State of the Environment Tasmania Home
Report contents
Understanding and Defining Heritage Assets

Understanding Heritage Assets

A number of elements contribute to an understanding of the conservation requirements of heritage assets. The strategic process follows the SoE Report approach:

  • Condition: data identifying the condition of heritage assets;
  • Pressure: data ranking the range and significance of conservation values of heritage assets; and
  • Response: data identifying the management options and expectations available.

In establishing an understanding of the condition of heritage assets, the focus is on:

  • the condition and integrity of a heritage asset.

In establishing an understanding of pressures bearing on heritage assets, the principal focus is on:

  • thematic systems,
  • the rarity of a heritage asset, and
  • the threat acting on a heritage asset.

In establishing an understanding of the management response appropriate for heritage assets, the focus is on:

  • whether an asset is on a protective listing;
  • whether an asset is subject to agreed agency standard operating procedures;
  • whether an asset receives recurrent conservation funding;
  • whether an asset is subject to asset management planning guidance;
  • whether knowledge of an identified asset is subject to a standard inventory, regularly updated and maintained;
  • whether an asset is subject to an assessment criteria and process consistent with industry standards, and endorsed at senior management level;
  • whether an asset is subject to a risk management strategy addressing the threat to a place by in-house staff;
  • whether an asset undergoing conservation is subject to conservation management planning guidance, tied to the relevant ICOMOS charter;
  • whether management of an asset is subject to cyclical maintenance plan works;
  • whether an asset is subject to an agreed process of presentation directed by conservation heritage values; and
  • whether an asset is subject to a monitoring regime integrated with asset management planning requirements and predetermined performance measures.

Defining Heritage Assets

The strategic process measures the characteristics of the widest possible range of cultural heritage attributes. To make sense of these, a simple classification system has been adopted, designed to encourage the management of related sites, objects, records, customs, and practices. Conservation management is necessarily directed at physical expressions of thematic systems within these classes. The range of key headings has been identified as:

Thematic systems

  • cultural landscapes
  • places and features
  • objects
  • archival material
  • memory
  • contemporary significance

Thematic systems encompass broad themes indicating a Tasmanian sense of place and identity. Many will represent ongoing activities, while others may be associated with past practices. Examples might include Aboriginal culture, the Catholic Church, maritime history, Irish or Chinese culture, and convictism. Draft themes have been proposed based on functional types developed for the Tasmanian Historic Places Index (see table)

It is proposed to undertake a pilot project applying the thematic systems to Tasmanian history, ranking the thematic systems and linking heritage assets to each thematic system. A method for ranking themes has not been developed, but may take the form of establishing a value for each theme linked to chronological stages of Tasmanian history. There will be an ongoing need to upgrade any system adopted based on new information and assessment needs.

Trial 'scores' for condition, threat and rarity applying to each type of physical expression of cultural heritage have been developed. The trail scores have been adapted from a range of sources, including Federal and State legislation, and heritage industry principals.

Prioritising of heritage assets will be achieved through an algorithm linking the 'scores' of individual heritage assets across these categories. The resulting data set could then be used to establish priorities across key headings or under each key heading.

One of the many difficulties associated with identifying cultural heritage indicators is that attempts to measure condition must take into account intangible records or 'memories' and the 'contemporary significance' of heritage attributes.

As has been suggested, cultural heritage is the product of human endeavour, encompassing not just 'things', but a social, intellectual, and spiritual inheritance. To address this issue the key heading, 'contemporary significance', is designed to reflect a community's continuing usage and memory of a heritage attribute.

The condition and pressure scores outlined in each of the issue reports within this chapter are predictive, providing indicators for recovery, which in turn, will facilitate a more accurate rating of cultural heritage.

Three issues in this assessment process merit further discussion. These issues are detailed below and relate to the importance or context, continuing the use of an asset as originally intended, and active management considerations.

  • Individual heritage items need to be viewed within their context. A cultural landscape which has features, objects, documents, memories, and living cultural practices associated with it achieves a higher rating than one which does not. For example, a Federation house in a street of similar houses would achieve a higher score than one which had been surrounded by modern buildings. However, poor condition could be an indication for action. If for instance, the only surviving evidence of a cultural landscape was a remnant of land, a footing, or perhaps the fragment of an object or a document, its rarity would make it a priority.
  • Cultural heritage assets that are continuing to be used in accord with their intended function need to be particularly valued. Since heritage is nearly always evolving, there is no definitive original state of a heritage asset. A fossil landscape has as little resemblance to its original essence as one that has been altered by changed practices. Indeed the fossil landscape could be seen as the more artificial because it seems untouched by humanity. Moreover, changes in usage can erode heritage values. Davison provides examples of churches which have been turned into fish caf├ęs, discos, or even a witch museum, suggesting that it might be better to lose a building than to pervert its spiritual heritage in this way (Davison 2000). For these reasons, cultural heritage assets that continue to be used as originally intended are afforded a high priority.
  • Active management means that the heritage asset-landscapes, places and features, objects, archival material and recorded memories-are stored in a stable environment, and periodically monitored for condition. If they are outdoors steps are taken to minimise damage from the elements, vandals, and tourism. Objects and features are photographed, records microfilmed, and memories recorded to a professional standard. The items are catalogued, with backup copies in another building, and are the subject of research. Any artefacts that are actively managed should also be afforded a relatively high priority.

It must also be highlighted that the strategic process is not intended to replace existing listing and cataloguing systems (for instance those maintained by the Tasmanian Heritage Council, National Trust, Tasmanian Heritage Office, local government councils, museums or State Archives). The approach is designed to work in conjunction with systems already in place, by providing a facility for driving inter-agency cooperation through the standardisation of data collection and coordinated analysis of data.

Quick links to: Home | Contents | Chapters | Indicators | Case studies | Recommendations | Sources | Search | Glossary off

  RPDC logo

  Contact the Commission on:
Phone: (03) 6233 2795 (within Australia)
Fax: (03) 6233 5400 (within Australia)
Or mail to: RPDC, GPO Box 1691, Hobart, TAS, 7001, Australia

Last Modified: 14 Dec 2006
You are directed to a disclaimer and copyright notice governing the information provided.