Past lives, present values: historic cultural values in the South-West Forests of Western Australia
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The purpose of this thesis is to examine the processes surrounding the assessment of places of cultural significance in Australia, and the extent to which they are achieving some of their key objectives.In the 1970s, Australia challenged the conventions of many other countries by developing a methodology for heritage assessment that aimed at identifying all the qualities that make a place significant. This contrasted with traditional practices that focussed on architectural style, design or historic associations. The Australian paradigm identifies four key evaluative criteria against which to assess the evidence about a place: aesthetic, historic, scientific and social value. This systematic, criterion based approach is now nationally regarded as representing best practice and has been adopted in all state heritage legislation. Internationally, several countries have developed codes of practice substantially on the basis of the Australian model.One consequence of the widespread acceptance of the principles used in Australia is a lack of investigation into their successful application. The methodology has come to function as a ‘primary frame’, a way of thinking that is so widely accepted it is applied without question. The concern with any primary frame is that those working within its parameters can become ‘frame blind’ and fail to recognise any disjunction between the frame’s objectives and the outcomes it achieves. One of the aims of this thesis is to draw attention to the presence and dominant nature of this primary frame and encourage greater critical reflection on the professional practice of cultural heritage.The research program undertaken for this thesis focuses on the particular issue of how the primary frame allows for the identification of cultural heritage values held by past communities. In examining this subject it addresses several key questions: Which places did historic communities value? Can such places be assessed in terms of contemporary heritage values as set out by the primary frame? What other forms of assessment may be valid? To what extent do places identified by today’s society as having heritage values correlate to those valued by historic communities? What implications does the identification of places valued by historic communities have for contemporary land management agencies? Are there other forms of assessment that could be developed to uncover historic community places and values?In addressing these questions, this thesis challenges many of the conventions that have developed around the current assessment methodology; conventions that work to undermine the holistic objective of the primary frame. The study does not, however, seek to develop an alternative model for heritage assessment and the approaches it uses are consistent with the primary frame. Nevertheless, the approaches may be confronting to many practitioners.The research program focussed on the physically and temporally discrete historic community living in what is now the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River in Western Australia between 1832 and 1880. From the extensive collection of letters, journals and diaries written by settlers held in local archives, places that were significant to the historic community were identified. Omissions were then identified by comparing these to places identified on other heritage lists.The findings demonstrate the extent to which the primary frame is being reframed through conventions and unofficial practices, and the degree to which this is overlooked, despite being inconsistent with the broad objectives of the primary frame. Some places that were significant to the historic community have been identified as important, but there is little acknowledgement in these assessments of past cultural associations. Other places have not been identified because they no longer have the same degree of significance that was accorded to them by the historic community.This thesis concludes that the potential for the primary frame to result in more holistic heritage assessments has yet to be realised, and that the assessment process is being constrained by conventions and reframing. In order to effect change, the evaluative criteria need to be more rigorously and expansively applied.In line with the regulations of Curtin University, this thesis is presented as a series of eight papers published in refereed publications. They are supported by four chapters, which introduce the topic, provide a theoretical context, explain the methodological approach and draw together the conclusions of the research. Each paper also has a brief introduction. Together, the papers and supporting material form the thesis.
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