The international significance of the cultural values of the Australian Alps

A report to the Australian Alps Liaison Committee
Jane Lennon and Associates, May 1999

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Introduction

This report has been commissioned by the Australian Alps Liaison Committee to assess the international significance of the cultural values of the Australian Alps. Their aim for the report is to prepare a parallel case to that prepared by Dr Jamie Kirkpatrick for natural values in 1994.

The Brief required the following four tasks to be undertaken:

  1. analysis of the cultural values already known for the Australian Alps national parks;
  2. highlighting the themes, features and attributes and develop arguments that distinguish the Australian Alps in an international context;
  3. assessment of the potential international significance of the cultural values of the Australian Alps;
  4. prepare a report in a format that can readily form the basis of a nomination for international recognition.

There is no existing information specifically examining the international significance of the cultural values of the Australian Alps other than the discussion by Titchen in the proceedings of the Jindabyne Symposium. Therefore it has been necessary to survey the existing studies and literature and draw out information according to cultural themes.

Then the current Australian methodology for World Heritage assessment has been described and its application to a forest theme described (1998). This framework has then been used in analysing the existing information on cultural themes evident in the Australian Alps. This in turn has resulted in a summary attempt at a statement of potential or likely international significance using the World Heritage criteria. This is coming at a time when the criteria for assessing international significance are being combined for cultural and natural values and the mandatory test of authenticity is also being reassessed to accommodate traditional cultural concepts of authenticity.

These tasks build on work already undertaken for the Cultural Heritage Working Group at the Jindabyne Symposium on Cultural Heritage of the Australian Alps (1991) and in the use of historic themes that were incorporated into the Cultural Landscape Management Guidelines (1996).

However, further fundamental research is required into themes of human occupance in alpine environments before being able to definitively compare Australian evidence with that of the wider international context. The Australian Alps may well prove to be of great importance in illustrating Aboriginal adaptation to climate change in the Late Pleistocene era compared to the more recent occupancy of the European Alps. With occupation dates from Birrigai at 21000 BP in a cold cycle and the Holocene warm period from 8500 to 6500 BP, it may be the case that climate change is a link between natural and cultural values and expressed as an outstanding universal value (the World Heritage listing requirement) in the Australian Alps.