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Teaching Heritage

Board of Studies NSW

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SubSection MarkerHeritage and Identity

In this section you can read the heritage views of Australians from varying age groups and backgrounds.

Put simply, our heritage is all we inherit from previous generations. This inheritance goes towards forming our identities as people, communities and nations. "Heritage is the combination of all those things that make us, as individuals, the people we are and, on a larger scale, make us the nation we are," writes Geraldine O’Brien. "It can be as small as a baby’s rattle, passed down through generations, a family photograph, books, or a piece of furniture. Or it can be as large as Uluru, the Sydney Opera House or an old harbour ferry."

Interspersed with heritage concepts are the assumptions, ideas and attitudes that shape the way we relate to others and interact with the natural and built environments. Paul Ashton reminds us that heritage is rich with positive and negative elements. John Birmingham confronted ‘darkness on the backstreets’ when writing Leviathan: An Unauthorised Biography of Sydney. In focusing on Sydney’s chequered past he attempted to: "…use the history to explain the city as it is now. You know you can trace a line back, if you choose, from the Cash for Comment radio scandal right back to the Rum Corps. It’s the same forces at work." Heritage, then, is far broader than the material objects that are preserved from the past.

In practical terms, our heritage is all that we value and want to keep for future generations. For some, the positive aspects of our past are embellished for heritage purposes. In making value-based decisions about what is worth preserving for future generations, heritage practitioners are involved in a filtering process. With the approaching Federation celebrations in 2001, Tracy Ireland observes: "There has been a renewed focus on national heritage…It will be interesting to see how we redefine the culturally diverse nation and how difference, conflict and the unpleasant parts of our history are dealt with." A recurring question in formal approaches that identify local, state and national heritage is: Heritage choices reflecting whose identity?

Images from Picture Sydney Landmarks of a New Generation, an Australian Museumexternal link exhibition (1999) featuring the perspectives of Sydney’s youth on landmarks of the city.

‘Picture Sydney: Landmarks of a New Generation’ was an opportunity for young Sydneysiders to capture the pulse of the city. Penny Benier of Elderslie High School photographed a building with a false front in the suburb of Mt Hunter. Benier commented: "I wanted to show all aspects of Sydney, not just the pretty things. I think people will be surprised by what they see, particularly the older generation. We see things in a very different way." (p. 5 domain, Sydney Morning Herald, 26.8.99)


Images in this section encompass some of the diversity in Australian culture – religious, aboriginal, youth, gay, and beach. Bianca Jodeikin’s image of Sydney Airport delves into shared cultural heritage – "a landmark for all people of different nationalities and cultures who share common ground".


Landmarks of the built environment reveal Sydney’s history, development and the values of those who make decisions about the city’s future. Included in this section are icons – the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – and other city buildings "just waiting for recognition".


A bus, a letter book, a trolley used for delivering papers and the work of a tattooist are the landmarks featured in his section. These images represent landmarks of school days, the private world of friendship, life in a neighbourhood, and youth culture. All convey a view and an appreciation of the world inhabited.


Many Australians have a strong attachment to the outdoors and the countryside. Many national heritage sites are extraordinary, geological or environmental places. Our personal lives and memories often revolve around important natural places. The images in this section hold personal memories for the photographers.

Meeting Places

Great historical events in our society have lead to major meeting places becoming heritage landmarks, such as Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Trades Hall and Australia Hall where important meetings have taken place. Included in this section are meeting places that loom large in the lives of the photographers.

Family Places

Each of our personal histories revolve around places tied to our emotions and our family activities. Individuals look back on important landmarks in their personal lives in the same way that societies look back on cultural landmarks to help them understand their own identity.

listen to various points of view

Paul Ashton, Tracy Ireland, Jana Vytrhlik, Carol Liston and Geraldine O’Brien offered their views on heritage for the Teaching Heritage website. Some of the issues and dilemmas for public participation in preserving Australia’s heritage are highlighted in their viewpoints.

  • Paul Ashton discusses heritage meanings for the ‘Teaching Heritage’ website.
  • Tracy Ireland discusses heritage meanings for the ‘Teaching Heritage’ website.
  • Jana Vytrhlik discusses heritage meanings for the ‘Teaching Heritage’ website.
  • Carol Liston discusses heritage meanings for the ‘Teaching Heritage’ website.
  • Geraldine O’Brien writes about heritage meanings for the ‘Teaching Heritage’ website. Go to ‘Heritage and public policy’ to read O’Brien’s article ‘Jack of Spades’ based on an interview with Jack Mundey.

You can also read the views of John Birmingham, Jennice Kersh and Merlinda Bobis – all interviewed by Sydney Morning Herald journalists in 1999. Birmingham focuses on the heritage of Sydney, Kersh on the heritage of Pyrmont (the suburb of her childhood), and Bobis gives a heritage perspective as a migrant who settled in regional Wollongong. We have also included excerpts from Graeme Davison’s discussion of the meanings of heritage in the Heritage Handbook (1991).

  • Jennice Kersh talks to journalist David Dale about the sense of place influencing her life and menus.
  • John Birmingham talks to journalist Stu Spence about Sydney’s ‘darker and dirtier’ past.
  • Merlinda Bobis talks to journalist Anthony Dennis about Wollongong’s ‘economic lifeblood of stacks, smog and sooty structures’.
  • Excerpts from Graeme Davison’s discussion of the meanings of heritage in ‘A Heritage Handbook’. Go to ‘Heritage and public policy’ to read Davison’s views on a more democratic heritage.

The heritage views of older Sydneysiders are represented in the National Trust’s reflections article ‘Taking heritage to 2000’. James Elder talked to Australians – who between them lived in almost every decade of the 20th century – about their memories of heritage and their predictions for heritage in Australia in the 21st century.

  • High-profile Australians talk to James Elder about their memories of heritage and their hopes and fears for Australia’s heritage in the future.


In building units of work for classroom use with these questions and resources, and for help with designing classroom assessment activities to help gauge whether the outcomes are being achieved you may like to consult the NSW History and Geography Stages 4-5 syllabus outcomes.

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