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Teaching Heritage

Board of Studies NSW

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head Peter Watts

Director, Historic Houses Trust of NSW

Well I think a lot of people who work in the so-called heritage industry have a view which looks essentially backwards. They are about recreating the past, telling stories about the past, they are thinking back into the nineteenth century, as if that is their frame of reference. That is not my frame of reference, my frame of reference at the moment is December 1999, that’s my frame of reference, looking forward as well as looking back, it’s not to say I don’t look back, and I think if you think about some current issues in the community at the moment like the meaning of the Centenary of Federation, when we celebrate that in 2001 it would be a tragedy if it was just about looking backwards to see what happened a hundred years ago, and to see how we arrived at that point a hundred years ago, that’s very important, but it’s extremely important that we understand what it means to us as Australians today and we project that view forward. So I think that’s perhaps where my view differs from many others who work in this sort of heritage industry.
If I give you a good example of that. If you go to the Museum of Sydney, which is a property that we’re responsible for and I was the Project Director for, you’ll find there that there’s a huge contemporary sculpture out the front which is called ‘Edge of the Trees’ which makes a very, very powerful contemporary statement about what that site means to us today, it was the site of first contact in 1788 and there is a fabulous contemporary expression of what that means done by a black artist and a white artist in collaboration, that’s what I mean about having a contemporary view of heritage. It could’ve had as was originally proposed, a gigantic statue of Arthur Phillip, three storeys high, a lot of people in the community thought that was appropriate. We thought that that site was about a much more important issue and there is a very contemporary expression of that

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