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Heritage identification and protection

Key steps

The key steps in identifying and protecting our heritage are:


  1. Find the facts
  2. Document them
  3. Analyse them
  4. Determine what you are going to do with the facts and findings, ie., develop a plan
  5. Prepare the necessary submissions
  6. Implement the plan.

Step 1             Identification

Before something can be protected or conserved it must be identified. Identification of cultural heritage places can be derived from many sources including local knowledge, windscreen surveys (driving around a locality/suburb/region noting places), heritage and/or thematic studies, local area plans, and local government planing schemes.


The first step in assessing cultural heritage significance requires gathering and recording information about the item. This includes documentary, oral and physical evidence.

Step 2             Documentation

This is then written as a report that may be part of a conservation plan, heritage tour book or nomination for inclusion on a heritage register.

Step 3             Analysis

Why is a place or object or documentary record significant? Because it has social, aesthetic, historic, scientific, special, bio-diversity, ecosystem, geo-diversity values or some other value for past, present and future generations.


The purpose of the analysis is to specify and verify the significance of the material you have collected. Generally, facts are significant because of their relationship to other people, places, things, events or values. That relationship can be as a cause, an effect, as an example, as a circumstance that throws light on something else, or that provides evidence of its identity, use, location or some other characteristic. 


The steps to assess cultural heritage significance are:

It is important in this process to record material as it is collected and to continually review your work to check for gaps in the trail of evidence, the logic of your analysis and that your probable conclusions will be balanced and sensible.

Step 4             Develop a protection plan

In order to protect heritage places, objects and/or archives it is necessary first to identify, research and write a report about them that includes their significance using criteria such as those used by the Australian Heritage Council, appropriate government or National Trust. Each government section in this handbook includes the criteria used for assessing cultural heritage significance by the relevant agency. While most authorities only require one criterion it is usual to include two, three or more.


The report should also include recommendations about what needs to be done to provide actual protection. In many cases listing on the appropriate register can provide protection. This is clearest in the case of places.


Places listed on a state or territory government heritage register are protected by legislation; places on a local government heritage listing also have some protection, usually under statutory planning controls. The Register of the National Estate only protects places that belong to the Commonwealth. While National Trust registers have no statutory authority they do have moral strength and have a high degree of public credibility.


Nominations for heritage listings have several components:

Where listing is not an option, because no appropriate list exists or because the matter is not of sufficient significance, other options must be identified. These can include a conservation or archival plan, the provision of suitable premises, changes to traffic arrangements, building covenants or whatever is necessary to protect the item or place.


In any event, the plan should include:

Step 5             Preparing a submission

In preparing a submission

Who is to receive the submission?


If submissions are to be made to government bodies, remember that, regardless of the level of government, they generally have a set of criteria for approving grants or assistance of this nature. Make sure you understand the criteria. Talk to the relevant officials and ask them to explain what is required. Make sure that you address all the criteria. If you think that some are not relevant show why you think that is the case. Remember, if you do not address the criteria explicitly, it is less likely that they will approve you application.


If submissions are to be made to private enterprise, it is again worthwhile to talk to the relevant officers of the company. In many cases, particularly large corporations, they will also have written criteria. If so make your case in the light of them. If not try to ascertain what are the important considerations in their decision making. Make sure you understand if there are to be any ‘strings’ attached, and that you can live with them.

Step 6             Presentation

It is not necessary to have a fancy presentation, although if you can, it won’t do your case any harm. The important point to remember about submissions is that the purpose is to gain a favourable decision, not to demonstrate your research capability or engage in a public relations exercise. A short executive summary is often useful. It should include:

You might then include, as attachments:

The extent of your detailed planning is sometimes a significant factor in a successful outcome. Of particular relevance in many contexts, eg federal government and big business, is the risk analysis, because it helps them make a business decision and provides an accountability framework for them.


Provision should be made to ensure that the objectives that you set for yourself are in fact being met, that plans remain relevant and that money is spent and accounted for properly.