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Cultural landscapes and national parks

Landscaping heritage

How can the history and heritage of park landscapes be better managed? This question was the focus of a research project undertaken between 2006 and 2010, titled Cultural landscapes: connecting history, heritage and reserve management. An aim of the project was to support a move in the cultural heritage management approach adopted for NSW parks from a site-based to a landscape approach.

Traditionally, heritage objects and structures have been managed through a site-based approach as ends in themselves, rather than as material traces of history and part of broader physical and social landscapes. A conventional site-based approach is an 'easy' concept for land managers and heritage practitioners, partly because it supports the separation of the natural and cultural for research and management purposes. It effects this separation by treating heritage as items contained within the natural environment rather than as traces of historical behaviour that have helped constitute the 'natural' environment.

A cultural landscape approach offers an opportunity to move away from a focus on objects and sites as ends in themselves, toward managing the material record and people's cultural associations in their historical and broader landscape context. The idea of cultural landscapes is that all parts of the landscape are alive with cultural meaning, that all landscapes contain the imprint of human use, and that human and ecological history is intertwined in complex ways.

Cultural landscapes: connecting history, heritage and reserve management was a project that studied cultural heritage items at a landscape scale in NSW parks, and linked these items with each other and with their human and ecological history. Items include tangible heritage (material traces of history) and intangible heritage (beliefs, stories and knowledge). Essentially, the project was about 'landscaping heritage'.

Parks provide a unique context for landscaping heritage - the NSW park system comprises broad landscapes rather than individual and isolated sites. The landscape scale of cultural heritage is similar to 'whole-of-landscape' in ecosystem conservation - just as there is connectivity between all parts of ecosystems (e.g., plants, animals, soils and water) there is connectivity between cultural objects and places through past human behaviour patterns (e.g., the homesteads, shearing sheds, camps, stockyards, paddocks, mustering routes and ground tanks in a pastoral landscape).

Study approach

The cultural landscapes research project commenced with a literature review that investigated the concept of cultural landscapes and examined how the idea of cultural landscapes is applied in different ways and contexts. Subsequently, case studies were undertaken in three NSW parksto document their history, including the material traces of their history and the landscape scale of past and present human-environmental interactions. The case study parks (Yuraygir, Washpool and Culgoa) were selected to represent, very broadly,different environments across NSW (coast, mountain and semi-arid interior) and different historic themes (recreation, forestry and pastoralism). These historic themes, which include Aboriginal and settler interaction, are commonto much ofthe NSW park system. Therefore any approach to represent the history of recreation, forestry or pastoralism in one landscape will have broader application.

The final product of the research project is Cultural landscapes: a practical guide for park management. The guide has been prepared to assist park managers in the identification, assessment, management and interpretation of cultural values across broad landscapes. This guide is underpinned by two ideas. First, that history has taken place across the landscape and, second, that the form of the present landscape is the product of long-term and complex relationships between people and the environment. The guide is a part of the park management framework that underpins protected area management practice in NSW.

Index to Cultural landscapes and national parks

Page last updated: 26 February 2011