Chapter 1: People and the Environment

1.6 Culture and heritage

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1.6 Culture and heritage

The percentage of land in New South Wales protected primarily for Aboriginal cultural values has increased five-fold over the past three years. Heritage listings continue to be the main mechanism for managing heritage throughout the state. The number of items on the State Heritage Register is continually increasing.

While additions to the State Heritage Register have previously been driven by community nominations, the NSW Government has developed a more strategic and systematic approach to target state listings through a thematically-based program.

Additionally, almost 3% of NSW is protected for Aboriginal cultural values. Increased knowledge and information gathering, providing a contextual base, is required to improve the protection and promotion of cultural values.

NSW indicators

Indicator and status


Information availability

Percentage of land in NSW protected primarily for Aboriginal cultural values and supported by local Aboriginal communities


Tick Tick

Number of new places listed on a NSW statutory list for non-Aboriginal cultural values since the last report


Tick Tick Tick

Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2009 at the front of the report.


'Heritage' is the collective environment, traditions and assets that we inherit from the past and preserve for the use and inspiration of future generations. Heritage is linked with culture, which frames our understanding of the past and influences the decisions we make about what should be preserved. What is regarded as heritage can vary between different people and groups from different cultural backgrounds.

The traditional definition of heritage refers to places and objects and does not take into account less tangible assets, such as the languages and spiritual history of our Aboriginal nations. To deal with this, there has been a shift towards using the term 'cultural values' when describing those heritage assets that do not fit the traditional definition.

Heritage and cultural values are protected through a suite of mechanisms that range from regulation by legislation, statutory registers and permit systems, to government policies, programs and grants, to non-statutory agreements and partnerships, and finally local community activities.

Protection, use of, and access to Country are central to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people. 'Country' is the term used to describe both the land and waters, including the sea, to which Aboriginal people have a strong cultural connection. This relationship makes culturally appropriate management of Country and its resources an essential part of protecting Aboriginal cultural values.

Status and trends

Heritage listings on registers and schedules continue to be the main mechanism for managing heritage items throughout NSW. Aboriginal cultural values, typically identified through the development process, are also now protected by a number of additional mechanisms. While both the number of heritage items on the State Heritage Register and the amount of land protected for Aboriginal cultural values have increased in the past three years, data on the condition of the protected heritage is limited. At present, this paucity of data and the variability in local council management of heritage via local environmental plans (LEPs) also impedes accurate reporting of the number of heritage items destroyed or demolished.

Heritage listings

Responsibility for heritage management in NSW is largely shared between local government, State Government agencies and the Heritage Council of NSW. Local government is responsible for managing the bulk of heritage items through listings on heritage schedules in their LEPs. State agencies also have a statutory requirement to prepare a Heritage and Conservation Register of assets under their care and management under section 170 of the NSW Heritage Act 1977. The Heritage Council, with the support of the Department of Planning, is responsible for listing heritage items of state significance on the State Heritage Register under the Heritage Act and managing them.

The Australian Government manages listings (including World Heritage properties) on the National Heritage List under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Additionally, community and professional bodies, such as the National Trust and some Aboriginal land councils, also maintain heritage registers. While these have no statutory effect, they are an important record of community support for individual items.

State Heritage Register

The State Heritage Register recognises the most significant heritage places and objects across NSW. These are known as items of 'state heritage significance' and reflect the diversity of heritage sites in NSW. A total of 47 new items were added to the register from January 2006 to December 2008, taking the overall number of listings to 1538.

The number of recent additions to the register has been lower than in the early 2000s, partly due to the complexity of listing the entire town of Braidwood in 2006. Braidwood and its setting are an excellent surviving example of a town from the Georgian period, dating from the late 1830s.

Other listings on the State Heritage Register over the past three years have included:

  • five colonial landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden, all dating from the earliest period of European settlement in NSW
  • two highly significant Aboriginal burial sites – the graves of Yuranigh near Molong and Windradyne at Bathurst
  • Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission site, a place of high integrity to many Aboriginal people across NSW because of its cultural, spiritual, social and historical values
  • the wreck site of the Japanese midget submarine M24 following its discovery by recreational divers off Sydney's northern beaches in 2006.

Other lists

The Historic Houses Trust (HHT) is a statutory authority entrusted with the care of key historic buildings and sites in NSW. The HHT currently manages 14 sites and properties and, through a broad range of programs, attracted over 2.1 million visitors to its museums, gardens, parklands and urban spaces in 2007–08 (HHT 2008).

In 2005, the HHT established the revolving Endangered Houses Fund, a program that identifies significant at-risk properties and removes them from the threat of demolition or unsympathetic development using a model of acquisition, conservation and sale. Under this fund, the HHT recently completed conservation work at 'Glenfield' in Casula, while two other projects – 'Exeter Farm' at Glenwood and 'Nissen Hut' at Belmont North – are under construction.

The Australian Heritage Council manages the National Heritage List, which includes places of outstanding heritage significance to the nation. Thirty-one NSW sites were on the list in December 2008, with recent additions including Bondi Beach, Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves, Cyprus–Hellene Club–Australian Hall, and the Myall Creek Massacre and Memorial Site.

Managed by UNESCO's World Heritage Centre, the World Heritage List contains sites considered to be of 'outstanding universal value'. Sydney Opera House was inscribed on the list in June 2007, Australia's first 20th century building to achieve this honour. It joins the four other NSW sites on the list: the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Lord Howe Island, Willandra Lakes and the Greater Blue Mountains area. A number of Australian convict sites, including four in NSW, have also been nominated for inclusion, with a decision by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee expected in 2010.

Aboriginal heritage management

Traditional definitions of heritage – referring to places, items or objects – do not adequately address the complexity of Aboriginal heritage management. Aboriginal heritage is linked closely with the natural environment and contains traditions and assets, both tangible and intangible. The strong relationship between Aboriginal people and their lands makes culturally appropriate management of Country and its resources a critical part of protecting Aboriginal cultural values.

While development in NSW can have an adverse impact on cultural values, it is usually as the result of development applications as part of local government planning processes that Aboriginal culture and heritage are identified for protection. Thus appropriate planning and controls enable development applications to trigger heritage assessment and management of identified cultural values.

Through mechanisms such as Aboriginal Places, Aboriginal Areas, Conservation Agreements, Memorandums of Understanding, Joint Management Agreements and State Heritage Register listings, over 2.33 million hectares of land (about 2.9% of NSW) is protected for Aboriginal cultural values, a five-fold increase since 2005.

The Australian Government also protects land through the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) Program, with two IPAs declared in NSW, covering over 5000 ha.

To date, the NSW Government's Joint Management Program is the most successful program ensuring Aboriginal people are fully involved in identifying and protecting Aboriginal cultural values on public land. Jointly managed lands represent the highest proportion of public land protected for cultural values in NSW (Table 1.2).

Table 1.2: Quantity of land protected for Aboriginal cultural values







Aboriginal Places





Aboriginal Areas





Conservation Agreements





Memorandums of Understanding





Joint Management Agreements





State Heritage Register-listed places





Land protected





Source: DECCW and DoP data 2009

Notes: This does not include land owned by Aboriginal communities.


Development needs caused by population growth, particularly in metropolitan areas and coastal zones, place pressure on the protection of heritage. Conversely, rural and regional areas are experiencing population and job decline that can result in a lack of active uses for heritage items, limit conservation capacity and also reduce their protection.

Mixed land tenure in NSW requires a cohesive suite of mechanisms for protecting cultural values. A particular challenge is in ensuring cultural values on private land are identified so they can be protected.

A balance is required between increasing the public's awareness of and visits to natural and cultural sites with ensuring the preservation and protection of those sites. It is essential that heritage sites are actively managed with cultural sensitivity.


Legislative review

A major review of the operations and focus of the NSW Heritage Act 1977 occurred in 2007 with comment and input from both experts and the community. At the conclusion of the consultation, an expert panel released A Review of the NSW Heritage Act 1977, which detailed recommendations and an assessment of responses. Recommendations included applying greater fairness and rigour in the heritage listing process; retaining key elements of the current system, including local and state listings; streamlining legislation; and basing listings on thematic and regional studies.

The NSW Government announced the release of a draft Bill to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 in April 2009. With respect to heritage, the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2009 makes a range of amendments to:

  • modernise and streamline the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage and related regulatory processes
  • make enforcement provisions more consistent with other environmental legislation.

Fishing has been an important part of Aboriginal culture for tens of thousands of years. Currently, the Fisheries Management Act 1994 does not specifically recognise or provide for cultural fishing. The State Government is proposing amendments to the Act to formally recognise cultural fishing as a legitimate fishing activity in NSW. Amendments will also include a definition of cultural fishing and specific provisions to provide for it.

Heritage programs

Thematic Listings Program

State Heritage Register nominations have traditionally originated from the community and sometimes when items were under development pressure. While this has ensured community involvement, nominations have been largely considered by the Heritage Council in an ad hoc manner.

To maintain a balanced and credible State Heritage Register, the Heritage Council is implementing the Thematic Listings Program 2009–10. This introduces a strategic focus to listings, in accordance with agreed priority themes, which will assist in filling gaps in the register and ensuring adequate representation of each theme by key items of state significance.

Nominations for places that do not fall within agreed themes will still be received but thematic listings will be a priority. The Heritage Council will consider pursuing priority listing themes beyond 2010 until a more robust and comprehensive register is achieved.

Heritage Grants Program

The Heritage Grants Program, managed by the Heritage Council of NSW, supports highly valued, cared for, and well maintained and managed heritage items of significance to NSW. The program's focus is to assist heritage owners and managers to look after their heritage items and places and to maximise leverage of the successful delivery and uptake of Heritage Act 1977 and Heritage Council funding initiatives. The funding is targeted to State Heritage Register items protected under the Heritage Act or as part of Aboriginal and local government heritage management programs.

A comprehensive evaluation of the Heritage Branch 2006–08 Grant Funding Program was completed in late 2008. Project outcomes and key performance indicators were established for program reporting and evaluation, which will be used to assess and improve future NSW Heritage Grants Programs funding offers.

Heritage and the community

The NSW Government has focused on maximising the community's engagement with items listed on the State Heritage Register, while also targeting tourism. A web-based project, NSW Heritage Tourism On-line, was developed in 2007–08, seeking to motivate and inspire tourists to visit state-listed heritage destinations in NSW. The project delivers on an agreed national heritage agenda desire for greater on-line heritage data and greater public access and appreciation of heritage places.

Aboriginal cultural values

Two Ways Together

The NSW Government has recognised that reform of Aboriginal cultural heritage approvals and assessment processes is required. As part of its commitments under the NSW Aboriginal Affairs Plan, Two Ways Together, a review of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and other relevant legislation is under way to focus more strongly on the conservation of Aboriginal heritage rather than solely on the conservation of Aboriginal objects and gazetted Aboriginal places.

The Government is also working to strengthen Aboriginal communities in line with Priority F1 of State Plan 2006: A new direction for NSW (NSW Government 2006a): Improved health and education for Aboriginal people. A 'toolkit' to strengthen community wellbeing is being developed to enable communities to assess and prioritise government services, infrastructure and community-driven actions. The toolkit will provide communities with the information needed to negotiate with government and make well-informed and sustainable planning decisions for their future.

A review of State Plan 2006 commenced in August 2009 and this may adjust some of the plan's priorities and targets.

The Government has also embarked on an extensive project to improve the administration of existing cultural heritage regulation. Part of this project has involved the development of guidelines to ensure that decisions to issue Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permits (AHIPs) are transparent and that AHIPS themselves are consistent, reasonable and enforceable. Revised community consultation requirements for AHIP applicants to clarify and reaffirm the need for proponents to consult with affected Aboriginal communities are also being prepared.

In another initiative, the NSW Government is preparing a Two Ways Together Aboriginal land and natural resource management action plan to develop clear policies, principles and tools to improve socioeconomic outcomes for Aboriginal people by enhancing their participation in land and natural resource management.

Aboriginal Land Management Framework

The NSW Government is working towards an Aboriginal Land Management Framework (ALMF) that strengthens Aboriginal connections to Country. Initial public consultation in early 2009 sought the views of the Aboriginal community on access to and use of public lands, as well as how communities can be involved in managing them. The Government is hoping to reach a common understanding with Aboriginal communities about what programs and initiatives will help improve connections to Country.

In addition to expanded joint management of the conservation reserve system, the ALMF will examine formal protection of land for Aboriginal cultural values using a range of mechanisms. These will include new Indigenous Protected Areas, Aboriginal Areas, Conservation Agreements on private lands and Aboriginal Places. Increased joint management on other public tenures is also an aim of the ALMF.

Aboriginal Place Program

The Aboriginal Place Program is another way of recognising and legally protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage. Under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, any land may be declared an 'Aboriginal Place' if the area is or was of special significance to Aboriginal culture.

The NSW Government has also continued funding the Protecting Our Places Program through the Environmental Trust. Over the past three years, $1.5 million has been made available to Aboriginal organisations for projects to protect land that is culturally significant to Aboriginal people as well as educate Aboriginal and other communities about the local environment and its value. Protection of heritage and cultural values has also been facilitated through the Environmental Trust's Restoration and Rehabilitation, Eco Schools and Environmental Education programs.

Land Alive

The NSW Government Land Alive project gives Aboriginal landowners extra capacity to participate in the BioBanking Scheme. Land Alive provides landowners with a chance to create jobs and business opportunities, while generating funds for the ongoing management of land.

Indigenous Heritage Program

The Australian Government Indigenous Heritage Program also provides funding for indigenous projects across Australia, helping community groups and individuals identify, conserve and promote cultural values. Eight projects totalling $460,000 were funded in NSW in 2008–09. These projects included development of the Wilsons River Experience Walk, development of a strategic plan for protection of significant sites within Githabul Country, and the hosting by NSW of the Australian World Heritage Indigenous Network meeting and culture camp in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Future directions

The goal for heritage management is that the future people of NSW will be able to have a comprehensive insight into the health and vibrancy of the state's heritage. This includes being able to ascertain whether representative examples of their heritage are being conserved, whether this conservation is adequate, and whether they provide inspiration and benefit to the citizens of the state. To achieve this goal, current processes would need to be developed to improve the identification, classification and preservation of cultural values in NSW.

The capacity of government to report on heritage and cultural values may be improved by fostering deeper relationships between NSW Government departments, local government and Aboriginal communities. While there are constraints on the roles and responsibilities of state and local governments in this area, increased community engagement and reporting on community-based heritage could enable collective progress on protecting cultural values across NSW. Furthermore, data collection and sharing on the condition and destruction of heritage items needs to be improved between the NSW Government and local government to enable accurate assessments to be made on heritage condition.