World Heritage at Fremantle Prison

The previously promoted World Heritage Forum was held last night in the old cinema in Fremantle Prison.  It was well attended by people from across the state.  Department for Communities funding allowed the organisers to bring the International Vice President of ICOMOS, Kristal Buckley and WA Mid-West project officer Cheryl Cowell to be on the panel, they were joined by Luke Donegan from Fremantle Prison and myself representing Mayor Pettitt.

The forum was held to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, and outcomes will inform the ICOMOS WA delegates to the Australian ICOMOS symposium to be held in Sydney next month.  To this end the forum teased out not only what was good about World Heritage Listing (WHL), but also why there can sometimes be strong community opposition.

Cheryl Cowell spoke on the strong community and council opposition to listing Shark Bay.  The Federal Government went to Denham to discuss with the community the processes and benefits of listing, and consequently spurned a very strong opposition force, which sent a delegation to Brussels.  The lesson was very clear that the community has to be respected and engaged with when listing is being considered.  The motivation for the opposition was based on fears related to threats to lifestyle and interference by government bureaucrats.  Graziers felt it would affect their ability to graze their land and the community had chosen to live there because of the remote lifestyle and did not want modernisation and tourists.  This split is still in that community and that is a great shame coming out of something that should have been celebrated.

Kristal Buckley gave a very endearing talk on the highs and lows of being the Vice President of ICOMOS.  She talked of times of sheer joy when listings succeeded with full community support and the empowerment that gave them in presenting their special place to the world.  But she also talked of the tears when it all goes wrong.  A powerful message she gave, that is pertinent to all people working to make changes in the community.  She talked of people doing a very professional job of documenting and consulting on the larger issues they are essential to obtaining listing, but neglected to work with the community on smaller, grass roots issues the while not part of the listing process is however very important to the community.

Luke Donegan gave an overview of the work being done at Fremantle Prison and the successes in attracting tourism.  He is passionate about his work and told us that what keeps him awake at night are images of the urban developments in Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison and how such a thing would destroy Fremantle.

I gave an overview of WHL from a Council perspective and how we engaged with great enthusiasm.

Tom Perigo from the National Trust then ran a questions and answers session.  The question was asked has the UNESCO World Heritage Convention reached a 40-year middle age crisis?  There was no doubt it is less nimble and struggling with bureaucratic flab.  Many of the questions were from people involved with environmental heritage areas looking for assistance in protecting it.

I think all in all a lot of good material was gathered for the Sydney symposium.  I was pleased to have been a part of the discussions.  I also enjoyed the catering provided by the Department for Communities!

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