Whatever its merits, VEAC’s draft report on heritage places is notable for one baffling deficiency: its failure to consider landscape as a heritage ‘place’. More specifically, it’s clear that the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park is considered, in this report, to be a collection of mining sites, not a landscape.
How can we tell this?
Table 2.2 of the document lists heritage places by type. ‘Landscape’ is declared to have only one sample of this type. What is it? To find out, we go to Appendix 2, where the only example listed is Tower Hill State Game Reserve.
How has VEAC, whose responsibility has largely been in environmental matters, managed to exclude landscape from its considerations?
The answer is to be found on page 30, in a discussion of Indigenous views: ‘It is important to note that although VEAC’s focus is on the management of specific places on public land, Traditional Owners customarily have a broader view that every part of the landscape is of significance, including landforms and the whole landscape itself, not only those places where associations are evident or documented.’
It seems that VEAC hasn’t been able to adopt something like this broader view itself. It looks like the Diggings Park, as a landscape, has slipped into the too hard basket.
This is a curious deficiency. The Park is described by Parks Victoria as ‘the largest non-indigenous protected cultural landscape in Australia.’ Its National Heritage listing, bland though it is, offers this: ‘Situated within regenerating box-ironbark forest, the mining remains and habitation sites immediately convey to the visitor a feeling of passed [sic] ways of working and living. The great number and extent of remains reinforces to the visitor the historical significance of the goldfield. The degree of alteration of, and intervention in, the natural landscape makes a strong impression on visitors. The Castlemaine diggings are a place of strong aesthetic significance. The attributes include the wide expanses of regenerating box-ironbark forest, the landforms of hills, ridges, gullies, creeks and rivers, together with the multitude of mining and habitation remains…’ The Victorian Heritage listing says: ‘The land and its regenerating Box-Ironbark forest is important scientific evidence in its own right in demonstrating a spectacular event of transformation of the pre-gold rush environment.’
Why does all this matter?
Because it has implications for the way this particular heritage place is managed and promoted. For example, the Park’s management  plan envisages that over the years the park will carry a ‘more appropriate balance of juvenile, intermediate and mature trees.’ Given that fire practices over the last 10 years have tended to destroy large numbers of mature trees, you might say that such practices have heritage as well as environmental implications. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act requires that any action significantly affecting areas listed as national heritage needs ‘prior approval’: we suspect that approval for fire activity in the Park has only been sought in connection with goldfields ruins, and that no consideration has been taken for the landscape impacts of such activity.
There are other, educational implications, too, many of which are brilliantly outlined in the 2002 Heritage Action Plan for the Park.
Is ‘heritage’ just a nice lot of old stuff we can look at and be nostalgic about? Or is it something more challenging? The 2014 Parliamentary enquiry into Heritage and Ecotourism quoted the National Trust, as follows: ‘The existence of heritage, its protection and its connection with the community does not guarantee that it will attract tourists. A sanitised heritage presenting a safe interpretation of history and culture holds little appeal and will not generate interest amongst tourists.’
Such a view is intriguing. The fact is that the goldfields have been, and are, a contested landscape: between Indigenous people and new settlers; between farmers and miners; between exploiters and bureaucrats who tried to put order into the exploitation. The late Doug Ralph used to put the provocative question: was the gold rush really worth it, to most of the participants? The question is worth asking. All of us are in some way beneficiaries of gold—but we’re also faced with the restoration of the landscape gold hunters wrecked. That’s a heritage fact.
FOBIF will be putting a detailed submission to VEAC by the closing date of December 22.