Chris Johnston



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ESSAY: WHAT ARE THE COMMUNITY EXPECTATIONS FOR HERITAGE PROTECTION?

Chris Johnston


Chris Johnston is a strategic planner and facilitator and is the founder and a Director of Context Pty Ltd which she established in 1988. Chris specialises in community engagement and in understanding the value of heritage and people’s attachment to place. As a strategic planner, Chris works with government, private organisations and community clients to develop strategic directions, visions, policies and actions in the fields of environment, heritage and community.
Prior to establishing Context, Chris worked in strategic regional planning for the Upper Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges Authority, landscape and heritage assessment with the National Trust, environment and heritage planning and policy for the Victorian government. She taught in socio-environmental research, policy and public participation at RMIT.
Chris has contributed to the development of current Australian practice in the assessment of social significance and the involvement of communities through her writings, conference papers and project work. She was a member of the Burra Charter Working Group that developed the 1999 Burra Charter. In 2008, Chris was appointed to the Australia ICOMOS working group reviewing the Guidelines, and is an expert member on the ICOMOS International Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage.


INTRODUCTION


It’s a dance. Government and community. Sometimes a waltz, sometimes a tango. Or perhaps a rave. Waltzing with the government leading, guiding, supporting a cooperative partner. A tango, a dance with more fire but a partnership. A rave, each in their own world, dancing but with whom?

Often, the community feels like a wall-flower, excluded from the government’s dance but at least able to wait at the side of the dance floor and hope for an invitation to join in. At other times, they are locked outside in the cold.

The government and the community. It is not a dance amongst equals. Nor should it be. Each has their own roles. This essay seeks to explore the roles and mutual expectations of the community and government on the dance floor of heritage – cultural and natural. It looks at the expectations each has of the other, and the basis of those expectations, along with how those expectations have changed over time and will certainly change in the future.

In turn, where do conflicting expectations arise? Underpinning these ideas are notions of active citizenship and civil society, about governance, about community engagement and about consensus building.

Further, the essay draws on material about community organisations as an indicator of community interests and activism, and on a limited range of material about expressed community values about heritage.

It asks whether there is an inevitability about the push-me pull-me nature of the dance floor tussle as each struggles to set the dance steps.

Lastly it looks at the frameworks that might be explored when better alignment of expectations are desired.

This essay is very much a personal reflection, drawing on years of working in the heritage industry, generally for and with government but also often tasked with getting the potential dance partners talking, listening to and respecting each other.

Framing questions in the brief asked: What is the expected role of governments in heritage conservation? What are the current outcomes? Are community expectations reasonable? Are they or how could they be met? Heritage is defined as natural, Indigenous and historic (although the writer’s experience is primarily in cultural heritage), and the scale of interest was agreed to be national through to local perspectives.

Some research and published material has been found and used; however, it represents an eclectic and serendipitous gathering of ideas rather than a piece of rigorous research. Much is therefore indicative rather than definitive. Examples are cited where needed to illustrate a point.

Care will be needed if this essay is to be more than an internal working document to ensure that the examples cause no offense.

THE DANCERS


Public concern about environmental issues, such as drought, bushfires, water conservation and climate change, can influence actions taken to protect and restore the environment. These actions may be undertaken by individuals, governments, non-government organisations or industry, and may include the development of policy initiatives, public campaigning, petitions, membership of environmental groups, volunteering and donations. Individuals can also demonstrate concern for the environment by undertaking personal environment protection activities, such as recycling and reducing electricity and water consumption. (ABS 2010)

Today, governments at each level play significant roles in heritage protection, underpinned by legislated responsibilities, but generally also including some aspects of advocacy and community participation and education.

For example, Victoria’s Heritage: Strengthening our Communities (Heritage Victoria 2006) illustrates the breadth of government’s involvement in heritage stretching from the statutory roles shaped by legislation (listing, protecting, permitting, compliance) through to grants to support owners/managers, interpretation, and heritage education. The headline “strengthening our communities” strongly suggests that the government sees the role of heritage as intimately connected to community wellbeing.

The scope of government participation has changed dramatically over the last 40 years – a period in which governments at all levels around Australia have become increasingly involved in heritage and environmental protection, recognising that such interventions are essential to ensure the survival of what the Productivity Commission called “community-demanded heritage services” (Productivity Commission 2006: 219).


DEFINING COMMUNITY


When we use the word ‘community’ what do we mean and what expectations are embedded in the term itself?

Communities come in all shapes and sizes – large, small, defined, informal. At one level we are all the community, and heritage actions that serve the ‘public good’ serve us all.

Communities also exist at all geographic scales: the word ‘community’ is often used to mean the people who live/work in a specific locality, town, city, region. Such communities are just whoever is there. They are not deliberative constructs.

Community organisations are created to serve mutual purposes and achieve common goals. Community organisations – as distinguished from government organisations – are an indicator of community interests, desires and frustrations. Changes in such organisations over time are an indicator of changing attitudes, values, and knowledge, perhaps localised but potentially societal.

Commercial organisations – businesses – are equally created for mutual benefit. Commercial interests express both pro and anti heritage perspectives, depending on the consequences for the interests of heritage activities. Land development activities (mining, agriculture, urban housing, land subdivision) generally see heritage as a problem, whereas the tourism sector would often (but not always) see heritage as an opportunity.

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