Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage

Social significance: a discussion paper

This discussion paper presents an argument for greater attention to be given to the social significance of cultural heritage places.

The paper reviews the first three decades of cultural heritage management at NPWS, until 2001. It finds that there has been a great increase in Aboriginal participation in archaeology. Heritage assessments in NSW are now well informed about the archaeological significance of heritage places and landscapes.

However, heritage assessments often place little emphasis on social or cultural values - the ways in which places and landscapes are perceived or experienced by local people and local communities. In addition, the traditional approach has seen Aboriginal and historic heritage being separate and discrete categories (with the 'historic' category seen as equating with non-Indigenous heritage only).

The discussion paper argues that any one place in the landscape may be significant to many different people for many different reasons. It proposes a more fluid process of significance assessment - one that will involve community members in investigating the whole range of heritage values of places and landscapes. The paper suggests that:

  • OEH Aboriginal heritage studies should widen their scope to place more emphasis on the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the 'historic' (post-1788) period. The previous neglect of this field has meant that those places about which Aboriginal people often have the strongest memories and attachments (eg. former fringe camps and Aboriginal Reserves) have tended not to be recorded.
  • In the area of non-Indigenous heritage, OEH should focus more on the land-use history of landscapes that are now parks and reserves. There should be greater recognition of the attachment that non-Indigenous communities have to these landscapes.

This discussion paper is not a policy document. Instead, it provides a basis for debate and policy-building, connecting OEH with new knowledge and innovative approaches in the social sciences.

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Page last updated: 10 June 2011