Many Aussie towns use heritage to say hello to visitors


p2401 Pitchi Ritchi 1TARA LECKEY, in her comment for our Rest & Reflection series, says the celebration of our heritage deserves a bigger role in tourism promotion.
Right: An example of local built heritage, the Pitchi Ritchi residence in Alice Springs, Chapman House, is being restored by Heritage Alice Springs. Photo supplied.
Cultural heritage author Susan Tonkin describes heritage in the broadest sense as “that which is inherited. Everything which the ancestors bequeath may be called heritage: landscapes, structures, objects, traditions.”
On our recent road-trip to see friends and relatives for the Christmas holidays, my partner Alan and I took the back roads and visited many small regional and remote towns in outback Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
p2401 Pt Germein jettyThese towns worked hard to attract us with museums and heritage places, and we stopped often to buy fuel, eat lunch and learn about the country we were passing through.
Left:  A small South Australian town on the Spencer Gulf, with a struggling economy, Port Germein through its local council is working hard to present its heritage as an attraction for visitors. At the approach to its famous jetty, apparently the longest in the southern hemisphere, the town commemorates its seafaring history. Photo ASNO.
I experienced firsthand that heritage is a big drawcard for visitors to regional centres. A quick search online proves that local councils are getting on board with impressive websites to promote their unique attractions.
Here and there we came across displays about Aboriginal culture but often the information was scant and impersonal, and it underlined for me the importance of working closely with Aboriginal people.
The trip gave me pause to think about how we care for and present our heritage places in and around Alice Springs, and I think we could do better.
My involvement in the heritage sector goes back about five years and it has given me great insight into the place I proudly call home.
Learning about early buildings already lost to bulldozers and wrecking balls, I feel protective of the old sites that remain at risk of demolition or neglect, and of the people who should have been recognised for their contributions but whose many stories are as yet untold.
p2401 Pt Germain wreck 1I think also of the historic materials and objects that could sadly find their way to the tip someday unless we value and honour them.
Throughout 2016 I helped organise a series of community heritage meetings that arose out of a desire by those involved in the sector to meet and discuss shared challenges.
Right: The foreground sculpture in the photo above, by Max Newbery, recalls the wreck of two ships that set sail from the jetty, the Danish ‘Kobenhaven’ (disappeared 1928) and the German ‘Karpfanger’ (disappeared 1938), both with the loss of all hands including a  large number of young cadets. The story is told in a poem by Noel Smith, reproduced on a metal plaque on the supporting pilon. The other sculptures show local sealife – a cormorant, crabs and fish. Photo ASNO.
I found a great willingness to work together to achieve better outcomes for the region, even though many of those involved work purely on a volunteer basis.
A brief survey of the representative groups revealed a critical lack of capacity (money, staff, volunteers and infrastructure) that is hampering our activities, regardless of people’s skills, ideas, commitment and goodwill.
Although grants can be found for one-off projects and festivals, I have been unable to find any Commonwealth or NT programs to fund operational heritage activities.
P2401 Pt Germein clockAt one meeting someone brought along copies of the NT Natural Resource Management Plan 2016-2020 as it refers to natural heritage.
Left: A rare maritime object, an illuminated clock-faced tide gauge, c. 1800,  is conserved at the approach to the Port Germein jetty. Photo ASNO.
Leafing through this comprehensive plan made me think that we need a similar plan for heritage. We need to understand the value of heritage, how it is perceived by locals and visitors, what role it plays in our economy, and how it benefits us socially and culturally.
To articulate the link between heritage, environment, arts, recreation, education and business is a step towards the development of strategies and programs to ensure that our heritage assets are protected and managed well into the future.
We need to build on the capacity of our small but dynamic and enduring heritage sector and work together to take care of what has been bequeathed to us. I found a great example of one such plan, developed by Bathurst Regional Council, Bathurst Region Heritage Strategy 2014-2017.
These suggestions constitute an opening for ongoing conversation; one that should include a range of voices and in particular, those who are rarely heard.
p2401 Tara Leckey 1FOOTNOTE: Ms Leckey (pictured), who was the Coordinator for Heritage Alice Springs (HAS) until the end of last year, says the issue raised with Mayor Damien Ryan by the Alice Springs News Online about the Residency being charged town council rates is now being discussed by the council and the NT Government. She says the matter that needs to be resolved is the ability of HAS to raise funds by leasing space in the Residency to businesses, as has recently been the case with a gourmet bakery. It has now moved to new premises. Ms Leckey says HAS needs this type of extra income to run the organisation. Mayor Ryan suggested if the heritage property is used for a business, all or in part, then charging rates may need to be considered.
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  1. Ms Leckey’s proposal for a heritage plan for Alice Springs is a good one.
    The plan could look at local heritage and what it means to the descendants of both the original local Aboriginal tribes and the first European settlers.
    The historical significance of buildings and landmarks could be presented as a balance, as seen through the eyes of both groups.

  2. It seems to me having just visited several sites of historical and cultural significance interstate that Tara is spot on.
    The council and government has to make some hard choices. Either they choose to make this town a very poor imitation of Western Sydney, or the northern escape from Adelaide or any other boring unimaginative country precinct anywhere in Australia, where tourists only stop for fuel, or we make it a dedicated tourist venue based on our cultural heritage as the German thinking fraternity has done at Harndorf, or the historical thinking community has done at Ballarat and elsewhere in the gold fields, or Cowra has done with its WW2 history, or Richmond, Winton and others have done with their paleontology.
    Again we are not looking around.
    An open air Indigenous market run by Desart and the community art centres would be a good start. I doubt many people will come to see our monstrosity of a courthouse or a brand new development surrounding the iconic Flynn church.
    They have all those things at home or in the cities. They are ugly and as far away from our cultural context as they could possibly be.
    How about a walk of fame at the Old Timers depicting the history of some of our iconic pastoral families and run by the old timers themselves.
    These are the romantic iconic things that tourists hear about and want to see.
    I have just been re-reading the background to the lead up to the development decisions south of the Gap and the Planning by Design thing going back to 2009, and how far we have gone backwards in our development thinking and planning.
    That whole area could and should have been a vivid illustration of who we are and what we do here, as a welcome to the town and related directly to how we came about as we are.
    The economic activity in the main street of Harndorf last week made our efforts seem ridiculous, yet we have as much if not more to offer.
    I could not help but make comparisons between that and our Mall, yet we appear hell bent again on repeating the same mistakes over and over again to satisfy interests that are not in keeping with the nature of the town, and what we try to sell ourselves as.
    I nearly vomit when I hear on community radio the extolled virtues of sunset at Anzac Hill.
    Yet if any of the councillors who care to go there at rush hour would find, its difficult so see to the West because some one with incredible planning foresight has planted trees in front of the viewing area!
    What about a picnic area with a few tables? Surely it does not need a visionary to see that.
    And what of the unique geology? No mention.
    Barmera has exercise equipment for elderly people on the foreshore of the lake, but the best we can offer is a new commercial development just like any other city in the country.
    Where is the display of bush medicine? Stuck in a small shed at the back of ASRI!
    For goodness sake, Alice Springs Town Council, look around at where the tourism dollars are going, and act accordingly, and not simply in the vested interests of some of the members.


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