Australia’s problem with Aboriginal World Heritage



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Uluru-Kata Tjuta: of 19 Australian World Heritage sites this is one of only two that recognise the values of ‘living’ Aboriginal culture.
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Ian Lilley, The University of Queensland and Celmara Pocock, University of Southern Queensland

Journalist Stan Grant once compared our Indigenous cultural heritage to the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Ironically, though Grant pointed to the Lake Mungo site in the Willandra Lakes as an example, Aboriginal people are poorly represented by Australia’s World Heritage sites. Torres Strait Islanders are not represented at all.

Of 19 World Heritage sites across the country, including such wonders as the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House, only two, Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta, recognise the values of “living” Aboriginal culture, alongside the breathtaking natural features in those areas. These are what UNESCO calls “mixed” sites, bringing nature and culture together.

Australia’s two other such sites – the Tasmanian Wilderness, and the Willandra lakes – recognise archaeological records of Aboriginal people, along with natural values, but not contemporary Indigenous rights and associations.

None of Australia’s three sites inscribed purely for cultural values recognises Aboriginal people. They are the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, and a multi-component listing of convict sites across the country including Port Arthur in Tasmania.

Aboriginal people rightly remain concerned, and often angry, that they were excluded from the original nominations of all of Australia’s World Heritage sites, natural, cultural and mixed. Yet they also remain deeply sceptical about the benefits of such listing.

Some progress

There has been some progress. Australia received enormous international credit for modifying, in 1994, the original Uluru-Kata Tjuta nomination to recognise living Aboriginal culture. But the real turnaround has been when Aboriginal people have directed these processes themselves.

After years of work, Gunditjmara people succeeded in having the site of Budj Bim on Aboriginal land in southwest Victoria, placed on Australia’s Tentative World Heritage List. The site includes a remarkable system of eel traps around Lake Condah. Elements of these traps date back over 6,500 years. This is the first step in the long process of gaining World Heritage recognition.

Remains of a 1,700 year old stone house at Budj Bim, Victoria.
denisbin/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Recently the World Heritage Committee established a forum for Indigenous peoples – in the making since the early 2000s. With the issue now so firmly on the international agenda, Australia will come under intense scrutiny to lift its game regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander World Heritage. How might that be done?

Indigenous heritage now

World Heritage sites are assessed against ten criteria across natural and cultural values. Originally highly Eurocentric, these criteria have gradually widened to become more inclusive, especially of Indigenous people.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta has long been held up as the paragon of this shift. It was originally listed as World Heritage in 1987, solely for its environmental characteristics. It was relisted in 1994 to include Aboriginal values, recognising the importance of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to the Traditional Owners, the Anangu people. Today, the area is recognised for being one of the most ancient human landscapes in the world, including its spiritual dimensions.

Rock art at Uluru.
Shutterstock



Read more:
Why we are banning tourists from climbing Uluru


Unlike Uluru-Kata Tjuta, and, later, Kakadu, the Tasmanian Wilderness and Willandra are recognised for their archaeological and rock-art sites, rather than for their living heritage. Willandra, for instance, celebrates archaeological evidence that demonstrates an Aboriginal presence more than 40,000 years ago, in what was then a lush environment quite unlike the present semi-arid conditions.

Such archaeological and rock-art sites are unquestionably important for the extraordinary history they contain, and Aboriginal people have a particular attachment to them as evidence of their ancient and continuing connection with their land. They are actively involved in management of these places for that very reason.

Yet the cultural value of these sites remains defined by non-Aboriginal archaeologists, rather than Aboriginal belief systems or political aspirations.

The Tasmanian Wilderness is recognised for being one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. It also includes evidence in limestone caves of Aboriginal occupation up to 35,000 years ago. Yet the listing fails to identify or formally recognise the relationship between that area – particularly the hand-stencil, rock-art sites – and Tasmanian Aboriginal people today.




Read more:
Friday essay: how archaeology helped save the Franklin River


Outdated process

We are investigating what World Heritage might better deliver to Indigenous people. One of our major cases is the popular tourist destination of K’Gari (Fraser Island), given a World Heritage listing for its natural heritage in 1992. Some members of the local Butchulla community want Aboriginal heritage included in the listing.

Many archaeological and Butchulla story sites at K’gari are unquestionably unique to the Butchulla people and have great significance for the community today. Takky Wooroo (Indian Head), the rocky headland that anchors the vast sand island in place, is one well-known example.

Takky Wooroo (Indian Head) anchors the vast sand island of K’Gari (Fraser Island).
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However the Butchulla face hurdles in having this heritage recognised. The first is proving that their heritage is “better” than examples of Aboriginal heritage elsewhere. The second is demonstrating a continuous connection to it.

Both of these criteria are central to the World Heritage process, but are legacies of an outdated approach to Aboriginal culture. The process lumps diverse Aboriginal people into one group, when we know that Australia was home to hundreds of different peoples.

While the connection of the Butchulla to their heritage has already been recognised under Native Title, we would never assume that European cultures must remain unchanged since 1700 to be recognised as heritage.

How to do better

Our research is consistently finding that Aboriginal people are deeply sceptical about the benefits of World Heritage listing, despite efforts by State and Commonwealth governments to ensure Aboriginal input.

One concern is that World Heritage is seen as universal, something for all people. But some Aboriginal people see this as diminishing their very particular attachment to places, such as the remains of Mungo Man at the Willandra Lakes, an ancestor of deep personal and community significance.

‘Mungo Man’ was repatriated to the Willandra Lakes, where the remains were found, in 2017.
PERRY DUFFIN

What can we do better? It is simple. All future heritage sites should canvass Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement early in the nomination process, even those where there is no obvious Aboriginal link to the site. This process is already retrospectively underway for Australia’s natural sites
and in 2012, it meant the Indigenous heritage values of Queensland’s Wet Tropics were recognised at a national level, which is vital to having them recognised internationally.

We should also support Indigenous people to make their own nominations. This is what’s happening at Budj Bim. While non-Indigenous archaeologists are helping with the nomination, it is being driven by local Aboriginal people. They have linked the archaeological value to both ancestral stories, and to the Gunditjmara’s continuing efforts to maintain and protect their heritage today.




Read more:
The detective work behind the Budj Bim eel traps World Heritage bid


What other possible sites are there?

There are a great range of other amazing sites that we know are “out there”. Take the famed “Dreaming tracks” and “songlines” that criss-cross the continent, for instance. Tracing the travels of ancestral beings, they encode the locations of living places and sacred spaces, mapping the disposition of resources across the landscape and through seasonal cycles.




Read more:
Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is a must-visit exhibition for all Australians


They encompass some of the nation’s most dramatic natural features as well as camping places, sources of water, food and other resources, art sites and Indigenous sacred places, thus combining natural and cultural, tangible and intangible, and ancestral as well as living heritage.

With suitable protection of secret-sacred information, as well as the routes themselves and the specific sites they incorporate, Aboriginal songlines and the routes of ancestor-heroes in Torres Strait could be a future World Heritage nomination. A number are already on various state government heritage lists.

Similar nominations are appearing in other parts of the world, such as the recently-listed mixed site of Pimachiowin Aki, co-developed by the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) peoples “in the heart of Canada’s boreal forest” – not least because of precedents set by Australia over the years.The Conversation

Ian Lilley, Professor in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, The University of Queensland and Celmara Pocock, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Communication, University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Explainer: why the rock art of Murujuga deserves World Heritage status



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Detail of a fish (likely black bream) on Enderby Island.
Photo Vic Anderson

Jo McDonald, University of Western Australia

The West Australian government has committed to pursuing a World Heritage listing for the rock art of Murujuga. Murujuga is the Aboriginal name for the Dampier Archipelago and the Burrup Peninsula in north west WA and is home to at least a million individual works of art.

Australia has some of the world’s richest and most diverse rock art. While rock art is found all around the globe, Australia is relatively unique because here there are still cultural connections between rock art and the people who created it.

At present, Australia has only three cultural World Heritage sites (of which only one – Kakadu – is listed for rock art). In contrast, France has over 30 World Heritage-listed rock art sites.

I and my colleague Peter Veth have argued that Murujuga rock art meets three criteria for outstanding universal value: because of the creative genius and skill of the artwork; the extraordinarily old and continuous engraving tradition; and the combined cultural landscapes of the area, including quarries, living sites, and shell middens.

These illustrate significant transitions in human history in the face of major changes in sea level and surrounding environment.

The boulders of Murujuga are home to more than a million works of rock art.
Shutterstock.com

Animals no longer found

When people first started using this landscape 50,000 years ago, it was located around 100 km from the coast. It was wetter and warmer than it is now – and the archaeological record of the coastal plain at this time demonstrates an entire group of animals no longer found in this part of Australia. Murujuga’s artists painted some of these animals, such as crocodiles.

Then, during the last ice age (between 30,000 and 18,000 years ago), the coastline was even further away (160 km). People were were living in the Murujuga Ranges at this time. There are a number of paintings of animals that are now extinct, such as thylacines and a fat-tailed species of kangaroo, which testify to the changing environment.

Speared fat-tailed kangaroo positioned on irregular boulder; Dolphin Island.
Photo J. McDonald.

Then, as the ice caps melted and the sea level rose, people became more concentrated on the new coastal landscape. Recent studies across the archipelago have demonstrated the scientific significance of the outer and inner islands of this cultural land and seascape.

Dugong, turtles and fish

Around 8,000 years ago, people began to construct houses. Art production at this time was in full swing. The most recent rock art includes dugong, turtles, fish as well as the small rock wallabies and quolls that now live on the islands.

Fish depiction (likely black bream), Enderby Island.
Photo Sarah de Koning.

As well as houses there are myriad stone arrangements, standing stones and terraces. This is a monumental hunter-gatherer-fisherperson landscape, which rivals the period in Europe when people were constructing stone monuments such as Stonehenge (except in Europe this occurred thousands of years later).

The artworks in Murujuga were made on the rocks using stone tools. Together they show how people have been living in the region for thousands of years, first as hunter-gatherers, and later with a focus on fishing.

Contemporary traditons

This rock art is still associated with contemporary traditions, ideas, and belief systems of traditional custodians. It is the widely-held belief that many Murujuga engravings represent and embody ancestral beings (Marga), while some of the standing stones are thalu sites, critical for the regeneration of key species such as a range of fish, birds and kangaroo, and even sandflies.

Five local Aboriginal groups hold native title in lands next to the archipelago – the Ngarluma, Yindjibarndi, Yaburara, Mardudhunera and Wong-gg-tt-too. Together, they are represented by Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, which jointly manages Murujuga National Park with the WA state government. The peninsula and the islands are also listed as having National Heritage values. This listing excludes parts of the peninsula that have been previously damaged by industry.

Pelican, Murujuga.
Photo Sarah de Koning.



Read more:
Where art meets industry: protecting the spectacular rock art of the Burrup Peninsula


National Heritage listing paves the way for Murujuga to become a World Heritage site. Recently, traditional custodians and others came together for a summit in Karratha and concluded resoundingly that World Heritage listing would be appropriate for Murujuga, and that it would help protect this extraordinary place.

Author Tim Winton also joined the push for World Heritage status.

Yesterday’s announcement is a significant moment for WA – which doesn’t have any Aboriginal cultural sites listed as World Heritage. And for the traditional custodians, it is the next step in their quest for recognition and greater protection of this place’s special significance.

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The Conversation

Placing Murujuga on the Tentative List is the beginning of the formal process to achieve World Heritage status. This will still take several years, but as the CEO of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Peter Jeffries, said yesterday, the traditional owners are now driving the process.

Jo McDonald, Director, Centre for Rock Art Research + Management, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the internet is reshaping World Heritage and our experience of it



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Many more people experience World Heritage sites like the Sydney Opera House in digital form than physically visit them.
Author provided

Cristina Garduño Freeman, University of Melbourne

Most people’s experience of World Heritage is now a digital one. Whether it’s on social media, an official website, Wikipedia or a simple Google search, this shift in “visitation” means many people who engage with World Heritage will never physically travel to the actual site.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is the top-tier organisation for the protection of natural and cultural heritage. To date, 1,073 properties have been listed for their significance to all of mankind.

The list includes many well-known ancient monuments like the Pyramids of Giza, and the Parthenon, and natural sites like Uluru Kata-Tjuta. Less frequently recognised are industrial sites like the Rideau Canal and contemporary works of architecture such as the Sydney Opera House.

The Sydney Opera House was listed in 2007, not only for its architectural and technical achievements as a masterpiece of modernism, but curiously also for its status as a world-famous iconic building. Digital visits to the Sydney Opera House now outnumber in-person visits by 16 to 1.

Everyday digital engagements with the Sydney Opera House online.
Author provided

Digital engagement has a very broad reach

By 2019, half of the world’s people will have access to the internet. For most, the internet is essential to everyday life. The impact of this exponential growth of the internet on people’s engagement with World Heritage has been overlooked. Yet it has the potential to tell us about the close connections people have with some of our most esteemed places.

Managing organisations are beginning to see the social and economic value of digital audiences. In 2013 the Sydney Opera House reported a digital reach of 128 million. Deloitte estimated this to be worth A$59 million. It’s the result of a media strategy to develop digital content, social media engagement, and participatory online events.

The official media channels of the Sydney Opera House.
Author provided

But this is not the whole story. What about all the things people do online outside of the Sydney Opera House’s formal social media channels?

We know that not everyone actively posts pictures, edits Wikipedia, or writes a blog. The 1% rule describes online participation. For every person who actively contributes content, nine others will like it. Another 90 will simply view the originally posted content.

Adding up the number of followers across the official Sydney Opera House social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) gives us an immediate audience of about 1.67 million. Using the 1% rule, this extrapolates to 167 million, which is similar to Deloitte’s 2013 figure. This is almost seven times Australia’s population and equivalent to 2% of the world population. World Heritage has never been so visible!

But numbers are not the only story here. While impressive, they don’t tell us how people feel connected with such places.

What can the internet tell us?

My recent research investigates online forms of participation with the Sydney Opera House. Combining digital ethnography and data analytics enables us to better understand the social value of architectural icons and the implications for World Heritage.

Popular depictions of the Sydney Opera House posted online include photographs, cakes, artworks, children’s books, Lego, other buildings and hats. By examining these we can understand people’s values and how they engage with this World Heritage site in everyday activities and in the process reshape the narratives being told.

Six ways in which people engage with the Sydney Opera House revealed through their online participation.
Author provided

Close examination of online posts and activities reveals communities of people passionate about the Sydney Opera House. Participatory platforms such as Wikipedia and Flickr are filled with people dedicated to telling a comprehensive historically and visually accurate story about this place. But people are also discerning; they highlight that a single building cannot fully represent their city.

Brands and organisations also reference the form of the Sydney Opera House in their logo types to gain cultural capital. Examples include the Sydney Swans, Sydney Mardi Gras and the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The varied references to this place in many different contexts show its power to create a social connection that transcends borders.

What are the implications for World Heritage?

A World Heritage listing brings an increase in visibility and visits. A listed site gains international recognition and cultural status as well as economic benefits through tourism.

In the decade since the Sydney Opera House became a World Heritage site, annual visitors have doubled from 4 million to 8.2 million, audiences have grown from 1.2 to 1.5 million, and tours of the building have increased by a third.

But World Heritage status comes with a need to preserve and conserve the listed site. For the Sydney Opera House, this means maintaining its iconic status.

My research demonstrates how people’s participation through popular culture helps to maintain this iconic status. Through posting pictures on Instagram, or making “opera-house-shaped things” and sharing them online, people integrate this icon into their daily lives. But this also challenges the building’s copyright, which underpins corporate partnerships that provide funding in exchange for affiliation.

Further, tourism can threaten the conservation of World Heritage properties. Too many visitors and excessive development puts pressure on local communities, management and facilities.

International visibility can also make properties targets of political destruction. This raises questions about how World Heritage status is given and its implications for conservation in an increasingly digitally mediated world.

The ConversationThe Sydney Opera House always held the promise of transformation of Sydney. Now global online communities are transforming it. In our inevitable digital future, what role people will play in ascribing and maintaining World Heritage status?

Cristina Garduño Freeman, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage (ACAHUCH), University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Earth’s wildernesses are disappearing, and not enough of them are World Heritage-listed


James Allan, The University of Queensland and James Watson, The University of Queensland

Earth’s last intact wilderness areas are being rapidly destroyed. More than 5 million square km of wilderness (around 10% of the total area) have been lost in the past two decades. If this continues, the consequences for both people and nature will be catastrophic.

Predominantly free of human activity, especially industrial-scale activities, large wilderness areas host a huge range of environmental values, including endangered species and ecosystems, and critical functions such as storing carbon and providing fresh water. Many indigenous people and local communities, who are often politically and economically marginalised, depend on wilderness areas and have deep cultural connections to them.

Yet despite being important and highly threatened, wilderness areas have been almost completely ignored in international environmental policy. Immediate proactive action is required to save them. The question is where such action could come from.

In a paper published in Conservation Biology, we argue that the United Nations’ World Heritage Convention should expand the amount of wilderness included in its list of Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS).

Wilderness areas are underrepresented among the 203 sites currently on the list. The World Heritage Committee’s meeting in Poland this week offers a good opportunity to redress the balance.

Whither wilderness?

The World Heritage Convention was adopted in 1972 by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to conserve the world’s most valuable natural and cultural sites – places of exceptional importance to all of humanity and future generations. Each one is unique and irreplaceable. Currently, 193 countries (almost the entire world) are parties to the convention, which has inscribed 203 natural sites around the world.

World Heritage Status is granted to places with “Outstanding Universal Value”, which is defined based on three pillars. First, a site must meet one of the four criteria for listing as natural World Heritage (aesthetic value, geological value, biological processes, and biodiversity conservation). Second, a site must have “integrity” and “intactness” of its values (in other words, it must be in excellent condition). Finally, a site must be officially protected by the national or subnational government under whose jurisdiction it falls.

Wilderness areas can be associated with all four of the natural criteria, as well as the integrity and intactness requirements. What’s more, a wilderness by definition cannot be recreated once it is lost. The argument for protecting wilderness areas by adding them to the NWHS list is therefore compelling.

We created the most up-to-date maps of terrestrial wilderness using recent maps of human pressure and assessed the World Heritage Convention’s current coverage of wilderness areas. We found that some 777,000 square km (around 2% of the total) are already protected in 52 Natural World Heritage Sites.

Very little of the world’s wilderness (green) is within natural World Heritage Sites (pink).
Author provided

For example, more than 90% of the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park in the Kimberley region of Western Australia can be defined as a wilderness area. Similarly, the Okavango Delta in Botswana features more than 18,000 square km of wilderness, containing many of the world’s most endangered large mammals.

Wilderness boosts heritage value

In these cases, wilderness areas are likely contributing to the Oustanding Universal Value of of these World Heritage Areas – which as explained above is a key consideration in how they are managed and protected.

One way to strengthen this protection further would be to redraw the boundaries of natural World Heritage Areas to include more wilderness. This would help to preserve the conditions that allow ecosystems and other heritage values to thrive.

Our study identified broad gaps in wilderness coverage by the World Heritage Convention. Some places are already protected by national governments and could therefore be added to UNESCO’s list, such as the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve in Myanmar, which contains 4,000 square km of wilderness, and the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna Reserve in Bolivia, which has 9,000 square km.

The places we have identified, and others, could potentially be designated as new Natural World Heritage Sites if they meet the other strict criteria for Outstanding Universal Values and integrity.

The World Heritage Convention could better achieve its objectives and make a substantial contribution to the conservation of wilderness areas by doing these four things:

  1. formally acknowledge the Outstanding Universal Values of wilderness areas

  2. strengthen the current protection of wilderness within NWHS

  3. expand or reconfigure current NWHS to include more wilderness, and

  4. designate new NWHS in wilderness areas.

It’s up to national governments to submit sites for inscription as NWHS, and we urge them to consider wilderness when doing so. This will strengthen their applications, and provide wilderness areas with the extra protection they need.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s meeting in Poland this week will consider two sites with significant wilderness areas for World Heritage status: Qinghai Hoh Xil Nature Reserve in China and Los Alerces National Park in Argentina. We urge the committee to approve these sites, and use this to spur further opportunities to raise the profile of wilderness conservation worldwide. It is an obvious win-win.

The ConversationThe clock is ticking fast for our last wilderness areas and the biodiversity they protect. Immediate action is needed.

James Allan, PhD candidate, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland and James Watson, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.