the Heritage Unit, Environment ACT.

The ACT Heritage Places Register is currently established under the Land (Planning & Environment) Act 1991. It aims to be a comprehensive representation of the natural and cultural heritage of the Territory. It includes places and objects of value in the natural, Aboriginal and historic environments.

Office of the Commissioner for the Environment Phone: 02 6207 2626 Email: Web: The Heritage Places Register is available at the Environment ACT website. This includes places on the Interim Register and current nominations.

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