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SubSection MarkerForming a Nation

1900-1918 Starting a new century A teaching unit

Examine social and political change in Australia between 1901 and 1918. Visit places of industry, government, administration and Aboriginal heritage and gather information about Australian citizenship at the time of Federation. Consider the role of the emerging nation – in the region and internationally – at the beginning of the 20th century.

Focus Areas

Use the resources and activities in Forming a nation – starting a new century to examine the inquiry questions in Stage 5 History Australian Social and Political Life from 1901 to 1914 and Stage 5 Geography Australia in its Regional and Global Context.

Investigate six heritage places – drawn from the New South Wales State Heritage Inventoryexternal link(SHI NSW) – for evidence of the major influences on Australian life at the beginning of the 20th century. Discuss contemporary ideas of heritage – for example, values underlying the development of technology and industrial parks – and the connections between places that these ideas generate.

Explore the ways that site studies can contribute to an understanding of the past. Activities in this unit incorporate ideas for using site studies to examine the physical landscape for historical associations. Connections are drawn between buildings, environments, communities and the social, political and economic activities of community members. Consider an approach to investigating sites and places presented by the Australian Heritage Commission and the Curriculum Corporation.

Combining history and geography skills can intensify explorations of the past, as Carol Liston explains:

Location, location, location – words we associate with the real estate industry but probably rarely think of as a way to look at the influences at work in local history too. Local historians talk about place constantly– but often leave it to geographers and planners to articulate the specific influences that place has had on the area. Historians, who can see the physical elements of their locality and understand their relationship to natural and man-made actions, have a whole new world of material evidence open to them to unravel the stories of that place.

Often concern to document the details of people and their lives in our special places to the past obscures the need to understand the big picture, the total setting of their lives. This is not only the broader political, economic and social forces at work but also the immediate physical context – geography and landforms, the environment, the weather, the positions of transport routes, the survival of particular trees.

Liston, C., Locality Centre for Community History UNSW, Vol 10 No 2, 1999)

Starting points for Forming a nation – starting a new century include:

Heritage places as a springboard for investigating the influences on life in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century Examine the heritage places for evidence of influences on life at the beginning of the 20th century

Choosing a syllabus inquiry question or content area and using heritage places as a source of information and evidence. Choose a topic for investigation and access heritage places to gather information and evidence

Taking a retrospective view of the 20th century through an investigation stemming from heritage places. Use the information and evidence provided by heritage places to investigate key influences, events and developments in one of the following focus issues of Australian history:

Australia and the rest of the world

  • Government House, Sydney Customs House
  • Grace Building, Cowra POW Campsite
  • New Italy, Australian Hall
  • Yiu Ming Temple, Dundullimal Homestead

Australia's political history

  • Government House, Sydney Customs House
  • Grace Building, Cowra POW Campsite
  • Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Trades Hall
  • Tranby, Mutawintji National Park

Australia's social and cultural history

  • Eveleigh Railway Workshops, Lithgow Blast Furnace
  • Ritz Theatre, Walter Burley Griffin Incinerator
  • Rose Seidler House, Rookwood Cemetery and Necropolis
  • Kelly's Bush, Susannah Place

Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations

  • Willandra Lakes, Parramatta Park
  • Australian Hall
  • Tranby, Mutawintji National Park

Rights and freedoms of various groups

  • Government House, Sydney Customs House
  • Richmond Main Colliery, Glennifer Brae
  • Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Trades Hall
  • Kelly's Bush, Susannah Place

Teachers In building units of work for classroom use with these questions and resources, you may like to consult the NSW History and Geography Stages 4-5 syllabus outcomes.

Notions of citizenship

1901 was the year the Australian colonies united to become one nation. Look at the heritage of Sydney Customs House and Government House Sydney and collect evidence about the influences, events and developments connected to Australia becoming a federated nation.

Government House and Sydney Customs House

Focus questions

  • What do Government House and Sydney Customs House reveal about the influences on life in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century?
  • How do the influences revealed by these places contribute to our understanding of: Federation, Australia’s Constitution, the White Australia policy, past and present meanings of Australian citizenship?
  • What is being preserved in these places; who decided what was important and should be kept; and how is it being done?

Sydney Government House - Macquarie Street, Bennelong Point, Sydney

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Sydney Customs House - 45 Alfred Street, Sydney

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Government House, Sydney and Sydney Customs House are linked to the public facilities and places bounded by Phillip’s Domain – an area encompassing Circular Quay, Bennelong Point, Mrs Macquarie’s Point, The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Sydney’s growth as a city – with its harbourside gardens and public spaces – can be traced to planning decisions made in the early years of European settlement.

Federation in 1901 marked important events at Government House and Sydney Customs House. The Custom Service’s roles of immigration control and administration of tariffs were major reasons for Federation. With Federation, Customs became the major revenue raiser for the Commonwealth Government. Federation also saw Government House become the residence of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth when Parliament was not sitting. The first meeting of the Federal Executive Council was held in the house at 4.30 pm on 1 January 1901 and the future British monarch stayed there during the Federation celebrations.

Customs House

Government House and Gardens

Home to 24 Governors of New South Wales (1856-1901 and 1915-1996) and the first five Governor Generals (1901-1912), Government House symbolised British authority in the colony and was a powerful symbol of State. Sydney Customs House occupies the presumed site of the First Fleet landing and flag-raising – marking the foundation of the colony of New South Wales. It is a symbolic reminder of European colonisation and the importance of maritime activities in the economic survival of the colony.

Both places were built in the 1840s. The original Government House (located on the site of the Museum of Sydney) had featured in all the business of Sydney and was central to port activities. The new house site at Bennelong Point – equidistant between the Government Stables (now the Conservatorium of Music) and Fort Macquarie (site of the Sydney Opera House) – was considered remote at the time of its construction. Newspapers, however, carried nothing but praise for the structure, even though the colony was entering a period of economic depression.

Eastern terrace and garden at Government House c.1870 Reproduced with permission from the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Government House ballroom c.1887 Reproduced with permission from the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Government House laundry and carpenter’s shop under construction c.1901

Map of the area bounded by Phillip’s Domain

Barry McGregor and Associates, Government House Sydney: Conservation and Management Plan 1997

  • Sydney Cove - The site of the first European settlement, including Circular Quay, Sydney’s most public ‘place’.
  • Farm Cove - The sites of Aboriginal corroborees, the Government Farm, the Governors ‘Kitchen Garden’, the Governors' Baths and the greeting place of important guests of the Nation.
  • The Domain - Commenced by Phillip, its publicly accessible spaces including the peninsulas of Bennelong Point and Mrs Macquarie's Point.
  • First Government House site - Including the Museum of Sydney.
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens - Commenced by Macquarie, and progressively expanded into the Governor's Inner Domain.
  • The Conservatorium of Music - Incorporated with Greenway's and the Macquaries' Government Stables.
  • The State Library of NSW - Including the remnants of Fig Tree Avenue, the primary entrance to the Domain and Gardens from the city, and the original location of Bourke's statue (and its current location), and later, Shakespeare Place.
  • The Art Gallery of NSW - First located in the Botanic Gardens on the site of the Governors’ ‘Kitchen Garden’, then developed in the Outer Domain.
  • The Sydney Opera House - On the site of Bennelong's house, early defences, Fort Macquarie, shipping and ferry wharves, and the tram shed.

Sydney Customs House

Sydney Customs House was used continuously by the Australian Customs Service for 145 years. In 1990 operations of the Customs Service were relocated. After undergoing refurbishment, Customs House reopened in 1997 as a combined commercial, performance, tourism and museum space. Governor Sinclair was the last Governor to reside at Government House. In 1996 the Historic Houses Trust took over the management of Government House and regular public openings commenced.

Sydney Customs House, 45 Alfred Street, Sydney

Source: NSW State Heritage Inventory

1844 - Colonial architect Mortimer Lewis designed the first Customs House, a rectangular, Georgian-style building. Its basement was positioned on rock just 13 cm above sea level. images courtesy of Australian Customs Service Historical Collection, Canberra

1887 - Colonial architect James Barnet’s designs involved partially demolishing the original building and reconstructing it as a three-storey Italianate classical palazzo

Customs House, Circular Quay, c.1900

1901 - Government architect Walter Liberty Vernon added a wing at the rear, giving the building an E-shaped plan. He designed two further storeys to Barnet’s building and changed the style to French neo-classical.

Ferry wharves, Circular Quay with Customs House in the background c.1904

Construction work at Customs House, 1909

1920 - Commonwealth works architect George Oakeshott demolished Vernon’s courtyard wing. Lifts were installed and a caretaker’s flat added as a sixth floor

1974 - Sydney Customs House is classified by the National Trust

Contemporary photos of Sydney Customs House.

The atrium of Sydney Customs House.

The first floor contains the Barnet Long Room, perfectly restored as a performance and function space.

The indoor/outdoor cafe of Customs House

With views of Sydney Cove and the Harbour Bridge, this international style restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining, a long bar and innovative show kitchen.

City Exhibition Space on the fourth floor is an interactive exhibition based on Sydney's development.

The Object Gallery showcases innovative contemporary craft, design and 3D art through its galleries, stores and quarterly magazine.

Create a community display that shows changes in life and work in your street/community over time.

Write a proposal — to go to school administration — for maintaining certain elements of the school environment that you consider important to the story of your locality. Your proposal might include features such as pathways, gardens, monuments, trees, entrances to the school.

Teacher brainstorm on the development of classroom activities

Investigating Heritage

How and why did Federation occur? How did Federation affect Australia’s links to England? Which groups in Australia could not vote in 1901? Why did Australia restrict non-white immigration? How did the White Australia policy reflect Australia’s view of Asia and indigenous peoples?

Government House and Gardens and Sydney Customs House are linked to investigations focusing on: Federation and Australia’s Constitution; suffrage and franchise; White Australia; and Australia’s relations in the region and in the world.

  • Examine the images and text information relating to Government House and Sydney Customs House. What can these buildings and artefacts tell us about the past? Look for evidence of government and administration, commerce, events, people and cultural sites.
  • Consider the symbols shown — coats of arms, pictures of governors, crests — and reflect on what these might suggest about influences (past, present, future) on Australian life.
  • Now look at these symbols in relation to government policies at the beginning of the 20th century — in particular, a new Constitution, the right to vote, the White Australia policy. What attitudes and values come through in these policies?
  • Visit the National Australian Archives(NAA) to find out more about political ideas favoured around the time of Federation.
  • What can Government House and Sydney Customs House tell us about the experience of Australia becoming a federated nation and the role of government and administration during this transition?

Investigating Heritage and Citizenship

  • Identify and list those aspects of your school that reflect — or in some way symbolise — the way the school is presented to the community.
  • Look at the entrance to the school, the school foyer, the honour boards, the school song or motto, school traditions (where, when, how and why these are conducted).
  • Reflect on the values, associated with the school’s symbols and traditions.
  • Focus on your school’s past. Use a variety of sources — including administrative records, old photographs, school archives — to identify key stages in the school’s history. What factors have caused change — spatial and ecological — in the school environment?
  • Develop a plan for collecting oral accounts from past principals, past students, the school librarian and older residents in the community. What can you say about the way community members have viewed the school over time? How would you describe early perceptions of the school found in records and provided in oral accounts: optimistic, negative, positive, narrow?
  • Conduct a site study of the school. Begin by walking around the school and deciding on the boundaries for a field survey.
  • Draw a map of the school survey site on graph paper. Record the name of the survey area, the date, the address or map reference and the direction of north. Record details of the area — buildings, structures, footpaths, trees, fences, evidence of changes to the place, for example extensions to buildings —on your map.
  • Take photographs and sketch important details that might provide clues about the past. What can the school buildings, structures and other features tell us about earlier times in the school’s history? Can you identify any links between present and past issues at the school?
  • Look at those school traditions that are practised and those no longer in use. Why is some of the past preserved and some lost?
  • Reflect on whether current traditions remain relevant and speculate on some of the changes that might occur in traditional aspects of the school over the next twenty years.
  • Make a class list of those traditions you would like to keep and the reasons for your choices.
  • Submit the list as a time capsule to your school library or archives.

Changing technologies

Lithgow Blast Furnace and Eveleigh Railway Workshops

Lithgow, NSW is one of the birthplaces of heavy industry in Australia. Examine the heritage of Lithgow Blast Furnace and the Sydney-based Eveleigh Railway Workshops and collect evidence about technological innovation and changing work conditions at the beginning of the 20th century.

Focus questions

  • What do the Lithgow Blast Furnace and Eveleigh Railway Workshops reveal about the influences on life in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century?
  • How do the influences revealed by these places contribute to our understanding of: technological development; changes in work; growth of unionism; expansion of transport networks; past and present attitudes of Australians to technological innovation?
  • What is being preserved in these places; who decided what was important and should be kept; and how is it being done?

How can understandings of work practices in the late 19th and early 20th centuries contribute to understandings of work in contemporary society? Both Lithgow Blast Furnace and Eveleigh Railway Workshops – through the development of their industrial and technological parks, respectively – are places where change and continuity in work and technology can be traced from the past through to the present.

Lithgow Blast Furnace - Inch Street, Lithgow

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Eveleigh Railway Workshops - Great Southern and Western Railway, Redfern, Sydney

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Historical photos

Iron smelting and locomotive construction were major early 20th century developments undertaken at the Furnace and the Workshops. Both places were ‘cutting edge’ facilities of the period. Iron smelting commenced in Lithgow at the Eskbank Colliery in 1875. The Lithgow Blast Furnace – started in 1906 and completed in 1907 – was the sole producer of iron in Australia during the first seven years of its operation, and remained a major producer for the next thirteen.

When Eveleigh Railway Workshops opened in 1887, the site featured state-of-the-art technology in operational systems for the repair and maintenance of steam trains. In 1907 – with the construction of the New Locomotive Shop – Eveleigh Workshops became the only facility involved in locomotive construction in New South Wales.

In 1928 the Lithgow Steel Works was abandoned and operations moved to Port Kembla where the natural resources and transport network were more advantageous to developing the industry. The Eveleigh Railway Workshops became increasingly obsolete when it was decided to replace steam locomotives with diesel trains. The changeover to diesel was complete by 1965 – and the workshops finally closed in 1988.

Both places played a role in munitions supply during war periods: small arms were manufactured at Lithgow Steel Works in World War I and Eveleigh Railway Workshops produced field gun-shells during World War II.

Source: NSW State Heritage Inventory

Exterior of the Eveleigh locomotive workshop, early 1900s

The Davy Press in operation at Eveleigh

The Steam Hammer in the Eveleigh locomotive workshop

Change over to diesel

I remember the first diesel arriving in the shed. That was a big occasion that day, a very big occasion. Because…., you had steam fitters that grew up with steam and when dieselisation came in they were frightened to touch them, they didn’t know what they were doing, they had to go through all their books again, what they were issued with, but it frightened a few. A few of them retired but a lot of them took it on and it did them good too. I think is was an experience for them because they didn’t want to become involved in dieselisation , they started on the steam, grew up with the steam and they wanted to retire with the steam.

Source: Interview with John Willis, conducted by Lucy Taksa on 5 February 1996 for the Eveleigh Social History Project

Working the Davy Press- excerpt: Sites & Scenes

Teacher brainstorm on the development of classroom activities

Investigating Heritage

What was life like at the beginning of the 20th century? Was Australia a ‘working man’s paradise’?

Eveleigh Railway Workshops and Lithgow Blast Furnace are linked to investigations focusing on living and working conditions at the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Examine the images and text information relating to Lithgow Blast Furnace and Eveleigh Railway Workshops. What can the buildings and artefacts tell us about the past? Look for evidence of transport, labour, industry and technology.
  • Examine the interpretative materials developed for the Industrial Park at Lithgow and video footage of Bays 1 and 2 at Eveleigh Railway Workshops for evidence of living and working conditions one hundred years ago. What attitudes and values come through in these materials?
  • Examine the other materials provided. What can these tell us about the experience of technological innovation in Australian communities?
  • Visit the Lithgow Tourism and Australian Technology Park web-sites (links) and look at the ways technological change and innovation are presented.
  • Visit some other web-sites connected to industry and examine other chronologies that highlight changing technologies.
  • Reflect on the elements of the industrial past that are preserved. How do we identify what is worth preserving?

Investigating Heritage and Citizenship

  • Focus on the past in your school’s street and/or community.
  • Decide on the area you will investigate and draw a map of the site on graph paper.
  • Begin by walking around the area and observing the houses, shops, buildings, streets and open spaces. What do your observations convey about values in your community, including attitudes to the past?
  • Identify those features of the area that might indicate something about changes in life and work in your locality.
  • Now identify some people who have lived in your street/community for a long period and invite them to share their stories about life and work in your locality. What were their experiences of living and working in the area? What forms did early employment take? Were these temporary or permanent? If temporary, why did employment conditions change and how did changes affect the area?
  • Use a variety of sources — including local studies collections and local government records — to investigate the key technological developments affecting your community.
  • Identify the impacts of technological change on the community. Can you reach any conclusions about the effects of changing technologies on life and work? In what ways has technological change impacted on open spaces and ecological features? What can the buildings and structures in your community tell you about technological developments over time?
  • Check your conclusions against information — for example, local histories — in the local studies section of your community library.
  • Reflect on why some aspects of the technological and industrial past are preserved and why some are lost.


Create a community display that shows changes in life and work in your street/community over time.

Write a proposal — to go to school administration — for maintaining certain elements of the school environment that you consider important to the story of your locality. Your proposal might include features such as pathways, gardens, monuments, trees and entrances to the school.

Integrating Gender Perspectives

Investigate the involvement of gender groups in some significant developments in Australia from 1901 to 1914. What did Australian men and women contribute to Federation, immigration policy, unionism, technological change, the relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people?

How can we formulate historical questions that lead to more integrated ways of thinking about issues? Rather than separating gender issues and asking specific gender-related questions, how can investigations be approached in a way that draws on the perspectives of gender groups?

Integrating perspectives is an attempt to overcome bias in viewing situations and drawing conclusions. Bias develops when we take a narrow look at a particular issue. Analysing problems and issues from a range of viewpoints is the objective of working with perspectives.

So, how do we gather evidence of the diversity of views held by different gender groups in relation to an event such as Federation? Much of what marginalised groups thought, felt and did – expressed from their particular viewpoints – went unrecorded in the past. It naturally follows that much of recorded history is biased.

Analysis focusing on perspectives, then, requires us to integrate current knowledge and awareness of situations involving marginalised groups – the voices generally unrepresented in the media and public life – in contemporary society.

The questions we ask are often a key to accessing perspectives. Questions initiating an inquiry reflect the outlook (or perspective) on the investigation – signalling the likely direction an investigation will take. Several inquiry questions in the History syllabus focus on political processes at the beginning of the 20th century. Crucial to understanding processes is knowledge of those included and those excluded from these discussions. Questions that focus on who was involved – and how representative groups benefited from participation – can illuminate our understandings of the power of men and women bring to Australian politics a full century on from Federation. How and why did Federation occur?

Analysing this question in relation to gender evokes the question: Who was involved in the processes leading to Federation? For example, who contributed to the Federation debates, who attended the conferences and meetings, who was represented in the official party on the day of Federation celebrations? Furthering the inquiry, we could ask, What were participant groups trying to achieve? For example, what did those in attendance contribute or say, what roles did they perform, what benefits did their group receive as a result of their involvement? Questions such as these contribute to examining the how and why of Federation – the influence people exerted on developments in society.

Ultimately, citizenship learning that assists students to work within current social and political systems needs to focus on how the processes that led to Federation worked to the advantage of certain groups and the disadvantage of others.

Listen to various points of views

Another approach to integrating gender perspectives is to ask people of different gender groups how they view a particular issue. Go to the discussion forum to hear a range of perspectives – including gender, Aboriginal, cultural, socioeconomic – on the meanings and practices associated with heritage. King Fong provides a cultural perspective on the developments occurring at the time of Federation – and contrasts the political opportunities for Chinese people at the end of the century with those at the time White Australia was implemented.

Lucy Taksa discusses Eveleigh families and union activity

Investigating Aboriginal Heritage

Exploring values is central to investigating Aboriginal heritage. When we discuss Aboriginal heritage are we talking about values ascribed by heritage practitioners – and applied through assessments of significance – or are we focusing on shared values in the community towards aspects of Australian culture and environment? Or, are practices in Aboriginal heritage a meeting ground for both perspectives?

In Investigating Aboriginal heritage, the meanings of heritage held by indigenous Australians act as a starting point for students to identify the values of others and to clarify their own values. The objective is one of working towards an appreciation of cultural identity and the shared heritage of all Australians. In 1996 the New South Wales State Government broadened its heritage brief to include items of significance to Aboriginal people. What is meant by Aboriginal heritage? Defining Aboriginal heritage was the first step in the process. The NSW Heritage Council’s definition of includes two distinct types: Aboriginal sites, those places with evidence of Aboriginal occupation; and Aboriginal places, those places of contemporary, spiritual or mythological importance according to Aboriginal culture or custom, but which have no physical remains. Evelyn Crawford, an indigenous member of the NSW Heritage Council, has identified State Government initiatives to assist Aboriginal people to manage their own heritage as a significant move towards recognising Aboriginal heritage. Grants are made available through the Heritage Assistance Program (HAP) to fund conservation projects involving local Aboriginal groups. Collaborative management practices are viewed as part of the reconciliation process.

Wilandra Lakes and Parramatta Park

Focus questions

  • What do Willandra Lakes and Parramatta Park reveal about the influences on life in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century?
  • How do the influences revealed by these places contribute to our understanding of: past and present relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; origins of the Australian continent; approaches to environmental management; issues of Aboriginal heritage?
  • What is being preserved in these places; who decided what was important and should be kept; and how is it being done?

Willandra Lakes and Parramatta Park are significant places of Aboriginal heritage pre-dating white settlement and the shared heritage of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people since 1788. Gisele Mesnage notes the local history pamphlets and displays in many towns and suburbs throughout Australia that acknowledge the Aboriginal groups residing in the area – but then move onto narrate the story of white settlement. The continuing involvement of Aboriginal peoples – through spiritual and cultural links, as well as participation in events and developments since white settlement – is overlooked.

Willandra Lakes - 120 km north of Balranald

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Parramatta Park - O'Connell Street, Parramatta, Sydney

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The NPWS – in the Willandra Lakes region – and the National Trust – at Parramatta Park – are working with Aboriginal peoples to more accurately convey the heritage importance of these areas. Approaches to decision-making aim to reflect significant issues for indigenous people – such as approaches to burial sites – and those of shared importance to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, for example, the management of cultural tourism.

Willandra Lakes – an area of 600 000 hectares in the south-west of New South Wales – has formed over the last two million years. Archaeological records reveal continuous human occupation of the area for at least 40 000 years. Willandra Lakes is recognised as one of the oldest known occupation sites in Australia. The Barkindji, Mutthi Mutthi and Nyianpaa Aboriginal peoples have connections to the Willandra Lakes region. Primary producer landholder families – some having links to European settlement in the area – are another group with connections to the region.

Parramatta Park and Old Government House – the former Government Domain and vice-regal residence at Parramatta – cover an area of 86 hectares. Artefact scatters and scarred trees provide evidence of occupation of the area by the Burramatta clan, part of the Darug language group. Parramatta Park is also associated with the beginning of rural settlement in Australia and the exploration and extension of colonisation. The earliest successful colonial farming in Australia and the beginning of the cattle industry took place here. Willandra Lakes was listed as a World Heritage area in 1996 – one of eight World Heritage areas located in Australia. Parramatta Park is regarded as a heritage icon in New South Wales; Old Government House is the oldest public building surviving on the Australia mainland. Source: NSW State Heritage Inventory

Issues of Aboriginal heritage

Federal elections first took place in Australia in March 1901. 1967 was the year Aboriginal people were given the right to vote in elections. Investigate the heritage of Willandra Lakes and Parramatta Park and collect evidence about a time in history when Aboriginal people were denied their rights as citizens. Consider the ways contemporary approaches to heritage management are working towards justice for indigenous people.

Wall of China - Lake Mungo

Woolshed at Lake Mungo

Points of View

The following are some extracts from the perspectives of the local community groups as documented in the World Heritage Property Willandra Lakes Plan of Management, 1995.


Message of the Barkindji Elders:

The Barkindji people of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Region and surrounding areas have always felt that the Willandra Lakes are a keyhole into the past of our indigenous ancestors. Since the discovery of Mungo Lady in 1968 by Dr Jim Bowler, a geomorphologist, Australia has been educated in our way of life and our environment. The region has significance on the same scale as Lake Victoria, Ayres Rock and Kakadu in terms of spiritual belief and the sense of belonging to an area of great antiquity and prominence. The Barkindji people, descendants of earlier generations of traditional people, are today very proud of their tribal area.

The whole of the Willandra Lakes system is an extremely sensitive and spiritual place for the Barkindji people. It was the scene for a great many stories, initiations, dreamings and day-to-day activities. One of the Barkindji spiritual links to the Willandra Lakes is Bookamurra, the giant kangaroo. Barkindji warriors tracked Bookamurra for days and finally caught and killed the giant kangaroo at the southern end of the lakes.

The lake system and surrounding area is the actual remains of Bookamurra. This is one of many traditional links that bond Barkindji people to this very special and spiritual place.

The Barkindji people now feel that they have a great chance to show the European descendants some of their land-management skills. It is a good place to educate students from schools and universities as well as the general public, and shows that we are a thriving and ongoing culture. Barkindji people are eagerly looking forward to a long and fruitful management process with the Mutthi Mutthi and Nyiampaa, landholders and the Government department associated with the Willandra.

A summary of main themes identified in the study 'Uninvited Guests: An Aboriginal Perspective on the Parramatta Government House and Parramatta Park', By historian DR JL KOHEN.

The Government House at Parramatta is recognised as one of the most important items of European cultural heritage in western Sydney, and indeed in Australia. The building and the site identify the location where the second settlement of Parramatta was established. Within four months of the arrival of the First Fleet, Governor Phillip was writing to London indicating that he planned to set up farms at Rose Hill, and by early November 1788 the marines had built a redoubt and the first convict farms were established. However, the area was already occupied. It was home to the burramatta clan, part of the Darug language group The Darug had a territory extending from Katoomba to the coast and from the Hawkesbury River to Appin. The coastal clans of the Darug, sometimes referred to as the eora, were the first Aborigines to encounter the European settlers.

View of the Governor's House c1819

The Bath House at Parramatta Park c1930

Aerial view of Parramatta Park c1970

Map of Mungo National Park

Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) policy guidelines for investigating Aboriginal heritage

Accessing the views of Aboriginal people is an essential starting point in investigating indigenous heritage: a visit to an Aboriginal heritage place or site will ideally involve Aboriginal people in roles of guide and mentor.

National Trust approach in Parramatta Park and NPWS approach at Willandra

Some groups that can be accessed for information – or invited to participate in student-initiated heritage projects or discussions – include:

  • Traditional owners or custodians
  • Local indigenous community members
  • Local, Regional, State or Territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Councils
  • Native Title organisations
  • Indigenous Heritage officers
  • State or Territory offices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs and sites authorities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Regional, State or Territory offices

(from Protecting Local Heritage Places, Australian Heritage Commission, pp 12–13)

Aboriginal people commonly express the significance of sites and places in creative ways. Students can look at videos, songs, displays and artworks to gain perspectives on Aboriginal heritage.

Learn about the initiatives of the New South Wales Heritage Council and the Australian Heritage Commission in managing Aboriginal heritage. Tony McAvoy raises some concerns about existing frameworks for identifying and managing indigenous heritage.

Teacher brainstorm on the development of classroom activities

Investigating Heritage

What forms of dispossession were carried out against Aboriginal people? How was the policy of protection implemented?

Parramatta Park and Willandra Lakes provide a starting point for investigations focusing on Aboriginal perspectives and approaches to managing environmental and heritage issues.

  • Examine the images and text information relating to Willandra Lakes and Parramatta Park. What can the landforms, artefacts and structures tell us about the past? Look for evidence of Aboriginal occupation, pastoralism, agriculture and environmental use.
  • Now look at the other materials relating to these places. Are there any indications of changes in land use? What attitudes and values to land and use of land come through in these materials?
  • Look at the ways land management has contributed to changes in the environment. Can you draw any conclusions about the links between land management and environmental change? To what extent are changes related to wider socio-economic and political developments?
  • Consider the collaborative approaches — between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people — to environmental and heritage management in the Willandra Lakes region and at Parramatta Park. What can these approaches tell us about collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in managing Australia’s heritage and environment?
  • Reflect on the elements of the past preserved in these places. How do we identify what is worth preserving?

Investigating Heritage and Citizenship

  • Access the Environment Australia website to read about the World Heritage places in Australia. How does World Heritage criteria apply to each of these places?
  • Choose a country and investigate its World Heritage listed places (link to UNESCO site).
  • Identify the key perspectives of Aboriginal peoples towards the management of Willandra Lakes and/or Parramatta Park.
  • Reflect on the cultural values of indigenous people in relation to heritage and environmental issues.
  • Examine World Heritage criteria and the ICOMOS Burra Charter. To what extent do these policies and guidelines reflect the cultural values and practices of Aboriginal Australians?
  • Identify a current environmental issue involving Aboriginal people. This could be a local issue or one that is receiving coverage in the state/national media. What are the perspectives and main arguments of key participants?
  • Invite a local Land Council member to your school to respond to some of your observations and questions about Aboriginal approaches to heritage and the environment. How do they view the issue you have identified for investigation? Are there past issues that could assist your understanding of the present debate.
  • Organise a simulated community consultation. (Link to the eco-ranger program being developed by NPWS for the strategy).
  • What does the consultation process reveal about the issue?
  • Check your conclusions against the list of main arguments developed in collaboration with the Land Council representative.
  • Reflect on the role of consultative practices in heritage and environmental management. What impact might these ways of working have on preserving the past? Does the consultative process help us to better understand why some of the past is lost and some is preserved?

On-going action

  • Develop a class charter for managing your school environment.
  • Use this charter as the basis for a movable collection that is displayed in various areas of the school.
  • Raise questions and invite students and members of the school community to respond to the environmental and heritage issues presented.
  • Record student and community input for further development of the charter.

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