ACT State of the Environment 2007

Indicator: Heritage

Summary

Under the new Commonwealth heritage system (operating since January 2004), no changes can be made to the Register of the National Estate after 19 February 2007. The register will terminate in 2012. Australian national heritage is now recognised by a National Heritage List of places of outstanding heritage value, and by the Commonwealth Heritage List of Commonwealth-owned or leased places of significant heritage value. The new system was provided for in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003 (by amendments to the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975.)

An intention of the new national framework was to remove the considerable overlap between the 13,000 places in the Register of the National Estate and other statutory heritage listings at state and territory and local government levels. The Register of the National Estate includes 253 places in the ACT. The new national lists now protect only 83 places, four being on the National Heritage List and 83 on the Commonwealth Heritage List (five at Jervis Bay). Only New South Wales, with 103 places on the Commonwealth Heritage List, has more than the ACT.

What the results tell us about the ACT

In the ACT a dual planning system operates. Under this system, the National Capital Authority (a federal agency) is responsible for national land and the ACT Planning and Land Authority is responsible for planning on Territory land. This creates practical complications for heritage protection in the ACT. The Territory's constitutional status places the protection of some ACT heritage places at risk under the new national system, as the ACT Government does not have the power to require the federal authority's compliance with heritage protection measures for places on the ACT Heritage Register that are not on either of the national heritage lists.

As for other Australian jurisdictions, the national changes required the ACT to introduce new legislation; the ACT Heritage Act 2004 came into operation on 9 March 2005. This indicator includes reference to the initial effects of this legislation, intended to provide a contemporary streamlined framework for identifying and protecting the Territory's heritage places and objects.

A side effect of the new ACT legislation was a necessary slowing of progress on processing the backlog of heritage nominations and registrations, with the ACT Heritage Council and Heritage Unit focused on developing new mandatory guidelines and facilitating a whole-of-government audit of heritage assets. This audit is underway and is intended to address a major deficiency in current knowledge of what heritage places and objects the ACT Government owns and manages, the adequacy of current management to protect heritage values, and the need for development of conservation plans to guide future management.

New national and ACT heritage laws

National system's risks for ACT heritage places

Under the new Commonwealth heritage system (in operation since January 2004), no changes can be made to the Register of the National Estate after 19 February 2007. The register will terminate in 2012. Australian national heritage is now recognised by a National Heritage List of places of outstanding heritage value, and the Commonwealth Heritage List of Commonwealth-owned or leased places of significant heritage value. The new system was provided for in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003 (by amendments to the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975.)

An intention of the new national framework was to remove the overlap between the 13,000 places in the Register of the National Estate and statutory heritage listings at state and territory and local government levels. The Register of the National Estate includes 253 places in the ACT, but only 83 are on the new national lists and will receive protection under the EPBC Act. Four ACT places are on the National Heritage List and 83 are on the Commonwealth Heritage List (five at Jervis Bay); only New South Wales, with 103 places on the Commonwealth Heritage List, has more than the ACT. Before the Register of the National Estate is removed in February 2012 (and thus over the next reporting period), the Australian Government will assess whether any further places on the Register of the National Estate should be included in the Commonwealth Heritage List.  It is also important that the Australian Government takes action to ensure that those heritage places entered in the Register of the National Estate, but not included on any other heritage list, are given the appropriate level of protection.  This is to cover any consequential losses to heritage protection for Register of the National Estate places following removal, in February 2012, of references under the EPBC Act to the Register of the National Estate.  Examples of such places that could lose heritage protection after 2012 are the Yarralumla Woolshed and Duntroon House.

The Territory's constitutional status places the protection of some ACT heritage places at risk under the new national system. Under the Territory's dual planning system, the National Capital Authority is responsible for national land and the ACT Planning and Land Authority is responsible for planning on Territory land. The ACT Government does not have the power to require the federal authority's compliance with its heritage protection measures for places on the ACT Heritage Register that are not on either of the national heritage lists. This creates practical complications for heritage protection in the ACT.

In January 2007, an example of the complications of heritage protection under this dual land designation occurred. During construction of the new headquarters for the Defence Department's Joint Operations Command, archaeologists assessing Aboriginal heritage on the Commonwealth-owned site found footings of the 1850s Hibernian Hotel located on a narrow strip of ACT land alongside the Kings Highway (see Snapshot: The Hibernia Hotel). A rapid response by the ACT Heritage Unit ensured that the ACT site was investigated and assessed and with the cooperation of the Defence Department and its contractors, demolition of part of the footings and trees was avoided with both the ruins and trees of the former hotel site protected by a retaining wall.

The new ACT Heritage Act

The ACT Heritage Act 2004 replaced the heritage provisions in the Land (Planning and Environment) Act 1991 that had provided the framework for heritage protection in the Territory since 1991. The intention of the new law is to provide a contemporary, streamlined system of recognising and protecting natural, Aboriginal and historic heritage places and objects in the ACT. Key provisions of the Heritage Act 2004 include:

  • appointment of representatives from the general community, Aboriginal community and the property sector on the Heritage Council while maintaining a majority of heritage experts (such as architects, historians, biologists, archaeologists)
  • provision for local Aboriginal people to be consulted about heritage places and objects of significance to them and to have a say in their management
  • streamlined processes for registering places on the ACT Heritage Register, while retaining public consultation and appeal rights and the Aboriginal role in making decisions about Ngunnawal places/culture, and allowing for urgent registration in response to development applications
  • development of a publicly accessible ACT Heritage Register
  • a requirement for the Heritage Council to prepare guidelines for conservation and management of heritage places and objects that will provide a statutory basis for protecting heritage during development processes
  • changed enforcement and compliance provisions that include making it an offence to damage or destroy heritage without Development Application approval and making prosecution simpler/more certain if the law is contravened.

The new law also requires each ACT Government agency to undertake, within two years of the Act commencing, an audit to identify each heritage place or object for which it is responsible, and to develop conservation management plans for heritage properties to guide future changes while conserving key heritage features.

At the end of the reporting period, the ACT Heritage Council (through the ACT Heritage Unit) was close to finalising guidelines to ensure that places nominated to the Heritage Register are considered appropriately during the ACT Planning and Land Authority's Development Application process under the new Heritage Act 2004. The guidelines will contain mandatory provisions, where warranted, and will also provide guidance and examples of good practice in conserving heritage places subject to development.

Heritage protection in the ACT

Enhancing awareness

Over the four years of the reporting period, the ACT Government's Heritage Grants Program provided over $1 million to community and other groups for heritage activities. About 47% of the funds went to education projects, 31% to conservation projects and 20% to heritage identification projects. To help ensure the ACT Heritage Register covers all types of heritage in the Territory, the ACT Government funded about 20 projects during the reporting period to facilitate identification and nomination of heritage places and objects to the register. The projects were aimed at addressing current gaps in the register such as 20th century heritage, rural and contact history, natural heritage and multicultural heritage.

Since 2003, the ACT Government has provided approximately $474,000 in grants to community and other groups to develop educational material related to the Territory's heritage places and objects (Table 5). The material ranged from interpretive signs to books, videos and websites, and included funds each year to support the ACT Heritage Festival. The ACT Heritage Grants Program is the major mechanism of the ACT Government to help ensure the Canberra community and tourists to the Territory are able to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the Territory's diverse natural and cultural heritage.During the reporting period, the ACT Heritage Council and ACT Heritage Unit continued to provide advice to the ACT Planning and Land Authority on:

  • all residential developments in or adjacent to heritage precincts
  • newly planned developments on 'virgin' land
  • developments in areas identified as having Aboriginal or natural heritage values that had not yet been properly surveyed and/or assessed.

Provision of this advice involves site visits, working closely with consultants and formulating briefs for developers. The Heritage Unit also assesses the success of mitigation strategies approved as part of development activities.

The ACT Heritage Unit started work on developing the Heritage Register Online database to underpin the ACT Heritage Register, as required under the Heritage Act 2004. The searchable database is available at www.tams.act.gov.au/live/heritage/act_heritage_register.

To ensure the ACT Government has good knowledge of the condition of other heritage assets it owns, the ACT Heritage Unit commenced work in 2006 to facilitate an ACT Government-wide audit of agency-owned heritage places and objects to meet the requirements of the Heritage Act 2004. All agencies were required to submit an initial report on heritage assets to the ACT Heritage Council by 31 July 2007 and to conduct a detailed audit into heritage assets, with final reports to be submitted to the council by 8 March 2008. Agencies must then nominate previously un-nominated heritage places/objects to the ACT Heritage Register by March 2009.

During the reporting period Parks, Conservation and Lands created and filled three identified Aboriginal positions at Namadgi National Park to help promote understanding and respect for Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal heritage places. Appropriate management of Aboriginal heritage places in Namadgi into the future has also been facilitated by the involvement of Ngunnawal Elders in preparation of the Draft Management Plan for that area.

Known heritage places in the ACT

National Heritage List

There are currently four ACT places assessed by the Australian Heritage Council as having outstanding heritage value and thus are included on the National Heritage List. They are the Australian War Memorial and Anzac Parade, Old Parliament House and Curtilage, the High Court–National Gallery Precinct, and the Australian Academy of Sciences. These places are protected under the EPBC Act.

Commonwealth Heritage List

There are 56 natural, Indigenous and historic places in the ACT owned or controlled by the Australian Government and assessed as meeting the criteria for inclusion on the Commonwealth Heritage List. These places are protected under the EPBC Act.

ACT Heritage Register

At the end of the current reporting period, 178 places and objects were on the ACT Heritage Register, one place provisionally registered and 283 nominated to the Heritage Register (Table 1). In June 2003, at the end of the previous reporting period, 811 places and objects were nominated, provisionally registered, or registered, including Aboriginal artefacts contained within a place. The reduced number reflects a reduction in the large backlog of incomplete and unprocessed nominations during the reporting period, as well as improvements in the way places and objects are recorded. In June 2007, 111 Historic places, 53 Aboriginal places, and three Natural places were entered in the ACT Heritage Register and eleven registered heritage objects (Table 1). Of these, 99 had been registered during the reporting period, most in 2004–05 (Table 3) with the processing of Aboriginal sites discovered during the 2003 bushfires (see Indigenous heritage below).

Table 1: Places and objects listed on the ACT Heritage Register, at 30 June 2007
Category Nominated Provisional registration Registered Total
Objects 2 0 11 13
Places 281 1 167 449
Aboriginal 10 0 53 63
Historic 249 1 111 361
Natural 22 0 3 25
Total 283 1 178 462

Source: ACT Heritage Unit

The number of new nominations was highest in the first half of the reporting period (Table 2), with the low number of new nominations in 2005–06 and 2006–07 possibly reflecting introduction of the Heritage Act 2004 and development of guidelines required under the Act.

Table 2: New nominations to the ACT Heritage Register, 2003–04 to 2006–07
Category 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 Total
Objects 0 1 0 0 1
Places 15 63 6 2 86
Aboriginal 0 1 0 0 1
Historic 15 55 6 0 76
Natural 0 7 0 2 9

Source: ACT Heritage Unit

The decline in nominations in the second half of the reporting period and introduction of the Heritage Act 2004 is reflected in the decline in new registrations in 2005–06 and 2006–07 (Table 3).

Table 3: New registrations on the ACT Heritage Register, 2003–04 to 2006–07
Category 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 Total
Objects 0 0 0 0 0
Places 10 88 1 0 99
Aboriginal 0 45 1 0 46
Historic 10 40 0 0 50
Natural 0 3 0 0 3

Source: ACT Heritage Unit

Indigenous heritage

An aftermath of the 2003 bushfire in the ACT was discovery of approximately 150 Aboriginal archaeological sites in the Namadgi National Park after disturbance of surfaces during fire fighting and from fire damage. Given the vulnerability of the disturbed sites, priority was given to their archaeological survey and heritage assessment, resulting in registration of a record 45 Aboriginal heritage places in 2004–05 (Table 2). As the total number of Aboriginal places on the ACT Heritage Register in June 2007 was 53, this represented a major part of the work of the Heritage Unit and the Heritage Council during the reporting period (ACT Heritage Unit).

Condition of known heritage places

Each place and object listed on the ACT Heritage Register has a statement of condition attached to it that is current at the time of registration. The condition of those heritage places and objects that have a conservation management plan in place to guide their use and conservation should be monitored as part of the conservation process. Such monitoring is the responsibility of the owner of the property/object.

Only 13 heritage objects are either registered on or nominated to the ACT Heritage Register. These are generally either held by museum institutions or are in government hands and their condition is monitored as part of general management. The Government Agency Audit will determine the condition of the heritage objects in their care.

Heritage assets managed by ACT Property Group

In May 2005 the ACT Property Group completed condition assessments for the registered properties for which it is responsible, namely, the Albert Hall, the Civic Merry-Go-Round, Duntroon Dairy, Tuggeranong Homestead, Tuggeranong Schoolhouse and Yarralumla Woolshed. These assessments indicated that the Albert Hall was in poor condition, the Civic Merry-Go-Round, Duntroon Dairy and Yarralumla Woolshed were in good repair, and re-roofing of Tuggeranong Homestead in mid 2007 had brought it to a satisfactory condition.

Of the five heritage places for which the ACT Property Group is responsible, all except Civic Merry-Go-Round are on the Register of the National Estate. The Civic Merry-Go-Round was rejected as a nomination. Two places – Yarralumla Woolshed and Albert Hall – have conservation management plans (CMPs) in place. The CMP for Yarralumla Woolshed was completed in November 1982, while the Albert Hall CMP was completed in April 2007.

The results of the ACT Property Group heritage audit and the heritage audits of other agencies as part of the Government Agency Audit will provide the basis for determining how many other conservation management plans are needed for heritage places/objects managed by government agencies.

The Albert Hall, adjacent to the Parliamentary Triangle, was registered on the ACT Heritage Places Register on 15 March 2001. The hall became the focus of intense community concern during the reporting period. Since control of the hall had been transferred from the Commonwealth to the ACT Government after self-government, it had been let to a contract manager. The increasing concern was in part because of the deteriorating condition of the hall, the difficulty community groups were experiencing in trying to use the hall, and the government's call for expressions of interest and then for tenders to take over management of the hall for terms totalling 30 years.

When the National Capital Authority unveiled its commercial development proposals (Draft Amendment 53 to the National Capital Plan) for the Albert Hall precinct on 5 March 2007, the growing concern was expressed in formation of the Friends of the Albert Hall. This group organised a petition signed by more than 3,000 people requesting withdrawal of the proposal. At a large public meeting in the Albert Hall on 24 May 2007, the concerns at both federal and ACT Government actions were presented to the National Capital Authority executive and ACT Government ministers.

The National Capital Authority amended its planning proposal to remove an eight-storey building, and also acceded to requests for a heritage study of the entire precinct affected by Draft Amendment 53, (National Capital Authority 2007) while the ACT Government agreed to nominate the Albert Hall to the National Heritage List, and did not proceed with tendering private management of the hall. Although a Conservation Management Plan for the Albert Hall was approved in April 2007, the urgent conservation work it recommended has not yet been scheduled.

Heritage assets managed by Roads ACT

Engineers Australia has identified Tharwa Bridge, built over the Murrumbidgee River in 1895, as a Major Engineering Heritage item and is one of the most significant pieces of heritage in the ACT. The bridge is listed by the National Trust of Australia (ACT), was entered on the Register of the National Estate by the Australian Heritage Commission in 1983, and was entered in the ACT Heritage Register in 1998.

Tharwa Bridge continued to deteriorate over the reporting period with damage from white ants and extensive wood rot, until it was deemed unsafe for vehicular traffic and temporarily closed in April 2005. The bridge was again deemed unsafe in 2006 and closed indefinitely to all traffic in September; the government decided to provide a new bridge.

The high heritage value of Tharwa Bridge and potential problems if the proposed new bridge were built led to persistent community action for its maintenance and conservation. No Conservation Management Plan has been commissioned for Tharwa Bridge.

Heritage assets managed by Parks, Conservation and Lands

Parks, Conservation and Lands manages 116 heritage places, 25% of all the places on the ACT Heritage Register (Table 4). These places include habitats of threatened plant and animal species; numerous Aboriginal places containing hundreds of individual sites, mostly with stone artefact scatters; and historic places such as homesteads (including Brayshaw's Homestead, Tennent Homestead and Westerman's Homestead), huts, brumby yards, grave stones/cemeteries, old fence lines and arboreta (ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands 2006).

Table 4: Parks, Conservation and Lands heritage assets, at 30 June 2007
Status Forest Nature reserve River corridor Urban open space Sites
Final registration 17 60 28 72 116
Provisional registration 0 0 0 2 2
Nominated 9 16 8 71 84
Total 26 76 36 145 202

Source: ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands; ACT Heritage Unit

Many of the cultural landscapes and historic heritage places in Namadgi National Park, including Mount Franklin Chalet, Tennent Homestead, timber border markers and brumby yards, were damaged or destroyed in the 2003 bushfire (Arts, Heritage and Environment 2005). Places such as Rock Valley and Nil Desperandum homesteads in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, which had been nominated for heritage listing, were also severely damaged in these fires. The government indicated it would do follow-up studies to assess what was needed for them into the future (see Heritage indicator in the previous state of the environment report). The 1994 CMP for Nil Desperandum was reviewed and updated during the reporting period, and a draft Assessment of Heritage Significance was prepared for Rock Valley.

Of the 17 listed historic places located in Namadgi National Park, CMPs had been completed for three homesteads, six huts and the Mount Franklin Chalet before the reporting period. CMPs were also in place for Aboriginal rock art sites and Duntroon Dairy before the reporting period.

A Draft Management Plan for Namadgi National Park completed in September 2005 had yet to be finalised by the end of the reporting period. Chapter 6 of the draft plan specifies eight objectives for protecting and managing the park's cultural heritage. The objectives include statutory compliance and best practice, protection of cultural heritage values, management of cultural heritage information, interpretation of cultural heritage, acknowledgement of community attachment, promotion of research and enhancement of staff skills and knowledge. The Draft Management Plan for Namadgi National Park also noted that the fabric of many of the heritage places in the park 'is fragile, vulnerable and expensive to maintain but resources for its maintenance are extremely limited' (TAMS, 2005;72).

Parks, Conservation and Lands maintains a Sites of Interest database that includes the indicative locations of heritage places and individual sites in Namadgi National Park. The database must be consulted during development of operational works programs for all on-ground management activities in the park to ensure heritage places are not damaged.

Other heritage places

Non-government heritage properties with conservation management plans are generally maintained in good condition, either because they are owner-occupied or because they are accessible by the public. The ACT Heritage Council is consulted to ensure any maintenance, additions or alterations conform to the heritage requirements of those places.

Under the ACT Heritage Act 2004, the Heritage Council can advise the minister to enter into a heritage agreement with a person to conserve the heritage significance of a place or object, which does not need to be registered. This agreement will also bind future owners of the land. The Heritage Council may provide various forms of assistance as an incentive to the owner of a place or object subject to a heritage agreement.

Managing the Territory's heritage

A conservation management plan is usually considered the best mechanism to guide the use and conservation of registered heritage places and objects. In the past, the ACT Heritage Unit has had no consistent and continuing data collection or monitoring process for development and implementation of conservation management plans for places/objects listed on the ACT Heritage Register. The Unit knows only that 110 plans are in place for 85 registered places/objects. These include conservation management plans, revised conservation management plans, landscape plans, heritage management studies, conservation analysis reports and archaeological investigations. Continued development of the Heritage Register Online database will provide for this type of data collection in the future.

Although many places are listed on the ACT Heritage Register and have statutory protection provided by the Heritage Act 2004, many other places have not yet been considered for registration. The main threats to both registered places and places with the potential to be registered are:

  • ignorance and/or misunderstanding about the presence of heritage values or the significance of these values
  • lack of planning and/or lead time to incorporate heritage considerations into development activities and ensure appropriate management strategies are put in place.
  • Developers, owners and custodians need to work closely with the ACT Heritage Unit to ensure proper identification of the heritage values of affected areas and establishment of strategies aimed to protect these values from inappropriate activities.

During the reporting period the ACT Heritage Council and the ACT Heritage Unit continued to provide advice to the ACT Planning and Land Authority on:

  • residential developments in or adjacent to heritage precincts
  • newly planned developments on 'virgin' land
  • developments in areas identified as having Aboriginal or natural heritage values that had not yet been properly surveyed and/or assessed.

Provision of this advice involves site visits, working closely with consultants and formulating briefs for developers. The Heritage Unit also assesses the success of mitigation strategies approved as part of development activities. As noted earlier, developers and other sectors of the community cooperate with the Heritage Unit and are showing a high degree of compliance with the requirements of the Heritage Act 2004.

Funding for heritage protection

The ACT Government provided just over $1 million for heritage identification and protection grants during the reporting period. This included about $19,000 for community and other groups to identify Aboriginal, historic and natural heritage values of places/objects, and just under $302,000 for conservation activities (Table 5), including development of conservation management plans for four places registered on the ACT Heritage Register, and ongoing provision of a heritage advisory service by a private architectural company.

An emergency fund is used for projects to protect and conserve heritage places and objects under threat of imminent destruction, and projects in response to unforeseen events (such as bushfire and flood) or in response to age and infirmity (such as oral histories of prominent Canberra residents).

Table 5: ACT Heritage Grants Program, 2003–04 to 2006–07
Category 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 Total
Identification $74,475 $50,726 $39,140 $32,983 $197,324
Conservation $76,115 $85,014 $61,587 $79,266 $301,982
Education $83,411 $99,267 $141,611 $149,751 $474,040
Emergency fund $5,000 $5,000 $16,741 0 $26,741
Total $239,001 $240,007 $259,079 $262,000 $1,000,087

Source: ACT Heritage Unit

The ACT Heritage Unit does not maintain records of the total number or type of conservation activities undertaken by government for its heritage properties. However, development of the Heritage Register Online database could provide an opportunity for government agencies to record this type of data.

Parks, Conservation and Lands generally covers the cost of most of its conservation-oriented activities from its annual operational budget. However, during the reporting period $530,000 was allocated for post-2003 bushfire conservation planning and restoration activities for Rock Valley ($300,000) and Nil Desperandum ($230,000) homesteads in Tidbinbilla (see Snapshot: Historic Homesteads). This comprised about $370,000 in bushfire insurance and the remainder from government appropriation. Almost 55% of the funds were expended (mostly on restoration activities) by the end of the reporting period.

In the first two years of the reporting period (2003–04 and 2004–05), Parks, Conservation and Lands also carried out major works on Duntroon Dairy and its precinct with a $300,000 non-recurrent budget allocation. This included almost $161,000 on maintenance of the grounds, and about $112,000 on conservation works.

Parks, Conservation and Lands also supports community groups such as the Kosciuszko Huts Association in seeking funds for heritage conservation works on historic places in the ACT reserve estate.

Data sources and references

Data provided by Heritage Unit; Property Group; Parks, Conservation and Lands; ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services

TAMS Territory and Municipal Services 2005, Namadgi National Park Draft Management Plan, TAMS, Canberra

ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands 2006, 'ACT Heritage Register – District List', accessed January 2008 at <http://www.tams.act.gov.au/live/heritage/act_heritage_register/act_heritage_register_district>

National Capital Authority 2007, 'Cultural focus for Albert Hall Precinct landmark' media release, 2 April, at <http://www.nationalcapital.gov.au/corporate/media/media_release.asp?media_ID=164&mr_month=April&mr_year=2007>

The Canberra Times 26 and 27 March and 15 May 2007 included articles on the Albert Hall.

The Canberra Times 26 May 2005, 20 September 2006 and 11 October 2006 included articles on Tharwa Bridge

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