Book Reviews / Compte Rendus de Livres - Jones, Roy and Brian J. Shaw, eds. 2007. Geographies of Australian Heritages: Loving a Sunburnt Country? -

Jones, Roy and Brian J. Shaw, eds. 2007. Geographies of Australian Heritages: Loving a Sunburnt Country?

Paul Williams
Queen's University in Kingston

Review of Jones, Roy and Brian J. Shaw, eds. 2007. Geographies of Australian Heritages: Loving a Sunburnt Country? Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing.
Pp. 231, hardcover, ISBN: 978-0754648581, $ 99.95.

1 Geographies of Australian Heritage, by Roy Jones and Brian Shaw, is another superb contribution to a growing geographical literature on heritage issues.1 And yet, while this volume in the series Heritage, Culture and Identity is conceptualized by geographers, it is much more than just a simple geographical analysis. We need only glance at the vitae of the contributors to realise the multi-disciplinary nature of this volume. Geographers are joined by other academics and heritage industry professionals, who each lend a specialist’s eye to the current specificities and complexities of Australian heritage. Their contributions also reveal that heritage is now highly integrated into discussions of tourism, sustainable development, the natural environment and cultural identity.

2 As becomes immediately apparent in Geographies of Australian Heritage, Australia’s is a rich and complex heritage: a diverse continental ecological base accompanied by a plurality of Indigenous cultures and an intricate blend of colonial and modern immigrants. Consequently, that heritage is often embroiled in highly charged political discussions of “whose heritage” and “which heritage” should be privileged? Moreover, it has also had to address former injustices, recognising the unique and under-represented past of its Indigenous peoples and reconciling their heritage(s) with those of settler populations. As Graeme Aplin’s opening chapter also reveals, heritage continues to struggle against policies which stress models of growth and development and view it as a mere “intangible” in cost-benefit analyses.

3 Jurisdiction over Australian heritage is, therefore, both complex and must be negotiated at a number of different scales. Aplin explores two domains of heritage policy: national—through layers of Commonwealth, State and Municipal legislation as well as community-based populist/public activism; and global, in cases in which Australia has made its mark in terms of policy creation. He presents a concise discussion of the origins and role of the World Heritage Convention and the processes and responsibilities of the identification of natural and cultural properties in which Australia has been recognised as a global leader. Excellent vignettes of Australia’s sixteen World Heritage Sites provide the background for Aplin’s assessment of the country’s evolving heritage record.

4 While recognizing that heritage ranks well below development, growth, progress and the economy in national priorities, Aplin argues that this is exacerbated by the way natural, Indigenous, and non-indigenous cultures are considered in separate silos, whereas, in cultural reality, they are often inseparable. Reconciling these realities has often been fraught with complications—made more difficult by the fact that, as Logan later points out, heritage issues must “embrace intangible values of places and help to achieve more holistic and culturally sensitive approaches to environmental understanding and protection” (221). In short, heritage protection must expand beyond its predominant focus on the tangible and, following the global/UNESCO model, must extend that protection to the “country’s intangible cultural heritage” (208). Yet, ironically, a model already exists in the way in which Indigenous Australians have long explained their profound connection to places through such intangibles as memories, stories, practices of survival and long continuity of occupation. Thus, rather than merely attempting to incorporate the verities of the Indigenous experience into the Australian story as another step towards “reconciliation” (Aplin 10), their profound sense of their heritage can serve as a paradigm for a “time-nature-culture-story” approach for all of us.

5 The relationship between Australian Indigenous heritage and the land is further explored by Nicholas Gill and Alistair Paterson. But they show that a full understanding of Australia’s “pastoral cultural heritage” is impossible because of the elision of Aboriginal people from the story, whereas the truth is that a complex relationship existed between Aboriginal people and settlers on the land. Similarly, Wendy Shaw’s analysis of the modern, urbanised Indigene shows him removed from mainstream society, a subject “locked” in an archaeological past. Her study of Sydney’s Indigenous community raises an essential paradox: “Indigenous heritage, as archaeological and exotic, is glorified and revered” but “Postcolonial Indigenous heritage remains largely out of place within the expanding understanding of heritage, particularly in urban contexts” (108).

6 On the other hand, as C. M. Hall explains, despite, or because of, being among the world’s most urbanized places, iconic images of Australian identity remain those of the bush, the outback, and the “wild colonial boy.” Certainly, these are the images of nation adopted by the tourist industry in its “branding” of the quintessential Australian personality. Hall explores these notions in the emergence of the concept of wilderness heritage and in policy shifts over two centuries which have seen it evolve from being viewed as a worthless place, to a valuable recreational resource and, finally, to a key environment requiring protection. Hall notes that as “the frontier of economic development and environmental exploitation advances, even the more remote wilderness areas and parks and reserves are threatened by material interests” (53). Recognizing that in a development-driven economic climate “ecology and aesthetics are secondary considerations in the decision making process” (53), Hall sees some promise in that wilderness areas benefit from concerns regarding climate change, the benefits of carbon sinks, evolutionary and ecological refuges, and a growing awareness that “wilderness constitutes a significant cultural heritage as well as a natural heritage” (54). Indeed, he sees some potential in the economic rationale of wilderness tourism as “a justification for wilderness conservation” (46).

7 Marion Hercock, a tourism professional, continues the exploration of wilderness tourism with an excellent micro-scale case-based analysis which touches on several key issues including the delicate interplay between heritage as a commodity and its continued protection and sustainability. Likewise, Roy Jones, Colin Ingram and Andrew Kingham offer another fine example of the contested relationships between heritage, tourism, land use and economic development. Through a clever parody of the iconic characters in the beloved Waltzing Matilda narrative the authors show how “countryside cultures” have become commodified in a “shift from a productive to a post-productive socio-economic emphasis” (79). As part of this “multifunctional rural transition,” key factors have emerged, including: changing social values; new cultural practices; agricultural overcapacity; rise of alternative, amenity-oriented rural land-uses. Within a changing cultural and economic landscape comes the question of how best to preserve the varied qualities of an area (i.e., scientific, ecological, historical/cultural and aesthetic) while making it economically viable. Again they raise a point made by Hercock and others that conservation of the natural and cultural heritage must be considered in the context of economic development and revenue generation. In the latter instance, heritage attractions may be tied into tourist expectations: “Conservation of these attractions ... preserves an environment which tourists seek to consume and expenditure by these tourists fuels the area’s (productive) economy” (93). Moreover, as Jones et al suggest, in some areas, tourism has become “a far more significant revenue generator and employer” than traditional land uses, such as agriculture.

8 Heritage commodification in the service of economic development—especially tourism—is further explored by M. W. Roffe and H. P. M. Winchester in their analysis of Southern Australia’s Germanic heritage and, in particular, the idyllic place making at Lobethal. In the latter instance, they show how the village has survived periods of religious conflict, racial exclusion, economic depression, anti-German sentiment and the closure of its major industry in the 1980s. Out of economic necessity, it has been forced to redefine itself, focusing on its Germanic heritage and traditions, in particular its Christmas Festival of Lights; a “social construction” created around “a specific form of rural idyll place making” (133), in contrast with many of the past, contested narratives of the place.

9 Similar concerns are found in three Perth based case studies: A. C. Kennewell and B. J. Shaw’s study of the problems associated with preserving Perth’s VIIth British Empire and Commonwealth Games heritage; Roy Jones’ discussion of how Freemantle’s roles as port, service, entertainment and tourism centre influence/challenge planning and celebration of city’s considerable rich built-heritage; and Rosemary Rosario’s review of heritage listing in Subiaco. Common to all three analyses is the problem of finding a balance between preservation values, costs and economic development. Kennewell and Shaw argue that, “implicit here, as in all cases of heritage identification and conservation, are the fundamental questions of who decided and who pays? Herein are found the inevitable qualities of self-interest, divisiveness and contestation that define the heritage industry” (163). A balance is, therefore, not always easy to achieve and, in some instances, the democratic voice struggles to be heard in the decision-making processes. Such was the case following the release of Subiaco’s heritage inventory review in March 2002. Amid great public criticism of the process there were questions raised as to who defines heritage, what price heritage and what are the rights of property owners? In addressing such questions, Rosario found, it became clear that greater attention needed to be paid to local needs and priorities; “the history of our everyday lives, homes, neighbourhoods is important”; heritage sites are not static places or museums; and, finally, “the heritage message should be clearer, easier to understand, more consistent and above all balanced” (204).

10 In his conclusions, Logan calls for a geographical agenda that strives to “draw out the meanings and ironies of our ‘Sunburnt Country’” (221). His analysis further stresses the important role heritage plays in “Australian cultural politics” (207). Jan Assman has written elsewhere that, “through its cultural heritage a society becomes visible to itself and to others. Which past becomes evident in that heritage and which values emerge in its identificatory appropriation, tells us much about the constitution and tendencies of a society” (1998). This is no more apparent than in the example of an Australian heritage which has struggled to accept, or overcome, a certain roguish past. The “swagman,” the “bush man,” the trooper and even the fictitious character, Crocodile Dundee, are all images which have come to be associated with a national mystique and a mythological past. Even the convict, long seen as a less than desirable historical figure, has seen himself romanticised in the name of heritage. On the other hand, a more official heritage has recently emphasised the nation’s military past. On this issue, Logan quotes from Marilyn Lake’s article in the August 20, 2005 issue of The Age. Lake writes that Gallipoli is seen by some as the defining moment when “real Australian history” began. It is deemed to be the defining moment “when Australian men joined the first Australian Imperial Force to fight overseas—not so much, it seems, for God and Empire as old memorials still somewhat embarrassingly insist—but for modern Australian freedom.” A sentiment which continues to be echoed in the valorisation of Australia’s other military contributions—World War II, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and, currently, Iraq.

11 Such selective heritage builds around core Australian metanarratives of nation-building, shapes future policy and gives us a glimpse of the current “constitution and tendencies” of a particular vision of the nation (219). The solution, Logan believes, lies in an ability “to define heritage widely and inclusively and to avoid narrow interpretations of Australia’s history and heritage based on the views of the ‘dominant’ social and political group.” “Minority voices,” he believes, “whether Indigenous or immigrant, must be incorporated in the formation of Australian identity” (220). Ideally, the terms Indigenous and non-indigenous (as well as the deliberately provocative term, Exogenous!) will disappear and all will be considered as Australians with varying degrees of seniority!

12 Why then is this volume a “superb study”? Maybe because it attempts to address so many issues which remain problematic in defining the “Sunburnt Country.” In so doing, it covers extensive ground in establishing the overarching ideological and attitudinal contexts of Australian heritage, or heritages as the title of the book quite rightly notes. In addition, it demonstrates superbly the praxis of heritage strategies in rich case studies. While its focus is the Australian situation, this book should be recommended reading for all with an interest in complex heritages.


Ashworth, G. J., Brian Graham, J. E. Tunbridge. 2007. Pluralising Pasts: Heritage, Identity and Place in Multicultural Societies . London: Pluto Press.

Assman , Jan. 1998. Collective Memory and Cultural Identity. New German Critique 65 (Spring/Summer): 125-33.

Fairclough, Graham et al. (eds.) 2008. The Heritage Reader. London: Routledge.

Graham, Brian and Peter Howard. 2008. The Ashgate Research Companion to Heritage and identity. London: Ashgate.

Graham, Brian, Gregory Ashworth and John Tunbridge (2000) A Geography of Heritage: Power, Culture and the Economy. London: Arnold.


1 . See, for example, Graham, Ashworth and Tunbridge (2000); Ashworth, Graham Tunbridge (2007); Fairclough et al. (2008); Graham and Howard (2008).