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Teaching Heritage

Board of Studies NSW

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SubSection MarkerHeritage and Culture

In this section you can read the heritage views of Australians who promote and support the inclusion of cultural perspectives in heritage decisions. Chris Johnston’s discussion of heritage and social value is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the way places embody important meanings for groups and communities. Excerpts from What is Social Value? (1993) are included here (the full work can be obtained from the Australian Heritage Commission). We also include excerpts from David Lowenthal’s discussion of preservation in The Past is a Foreign Country (1985). Lowenthal notes the growing tendency of Europeans to identify themselves with their material heritage (19th century) and the major programs launched to protect it (20th century).

Contemporary views of heritage resonate with the interests of Australia’s many cultures. Heritage can provide a means for working with diverse cultures: a way to build a sense of history and identity as a nation. Heritage frameworks inclusive of varying cultural perspectives, however, are as recent as political changes to multiculturalism (1972) that acknowledged the distinctive and meaningful in Australia’s blend of cultures. The inclusiveness of heritage meanings and practices continues to be scrutinised and queried by many with an interest in cultural heritage.

An ethnic background is part of the inheritance of most Australians. Maria Geracitano recognises the duality of her heritage: "Heritage is my love of Australian history, looking at the lives and achievements of the convicts. It is also the exploits of the Roman emperors. Heritage is my religion, burial customs, the family gatherings and parties I grew up with, the dances I was taught, the way I celebrate Christmas." The shared languages, traditions, beliefs, religions and pastimes of a group give rise to a cultural heritage that influences the way people live. The fabric of culture, then, is inherent in the values people attach to heritage.

People living in the same state or nation, however, do share a common heritage. Geraldine O’Brien notes: "The Greek milk bar in a country town, Uluru, the Italian fishing fleet at the fish markets, the Aboriginal Day of Mourning site in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, the Eureka Flag, the broad-verandahed country homestead and the Heads of Sydney Harbour" are all symbols of the Australian sense of identity and place in the world. Multiculturalism is a story shared by all Australians and is part of our common heritage.

Paula Hamilton and Helen Armstrong focus on the value of oral history methods in identifying places of heritage value for indigenous and migrant Australians. Excerpts from The Knife Edge: Debates about Memory and History and Mapping Migrant Memories: Crossing cultural borders are included in this section. Hamilton’s work is crucial to understandings of memory and personal connections with the past.

Maria Geracitano, Tony McAvoy and Peter Watts offered their views on heritage for the Teaching Heritage website. Some of the constraints on a fuller integration of cultural perspectives in heritage practices are highlighted in their comments.

  • Maria Geracitano gives a cultural perspective on heritage for the ‘ Teaching Heritage’ website.
  • Tony McAvoy gives a cultural perspective on heritage for the ‘ Teaching Heritage’ website.
  • Peter Watts gives a cultural perspective on heritage for the ‘ Teaching Heritage’ website.

Denis Byrne and Valda Rigg – writing for Public History Review – examine the dominance of non-indigenous cultural practices and how these have obscured and, in some cases, erased the story of indigenous Australians. Alexander Trapeznik– also writing for Public History Review – focuses on history and heritage in New Zealand. Excerpts from these works are included here, however, the full articles are recommended for anyone wanting to understand the interrelatedness of history and heritage.

  • Excerpts from Denis Byrne’s journal article – ‘The Archaeology of Disaster’ – examining the ways archaeological traces can be obscured from public consciousness.
  • Excerpts from Valda Rigg’s journal article – ‘Curators of the Colonial Idea: the museum and exhibition as agents of bourgeois ideology in nineteenth century New South Wales’ – looking at the role of the Australian Museum and the Sydney International Exhibition in promoting colonial ideology.
  • Excerpts from Alexander Trapeznik’s journal article – ‘Heritage and Public History in New Zealand’ – focusing on the connections between history and heritage and the importance of material culture in recording the past.

The Bush Lives: Bush Futures exhibition is currently on a three year tour of Regional New South Wales (1999 – 2002). Max Bourke – former CEO of the Australian Heritage Commission and the Australia Council – presents cultural heritage in rural communities as an integral and active component of innovative economic development, sustainable management practices and strong civic engagement.

  • Excerpt from Max Bourke’s presentation at the Bush Futures? Forum, a component of the ‘Bush Lives: Bush Futures’ exhibition that began a three-year tour of regional NSW in January 1999.


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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