Recording date:

In his stunning new book, World Heritage Sites of Australia, a tribute to nature and cultural heritage, Peter Valentine captures the majesty and panorama of Australia’s 19 world heritage sites. Don’t miss this chance to hear Peter discuss this ambitious project, with one of Australia’s most celebrated and dedicated environmentalists, former Greens’ leader Bob Brown. This new book is a celebration of the exceptional contribution Australian sites make to humanity’s collective legacy, and an entreaty to preserve them for future generations.

Fragile Inheritance Peter Valentine in conversation with Bob Brown Book Launch 23 August 2019


*Speakers: Bob Brown (B), Peter Valentine (P)

*Audience: (A)

*Location:  National Library of Australia

*Date: 23/8/19



B:        Well hello, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this very special centre, part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival here at the fabulous National Library of Australia and I thank the – both organisations and our volunteers for making it possible and for getting us altogether here this evening.

I want to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of Canberra and region, their past, the present and the future people of this region. I might add a special word of sorrow for whatever my ancestors did when they arrived on the Monaro Plains in 1840 as part of displacing of the people from this region at that time.

We are privileged today to be at the launch of a very special book, one that certainly I’m delighted to be here at the launch of and one that’s representative of so much that makes us Australians feel good about ourselves. I’m pleased by the way that it is full of acknowledgements of the original Australians and there’s no world heritage site in Australia that isn’t part of the sovereign grounds of the Aboriginal people in Australia going back 40 or 60,000 years.

I’m going to start in this session on world heritage sites of Australia by asking Peter Valentine whose work it is if he might talk about getting this book together a little and then after five or 10 minutes we’ll have a conversation about the book and its contents and then before the hour’s up across to you to ask questions and to be involved in some conversation. So please feel free when that time comes.

But first it’s a great pleasure to ask Peter Valentine if he could come up and talk about this beautiful book which has been produced by the National Library of Australia but talks about the cream of the cream as they call it, the world heritage areas of Australia, how they came to be, what they are and where we might be going to with protection of the most special cultural and natural places in our nation. So thank you, Peter, I’ll ask you to come and just have a talk from here if you would.

P:         Thank you, Bob.


P:         What a delight to see so many interested people here tonight. Fantastic.

I’d like to begin though by acknowledging myself three, four wonderful science and conservation warriors who passed on during the period that this book was produced. It was sad to say farewell but today I want to really say thank you for their contribution to this. Now the names will be familiar to you. First I’ll mention John Sinclair who was so responsible for raising awareness and contributing to the conservation of Fraser Island, K’Gari, that has now become a world heritage area and John had great struggles in leading the battles to protect it and save it from unwanted demolition.

I also mention Peter Hitchcock. You cannot think about rainforest protection in Australia without that name being central to the work done, the science done and the battles fought to achieve an outcome which leaves us now with three wonderful world heritage areas focused on rainforest. So Peter had a significant role in Tasmania, he had a significant role in science and conservation in the Gondwana rainforest of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland and again of course in the wet tropics world heritage area and it was sad for him to pass prematurely. He was working on a book on the Rainbow Gum, a fabulous eucalypt, and hopefully that will come out eventually.

The third person I mention is a strong personal link, is Margaret Thorsborne. Margaret and her husband, Arthur, led a wonderful campaign for protection in the Hinchinbrook Island area. They collectively wrote a book about how that island which really promoted its protection and she too passed on in that period.

The fourth person I want to mention has a political connection but deserves to be celebrated for the work done across a number of world heritage sites and that is former Prime Minister Bob Hawke who was courageous in battling for conservation outcomes and who led a lot of thinking around that during the time he was in politics. Often times we ordinary people find many reasons to criticise our political characters and it’s nice of us to acknowledge the good work that is done by many and in this case Bob was outstanding in terms of conservation contributions across a number of years.

The book came together in an interesting way perhaps. I’ve had a very long history with world heritage both in Australia and many other countries and I’ve enjoyed an opportunity to work with many people around the world on world heritage. So I think I became reasonably well known for that work in certain circles and that’s mainly in the IUCN and the World Commission on Protected Areas and in some individual world heritage sites.

So when the National Library had an inspired thought that a book on our world heritage sites might be valuable they sought someone to write it so the idea came out of the National Library of Australia and the publishing group had sought advice from the Chair of the IUCN Australian Committee, Penny Figgis, who herself is a well known woman, conservationist and leader. I had worked with Penny on the International Committee of IUCN for five or six years and she immediately said well there’s only one person that should do it and she put my name forward. The National Library contacted me and said would I be willing?

Well I had been planning – no, I would say planning’s too strong a word, I’d been thinking about writing a book on world heritage for some time but as some of you may appreciate there’s a lot between thinking a book is a good idea and actually doing something to produce it. So it was swirling around in my head, I knew what I wanted to write and I had of course been writing about world heritage and I had established a postgraduate program at my university on world heritage so I had a lot of material buzzing around in my head. I thought I knew the best sort of book to write. It wasn’t this book, I have to say. I’m delighted to say that this book came about very much as a collaborative outcome between the National Library of Australia publishing team and editing team and my original thoughts.

I’m really glad it’s not the book I wanted to write because now I see the final product I think this is going to be much more interesting to a lot of people. I have a feeling that what I had originally thought I might write would have been well regarded by a handful of people and thoroughly read by academics and others but I am passionate about reaching out to the wide community, the community that actually owns the world heritage area and you don’t do that by writing academic pieces. You do that by combining what might be called a popular style of writing, thoroughly factual of course, but with appropriate illustrations and stories that help everyone connect to those places and that’s what we’ve collectively set out of do.

Could I also ask the audience a question, Bob?

B:        Go right ahead.

P:         Does anybody here know the name of the first site to go onto the National Heritage list?

A:        [unclear] 11:04.

P:         No, that’s not the first one to go on the National Heritage list. Have a go.

A:        [unclear] 11:14.

P:         Well done, inside knowledge, of course, inside knowledge. Alright but the reason I’m asking that question of course, ladies and gentlemen, is that Budj Bim is our 20th world heritage area. So when we went to the printer in December Budj Bim was on our tentative list and had been nominated by the Australian government for listing but it hadn’t got to the committee so there was no way we include it as one of our world heritage sites before the committee made its decision in July. So the decision was made only last month and of course the book was well and truly printed before then.

Luckily I was able to talk a bit about it because one of the chapters deals with the future world heritage sites and because it was on our tentative list, one of only three on our tentative list, then it was able to get a bit of a guernsey so there is information about it.

B:        Peter, what’s Budj Bim?

P:         Oh sorry, Budj Bim, yes. I just assumed, sorry, my apologies on that. I assumed everyone knew Budj Bim but Budj Bim is a splendid site and as I say the first site to be entered on our National Heritage list so that tells you something about the importance of Budj Bim. It’s an Aboriginal cultural site that is the site of 6,000 years of continuous settlement and aquaculture practices. So it’s in Victoria and it is a site where the Aboriginal people who lived there established eel farms that produced a continuous supply of eels and allowed the community to develop permanent residential occupation of the land and live in stone cottages. This was a very different style of settlement than was possible in many of the other regions of Australia and we now have all the evidence we need to be able to attract that back over a 6,000 year period. So it’s a volcanic environment, waterways and springs coming through it, lots of water areas that could be dammed and managed and permanent supply of eels that were smoked and so on so a fantastic example of how the culture of Australian Aboriginal people is amazing in a global context and that’s just one site but – to get that on the World Heritage list was an exercise led by the traditional owners at Budj Bim. They very much wanted it and were happy to see the result last month when the committee said we’ll have that, thank you so – I should have mentioned that.

B:        Yes. Thank you, thanks, Peter, come and have a seat. You’re mentioning Margaret Thorsborne. I don’t know how many people knew Margaret but it’s one of the classic photos in Australian environmental history, this very well done up lady with her handbag with a bulldozer up there and she’s going like that in the –

P:         Oyster Point.

B:        Yes, in amongst the mangroves.

P:         Exactly. At the time Margaret was about 80, 75 or 80, yes.

B:        You mentioned Judith Wright a couple of times in the book too, there’s a –

P:         Indeed.

B:        She was finally a Canberra resident, of course, is [Brodewood] 14:59 and did so much towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

P:         It was interesting, Bob, when I was teaching at James Cook Uni – when I first went there I wanted to find out a little bit about the community’s knowledge and awareness of conservation so I had a number of students go out and do some interviews of people at Mission Beach. One of the questions I asked was could they name any conservationists? I got – amongst the answers I got – there were some terrific responses there but one of them was a guy by the name of John Busst and having fresh got off the plane from Western Australia I wasn’t familiar with that historical context of north Queensland. But he was the founder of the Rainforest Protection Society back in the 1950s in northern Queensland and he and Judith worked on the coral reef salvation as well so both rainforest and reef were being argued about way back then. John proved to be a fantastic warrior for conservation in that region.

B:        ‘Cause most Australians wouldn’t know but it’s in your book that the Great Barrier Reef was almost all taken up by oil drilling, surveying or exploration -

P:         Exploration licences, yes.

B:        Yeah, in the 1970s, as recent as that.

P:         As recently as that. It was one of the – it was a shock when I first got to north Queensland to discover that this wonderful Great Barrier Reef had been targeted for mining – well gas exploration, oil drilling and so on and indeed maybe it set the tone for later events but the Premier was really much involved in that. So we had a Premier -

B:        That’s Premier Joh.

P:         Premier Joh involved with the exploration for – obviously something that couldn’t go ahead and still have the Great Barrier Reef staying as a conservation area.

B:        Why did you go to James Cook University which is in Townsville, isn’t it?

P:         Yes. In those days it was only in Townsville, now there’s also a campus in Cairns and I would have liked to have been in Cairns, I think, when I first went there ‘cause Townsville seemed so dry and Cairns seemed so green and lush. But I came to study rainforests, that was my passion. I started my life as a farmer and spent 10 years farming and -

B:        Where was that?

P:         In West Australia at a little place called Bremer Bay right on the boundary of Fitzgerald National Park.

B:        Beautiful place.

P:         Gorgeous part of the world, should be a world heritage area. The floristic diversity there is the greatest in the world.

B:        Well why isn’t it?

P:         It’s never been packaged and nominated but also what is left is fragments. Most of the area, much of the area has been cleared for agriculture so there’s fragments but there’s enough fragments – you could certainly put forward a case and indeed there are many groups who are trying to encourage the nomination of that area for its floristic diversity.

B:        Paul and I spent a night at – Point Anne, is it?

P:         Yes, Point Anne, yes.

B:        Being kept awake all night by the whales.

P:         Yes, that would have been in winter ‘cause -

B:        It was.

P:         - the whales come right into the bay there. It’s a spectacular part of the country. Very few people go there except in a brief period in summer, there’s a bit of activity.

B:        What about that Queen Victoria thing?

P:         Yeah, Hakea victoria, yes, fabulous. The plants there are brilliant so there’s a real opportunity for acknowledging that and IUCN in a publication they made in 1982 about future world heritage identified that floristic region as a lay down misere for world heritage listing.

B:        That’s the southwest.

P:         The southwest.

B:        Going really nearly across to the Nullarbor, isn’t it?

P:         Yes, it goes well east of Esperance so you’ve got Cape Arid which is the only home of the Western Ground Parrot. There’s so much floristic diversity there.

B:        What’s Abu Simbel got to do with all this?

P:         That goes back a few years. I wasn’t around at the time but not active.

B:        You were, though.

P:         I was alive, you’re quite right, I was but Egypt had always this dream of building the Aswan Dam on the Nile so that would be to source water for expanding crops to support a growing population and the western world loved that idea so they were being supported into this. But by damming the Nile a lot of the cultural heritage of Egypt was going to be buried beneath the waters of the dam and while Egypt on the one hand wanted to have the dam as a development opportunity it also recognised that it needed to do something about the heritage. So it put out a plea to the United Nations, to UNESCO specifically to get assistance to see if some of that heritage couldn’t be rescued before -

B:        What was there?

P:         What was there was this wonderful series of built heritage that were temples and statues of magnificent proportions that go back over the Egyptian empire. Thousands of year’s old, wonderful works. But much of it, if not all of it, was going to be buried beneath the water so that request to UNESCO was to try and get them to help. So they put out a plea to the wealthier nations of the world to see what could be done and those countries came together and helped the Egyptians. So on the one hand the wall was being built and the waters rising and on the other rescue teams were, amazing as it seems, carving up all of these ancient buildings precisely in a way that would allow them to resurrect them on drier land. So they were relocated, they couldn’t stay in the same site but they were relocated.

That was a wonderful success story funded largely by philanthropic contributions because people of the world acknowledged the value of that heritage and wanted to help to preserve it and they are still there now as part of – they eventually did become world heritage. But that action led UNESCO to help develop the World Heritage Convention so that was the first step towards having the Convention which we now find so valuable.

B:        Australia was an early signatory in 1974 to the World Heritage Convention. Do you think Lake Pedder had a role in that or do you think that was just the time it was going to happen? I mean there was this rebound, wasn’t there, from the loss of Lake Pedder in Tasmania and the Whitlam Government was there saying well we didn’t stop that but -

P:         I think the connection in Australia was very strong and that the Australian Government of the time strongly supported the World Heritage Convention, probably not perhaps appreciating what it might mean but the idea that we would come together to cooperate and reach a conservation outcome. That was inherent in the first statements about this Convention. Yes, Australia was very enthusiastic – perhaps surprisingly. I think we were the seventh country in the world to sign up for that Convention and although we weren’t in the countries that put forward nominations for the first round we very soon followed so the first sites were Galapagos, Yellowstone, they were places that would be obvious that anyone who’s going to draw up a list of -

B:        Was the Taj Mahal in that first lot or did that come later?

P:         No, it was a subsequent round but -

B:        What were the – there were three first Australian ones in 1981.

P:         In 1981, that’s right so our first ones and perhaps if I can relay a slightly tongue in cheek story about this relating to the book. I – we had discussions about the sequence in which we would present these world heritage sites so you could do it alphabetically, you could do it by state. What was a way to do it? I wanted to do it in the order in which they were listed, that seemed to me to be pretty good. So then here I’m faced with this dilemma, 1981, three sites. Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and Willandra Lakes. Three sites. Which one to be first?

Well I confess here that I had - in my heart I wanted Kakadu. I couldn’t see us not having Kakadu as the number one and the reason for that is that I am absolutely committed to the notion that Aboriginal cultural heritage is central to who we are and we have a long way to go to grapple with that but I wanted Aboriginal heritage to be front and foremost in our thinking about world heritage. Anyway I spent a bit of time at the World Heritage Centre a few years ago, I was a World Heritage Fellow there.

B:        Where’s that?

P:         The World Heritage Centre is in Paris and they are the sort of executive arm that looks after things for the committee so they’re – and that’s where all the repository of information – when someone makes a nomination nowadays, especially if it’s Russian, they come in with a suitcase full of stuff and deposit it on the table so that’s - all gets archived there. I had been through the processes and I knew that every time a nomination comes in it’s given a unique number. This is – a UNESCO number is given to that nomination and that holds that number for the rest of time.

Anyway I had a look at the numbers given to those three sites and Kakadu got the lowest number. That means it was the first one numbered. So that gave me an excuse to have Kakadu as number one so there you go. Don’t tell anyone, this is private amongst ourselves here. It could have been of course – and I think another author might have said oh no, obviously the Great Barrier Reef, that would be the one. There’s lots of reasons you might say that but I had I thought better reasons to having Kakadu.

B:        Of course you have a marvellous description of the dreamtime person actually making the first paintings and the evolution of that painting in the Kakadu that we all know so much about these days.

P:         I’m glad you mention that, Bob, really. When I wrote the first version of that chapter – I should say by the way in my relationships with the National Library as the publisher they asked me to send a pilot chapter ‘cause they wanted to know whether I could write and they wanted to know whether I could write anything they were interested in and they wanted to see whether it would work so fair enough. So I did write the draft and I deliberately chose Kakadu ‘cause that – I have to have Kakadu in this first. So anyway I drafted that and I gave it – luckily - my wife is my first reader and – but I gave it to a friend of mine who’s an artist and a wildlife photographer, a wonderful man. He read it and said oh look, that’s great but it doesn’t connect, you need to think about how you’re going to connect to the audience. It was he who suggested that I use the opening section to somehow make a connection with the place to the reader and that worked with you in Kakadu, that’s [unclear] 28:26 so -

B:        Well you also – sorry to jump in but you also have a beautiful vignette with each site about your personal experience of seeing that site or what it meant to you when you got there. Going from -

P:         That’s true.

B:        - the Blue Mountains world heritage area when how old were you then?

P:         Sixteen.

B:        So at least 20 years ago.

P:         Yeah, something of that order, Bob. Yes so each chapter starts off with this piece of imaginative writing so it’s not descriptive about the place but it’s something that I try to imagine happening at the site. So for Kakadu I was nervous about this, I have to say because I’m putting myself in a position of writing something that is happening 10,000 years ago and as an indigenous person doing this. In fact I was so concerned I sent it to the Kakadu Board, the draft of it to see whether the indigenous cultural heritage folk would see this as being okay because I was worried. I didn’t want to presuppose anything there. Anyway – but I wanted to imagine and I had in my mind because I’d been to the art galleries and I wanted to capture that and the wetlands, it just all comes together. In the artwork it’s brilliant because that x-ray style artwork lets people show you exactly what it is the organism looks like and is made of, shows you the intimate knowledge they’ve got etc. The products of course are beautiful art but the stories behind them are -

B:        Well you’ve also got Bill [Naji] 30:23 there, haven’t you?

P:         Indeed, yes, that -

B:        The last speaker of his language.

P:         Yes, Bill.

B:        And a translation into English of that fabulous little poem or piece of prose about we are -

P:         All one.

B:        - alive with this planet and it’s alive with us.

P:         Yes, I was very lucky. In 1989 I went to Kakadu and I had with me two wonderful colleagues, one who was a mentor of mine for so many years and also Paul Leopold who is Aldo Leopold’s son and at the time he was Professor at Princeton University, professor of biology. He and Larry Hamilton who was the other professor came on a visit and they had been very kind to me when I visited them and so they said we want to go to Kakadu so I said okay, we’ll go. So we did, we had a trip there but we had a – one of the guys who’s no longer with us though who ran the Aboriginal side of the management there, Steve Szabo, he did wonderful work but – on the interpretation side and he asked us to give a seminar to the rangers there. So we did that and one of the treats of my life was that Bill [Naji] took us to his country and sat us down and talked about what it was like and how it meant to him and -

B:        Wasn’t he an incredible -

P:         An amazing -

B:        - human presence?

P:         Yes, exactly, there’s a presence there that is hard to fathom and no, that made a big impact on me, just seeing – and then I had read his little – he’d written a little book in which he expresses this wonderful connectivity between people and life that – so no barriers between us and other organisms, we are all one. I had a follow-up with that with Michael Archer. Most people would probably know Michael Archer for his work at Riversleigh on the fossils and I think working with fossils you learn about deep time -

B:        Another world heritage site.

P:         Another world heritage so I went out there to redraft the statement about why it was important. The original nomination was seen to be too slim and they wanted more so anyway why don’t you get Michael Archer to do it? He did the first one, it’s fabulous. Anyway it was a job I did so - luckily we went out there when Michael Archer was out there with a team of volunteers doing work and it was terrific, we’d sit around the campfire at night and talk about things as you do and he used an expression to describe life as this great biological blob of which we are just a small part. He saw that through time and it stuck with me because I realised then that it’s true that we are all connected, we’ve got living connections that go back and later on when I was doing work on Shark Bay where the stromatolites were a fundamental focus of why that became [there] 34:18, these cyanobacteria that built the stromatolites at Shark Bay -

B:        Another world heritage site.

P:         Another world heritage area, three-and-a-half billion years ago they were the only forms of life on earth. They could live then, no other life forms could. We couldn’t live there because the atmosphere is principally carbon dioxide and so -

B:        We’re trying to get back there -

P:         Yeah, we’ve got a long way to go luckily in that regard but those cyanobacteria, every one of us is descended from those, they are our ancestors, they’re our real ancestors.

B:        What was their big gift to us?

P:         Their big gift to us was oxygen so they took the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and converted it to – and also in the seawater and converted it to oxygen in the air and oxygen in the seawater and allowed other lifeforms aft – it took them a billion-and-a-half years but they did it eventually, persistence pays and so they got there in the end. Therefore other little critters could emerge from this beginning. But if you just think about this for a minute, your DNA continuously – you’re alive now and there’s a living connection to you right back to those cyanobacteria. There’s no cut in it, there’s no break in that line, you are here now and because you’re here now you have a living connection all the back way back to those cyanobacteria, lots of other things in between.

B:        Well one of those things that’s in between, you terrified me by describing, is a meat-eating kangaroo. What’s more I don’t know if you realise this but he’s got a depiction of this creature or at least the fossils of it but at Purnululu you have – north-west Western Australia, world heritage site - there’s a great picture of the Cathedral Arch, is it?

P:         Yeah, Cavern.

B:        On the right-hand side of that picture there coming out of the rocks is this meat-eating kangaroo. You have a look and everybody that buys the book will see that. It brings me to the question, Peter, who took the photographs?

P:         Now the illustrations are a critical part of the book and one of the nice things about this relationship with the National Library as the publisher is they were very keen to use some of the material in their collection to illustrate the book. Then I – in addition to that which is – there’s some terrific stuff there, I mean the cover -

B:        Who took that?

P:         One of your friends. Peter Dombrovskis donated his brilliant photographs to the National Library of Australia and so – and I didn’t have a say in the cover photo. I was so delighted when I saw it, it was perfect, absolutely perfect choice for that. First, Peter Dombrovskis, he takes such brilliant photos anyway and I know you were involved in a book of his photographs that are collected here -

B:        Yes, I wrote it. Oh well there you go, yes, I did write a -

P:         You did.

B:        - text for a book of his photographs during the Franklin campaign.

P:         Yes, yeah and -

B:        Oh more recently too.

P:         No, the recent one.

B:        Oh yes, he’s definitive. The National Library’s definitive book of his pictures.

P:         Beautiful. Anyway I was so glad we were able to use this one on the cover. A lot of the other photos came from various sources -

B:        This is the Frankland Range in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, isn’t it?

P:         It is indeed.

B:        Which is the only world heritage area site of over 1,000 in the world which has got the word, wilderness, in it. Just a -

P:         There’s another unique element to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area also, not quite unique. As probably most people know the World Heritage Committee set up 10 criteria that they used to decide whether a property that’s been nominated by a country that’s party to the Convention could be listed and every property has to meet at least one of those criteria. So there are 10 of those criteria that countries could use to put forward places and mostly sites go on with maybe – not many go on with just one. There are some but not many, mostly two. In Australia a number of our sites go on with more than that, maybe three or four but across the more than 1,000 sites there’s only two sites that have seven of the 10 criteria met. Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is one and Mt [Taishan] 39:37 in China is the other. There are no others with more so this again was an outstanding choice for our cover.

B:        Well another thing just struck me, that in this last six months or so there’s – two world heritage sites have suffered huge damage from fire. One of those is the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and I was looking at a picture last night of a Tasmanian Blue Gum which – massive girth - which is now dead. It was there before European – before Able Tasman sailed down the coast of Tasmania with the Aborigines wondering whether he’s going to come ashore or not, and Notredame, of course. But why do you think Notredame became a global sensation whereas the burning of these ancient forests in Tasmania was a big story locally but that’s it?

P:         Yeah, I find that a really interesting question and I did have – when that happened there were a lot of conversations around the ridges about this, the response, the instantaneous response, the large amounts of money being offered to deal with it and in comparison the relative lack of concern about some of the severe threats going on with natural sites, particularly around the world although there are cultural sites also being damaged by war and various other things. In one way, Bob, that’s one reason I’m – wanted to produce this book. I really think people don’t have a good enough appreciation of the magnificence of these natural and cultural heritage sites we have in Australia -

B:        Like the Sydney Opera House which is described by the global authorities as one of the great buildings of humankind of all time.

P:         Of all time, yes, indeed. I had to – I enjoyed working on that because not my field, I’m not an architect, I don’t really know much about that area so I had to do a lot of work to get to grips with it. I read a lot of material about the Sydney Opera House. I had spent time there and I was lucky to get some good insights from wonderful people that I worked with on the Australian Heritage Council but the thing is when it was built it was suddenly outrageously an amazing building, everyone could immediately recognise it. The Australian Government immediately nominated it for World Heritage listing.

B:        Back in 19 -

P:         It was in 1980, I think it was.

B:        Even before the Barrier Reef and so on were listed.

P:         Yes, it was straight away – they took one look at the finish at the time of the opening and let’s put it on the World Heritage list ‘cause we just had it available to us at that point and the advisory body to the World Heritage Committee said well look, this is a bit pre – it’s only a year old and we don’t really know whether this is going to be brilliant or a disaster. I think most people looking at it says this is brilliant but – so they said no, we’re going to defer this and it was deferred seriously because it was another 20 odd years -

B:        They’ve done that on a number of occasions, haven’t they? They’ve deferred listing and said you do this further work on it or -

P:         Yes.

B:        - let’s see what’s going to happen.

P:         It’s one of the tools of the World Heritage Committee, that they can – they get a nomination in, they get expert advice from the advisory committees, the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature so they’re the two advisory bodies that give them technical advice on each nomination appropriate to their skills. ICOMAS was the one that advised the Committee, no, it’s too early.

B:        I must say it says, and quite rightly, that the judges for the Sydney – it was a worldwide competition for the Sydney Opera House with no limits including no limits on spending and the judges unanimously selected Jorn Utzon's fantastic architectural entry. Insider knowledge here because Claudio Alcorso who set up the first vineyards in Tasmania was Chair of the Opera House Committee at the time and he tells this wonderful story that they’d all decided on the last four entrants and a European judge, the final judge was late, flew in and said is that all you have? They said well the other – the dismissed entries are over in that box and he went over and flicked through had lifted out Utzon’s and said how could you have missed this? Brought it back to the table or otherwise we would have a Covent Garden-style opera house on the same place.

P:         Excellent.

B:        We’re about to have a conversation here but you have got this lovely story about Fraser Island. What’s its proper name?

P:         K’Gari.

B:        The fact that it’s created out of the Blue Mountains – I’m cutting corners here – the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. What on earth did you mean by that?

P:         One of the pleasures of life is to understand how our world works. We can never all – everything but I’ve become really interested in - more and more as I’ve got older - interested in geology and geological processes and deep time as part of that. So when I was looking at how the sediments that made up Fraser Island, where they came from, I found that they were washed out of the Hawkesbury, it was one of the sources. So I imagine the possibility that a – some pebble up there in the mountains have been washed down the stream and that process takes thousands of years for a rock to be eroded in the streams and sometimes it get caught up in potholes and so on.

Eventually it gets to the mouth of the river and then offshore and then the various currents move it around, grinding it even more etc and then the long short current shifts it north. Those sediments ended up in southern Queensland off the coast and they produced some of the islands there, Moreton Island etc. Some of them went whistling past there and ended up at Hervey Bay. So it struck me as a lovely connection to make and I do that in a couple of other chapters. I think about how this site is connected to other sites because this is part of that big story, we are all connected, this is really interesting and if – I found it really exciting to find a connection between this World Heritage site and another one. So I’m not inventing it, it’s just I’m highlighting it -

B:        It’s a great story.

P:         - as a nice connection to have.

B:        Peter, that’s just lovely and there’s many such as you’ve just referred to, other stories like that in this beautifully written book. It is so accessible. The world heritage process and its history is quite arcane in a way but here it is very, very simply laid out and the process of Australia getting its 19, now 20 world heritage sites for their cultural and their natural values. It’s a fabulous book, both in presentation, the maps are easy, the wildlife, the flora and the history of each site but that indigenous component predominating as it should, a beautiful, beautiful production. Congratulations -

P:         Thank you, Bill.

B:        - and I’ve got great pleasure in launching the World Heritage Sites of Australia produced by the National Library of Australia.


P:         Thank you.

B:        Before people can get a copy to go and look for that picture of the meat-eating kangaroo who’d like to ask Peter about this book in any way? Yes, sir.

A:        [unclear] 48:59.

B:        A very good question. When do you think the Burrup Peninsula – now this is the Dampier Peninsula by another – and central western coast of Western Australia – might be world heritage? Why would it be world heritage?

P:         Yes, a really good question. I’m glad you raised it because that’s something that we could see on the horizon quite soon. When I was a member of the Australian Heritage Council the Minister of the day asked the Council to go and have a look at Burrup and advise the Minister whether -

B:        What’s there, Peter?

P:         The Burrup Peninsula, whether it was worth – oh so what we have on the Burrup Peninsula is the world’s greatest aggregation of stone carvings, absolutely brilliant so -

B:        Maybe a million of them.

P:         Yes. Well there’s a sad juxtaposition of course because the West Australian Government in its wisdom decided to locate on that same peninsula an industrial development and so you have this harsh boundary between an industrial development which shouldn’t have been there, it should have been elsewhere. But it was put there by political decision, not sensible decisions and there it is now, three or four huge industrial facilities right on the border of this ancient stone carvings.

B:        I think the last one that just – and expose this fact, really, isn’t it?

P:         There were lots of suggestions and in fact I do remember having a discussion with the former Premier there, Carmen Lawrence, who was strongly opposed to that and she said it was an unnecessary decision, there were other options, it was just made. But the local people are of course strongly protective of this and the value of it is that there’s nothing else like this anywhere in the world, this extensive series of long etchings and you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate them but they do go over a long period of time, the styles change. There’s been some excellent archaeological study of the site so there’s a lot of good information. You can go there and see that there are thylacines there carved on these rocks -

B:        As there are in Kakadu, they’re painted up there.

P:         Yeah, painted there and it tells us once again about this diverse spread of the continent of lots of life that have now retreated because of the drying conditions. As we migrated north and the country got drier then the opportunities for species to stay in one place vanished. So the question though was how soon? Well I think it could go very soon because the technical information we need is there, that’s been done by the expert archaeologists, is well written up. There was a very good advice but you see it’s not even on our tentative list so the rules that the Committee have put forward are that a site must be on the tentative list at least 12 months before it will be considered by the Committee. You can’t nominate a site that’s not on your tentative list and that’s because some countries have been recalcitrant, they have not been putting forward a tentative list of appropriate sites they might nominate down the track.

Australia’s a really bad example, we do very poorly. Our tentative list at the moment is three sites – two now because Budj Bim is now a world heritage site so we’ve got two left and they’re both extensions of existing sites so no new material even though we have wonderful agreement across the science community and conservation community of many other sites that could go on the list. You could say we probably have another 20 sites about which we know sufficient to put forward enough material to go on the tentative list. We haven’t done it but I – the good news – I must have a good news statement here somewhere but the good news is that the Federal Department is planning to run a workshop to build up Australia’s tentative list. Now that’s the first positive word on that that I’ve heard in a long time so I’m hoping that happens soon and that should then flow onto expanding our tentative list.

Personally I would like to see maybe 15 or 20 sites on that tentative list. India - not our site, smaller - India has 59 sites on its tentative list so we could – there’s room for us to expand our tentative list, Bob, there’s only two on it now.

B:        Well go for it.

P:         We should go for it.

B:        Who’s next?

A:        What’s a site that you think should be put on the tentative list that isn’t yet?

B:        What should be put on the tentative list -

P:         Which sites, okay well there are some sites that the government in the past has done work on, for example Cape York Peninsula. The government asked for work to be done on that. I did a lot of work with a number of other scientists on Cape York Peninsula. A lot of that material is ready. The last bit is consultation with traditional owners so that should be part of any process, of course, is working with traditional owners. But other examples of sites might expand out to the Lake Eyre basin in this wonderful pattern we have which is now in full flood at the moment so the channel country, the rivers flowing from northern Queensland down into Lake Eyre, that is a wonderful scene. The Flinders Range, there’s so much material there particularly in fossil material but others as well and in the book there’s a table which has all the sites which various people and scientists and organisations have put together and asked to go on the list.

One of the gaps in that I should mention by the way is colonial culture and I understand that Australian ICOMAS has been working on developing up sites that would be appropriate to go in that celebrate some of the colonial cultural attributes of Australia. So mostly our cultural sites, apart from the three that are largely colonial, purely colonial which is Sydney Opera House, the Exhibition Building in Melbourne and the convict sites, those are three clearly colonial sites, all the other cultural sites in Australia relate to indigenous culture. Budj Bim however is the only site that is purely indigenous culture. You would say well what about – now what’s the first one that was listed in 1981?

B:        Willandra Lake.

P:         Willandra Lakes. Yes but that includes natural heritage as well as cultural heritage so it’s not just simply cultural heritage, it’s natural as well.

B:        Who’s next? Over here.

A:        What can we as citizens do to get more sites on the tentative list?

P:         Could you – I just didn’t catch that.

B:        What can we as citizens do to get more sites on the tentative list? I’d add to that or to get the tentative list made into the - get movement on it because Peter’s got a very good table as he says at the back here of sites that should be being dealt with but aren’t.

P:         I don’t know, it’s – the question you ask is really well directed at our political leaders because it does take an appetite to do something from our political leaders. These are decisions that are inherently political and they’ve been slightly undermined by the discussion made some time ago by the national government that it wouldn’t put forward a site for consideration unless the state government first proposed it. So now we have state governments who have pretty much total control over all the threats to these sites through alternative land use being the ones that decide whether it should go forward.

B:        That was the Howard Government that put that – made that change.

P:         Yes, it’s a back away from a national perspective and world heritage, the way I think about world heritage is its thinking globally and acting locally so local for us is our nation, that’s Australia, it’s our country that’s part of that, not just the local people. But your question is well what about our local actions? What can we do? We can act locally so talk it up, encourage, talk to – a lot of our Members of Parliament don’t properly understand these things so you can help them, maybe send a copy of the book to your local member.

B:        The interesting thing that Peter points out is that of the eight states and territories the only one that doesn’t have a world heritage site is the ACT but of course there have been moves for the Australian Alps including the Brindabellas to be listed. I don’t know why that hasn’t progressed but there you go.

P:         It’s on the list.

B:        We’ve got time for one more question. Here in front.

A:        Has world heritage listing improved the management of these special places and is Australia succeeding in its endeavours to protect world heritage?

B:        Is Australia being successful in protecting world heritage? I’m glad you’re answering that question, Peter.

P:         I thank you very much for that question because it was part of a response that I was – in my head to the previous question so it’s not just about getting more sites, it’s about managing those sites better and to properly address the threats that they face. So I think there is a big gap so some might say why get any more nominations when we can’t manage the ones we’ve got? I think there are two very different problems. One is we do need to have more properties on the list so that we gain protection, better protection for those sites so the longer we leave them the more there will be alternative uses for that land and the more damage will be done so they will lose their value one way or another.

Your question is more about how we handle existing sites and how we’re dealing with the threats. For many of our sites a principal threat is climate change. That’s something that is out there already transforming some of the sites and yet we’re struggling with getting a commitment to deal with those.

Another threat is from biosecurity, our failure is biosecurity. As a person who’s looking from the outside, though, I become completely nonplussed when I hear politicians talking about how we’re going to protect our borders and spending billions of dollars worrying about our borders when we have deliberately undermined our ports and let organisms in that should never have got to Australia. So if we can’t manage our ports we’ve given up, basically. So a lot of the threats in some of the world heritage areas are invasive species, many of which have come in in the last few years. It’s not as though these are things that are left over from the early settlers, these are species that are arriving and they’re not being picked up by our biosecurity.

Most of the containers never get inspected because we’ve had efficiency on the waterfront. This is an unintended consequence, is we get a lot more invasive species getting through the net. Is that good thinking? Well a lot of those invasive species are going to decimate our natural environment so we haven’t really counted the full cost of allowing the shipping companies to become more profitable. The offset to that is that our governments are now spending billions more in eradicating invasive species that we shouldn’t have had. So the short answer is we’re not doing enough, the commitments for most of the world heritage areas have not increased with the threats that they’re facing and some of those threats of course are just from success of the world heritage places attracting more visitors so visitor management itself can be an issue. But more and more people going into world heritage areas means more risks from biosecurity, more invasive species coming.

B:        On that note I have to say, Peter, that I’m glad you’ve been an invasive species in these world heritage areas because your work is a very important brick in the wall that is needed to not only extend our world heritage appreciation, our pride in it but also the protection of it. I – this is a book that’s full of love for this wonderful country and its culture and its natural amenity and not least its wildlife. It’s beautifully put together, it’s just so eminently readable. It’s a fabulous gift if you want to give somebody – you want to have early purchase for Christmas, this is the ideal gift. But Peter is now going to be available to sign the book if you’d like to purchase one. We’re going out to the foyer so please feel free and while he’s here take this opportunity to have a word with Peter or to get his signature on the book. I’d like you, ladies and gentlemen, to join with me in congratulating Peter Valentine on this fabulous book on Australia’s world heritage.


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