Tradition or invention: Remembering and reviving meaning of places

Truscott, Marilyn C. (2003) Tradition or invention: Remembering and reviving meaning of places. In: 14th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium: ‘Place, memory, meaning: preserving intangible values in monuments and sites’, 27 – 31 oct 2003, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. [Conference or Workshop Item]


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Abstract (in English)

Continuity of intangible cultural values often requires a tangible manifestation. This may be a place where the relationship between the physical nature of the place – its fabric – and the ‘intangible’ associations with that place and the meanings that place has to a group of people have continued through time. Such associations and their cultural significance are increasingly recognised in national and international heritage systems. For example, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was recognised in 1994 a World Heritage for its spiritual landscape, manifested by associated ceremony, song, and dance. Elsewhere a continuity of the relationship of intangible value and place is disrupted, often due to changes that are imposed from outside. The intangible connection to that place is at risk of breaking, and may need to be revived in order to continue. What does such revival mean in terms of the authenticity and integrity of a heritage place? This paper examines two cases in Australia where the revival of community intangible values have resulted in physical manifestations that have had mixed and contrasting receptions. The first example is that of the repainting of the Wandjina rock art sites of Northwest Australia in 1987, by the Indigenous community used a federal Government employment fund. Both young men and women were introduced to a traditional ceremony to repaint earlier traditional motifs at sacred sites. The new motifs and the use of modern house-paints were regarded by many as not traditional. The ensuing outcry from rock art experts, local tourism guides and heritage authorities, some in support others against the project as a desecration, was a watershed in Australian heritage understanding of intangible value and the role of such social heritage significance in the management of heritage places. This issue that has been debated extensively (e.g. Mowarljarli et al, 1987 1988) for the past 15 years, and has become an emotive one as other Aboriginal communities have sought to revive rock art traditions. The second case is that of the building of a ‘replica’ mountain hut in the alpine region of Northwest Victoria. The hut symbolises the High Country way of life celebrated as part of this continuity of traditional shelters high in the mountains of Victoria, that were used in the past by cattlemen bringing cattle to the high alpine plains in the summer. This practice has almost stopped in the face of strong environmental conservation policies to protect the High Country as national parks. Yet strong intangible values continue in the area, with song, story, film and festival maintaining the association (Context 1997; Truscott 2000; 2003). What is the role for a ‘fake’ hut, at a time when a growing number of visitors and tourism development pushing local icons are increasing pressures on heritage managers of heritage? In both cases, fabric has been altered or created as part of this cultural revival, and has raised issues relating to potential conflicts between the management of tangible and intangible heritage values. This paper will address the conflicts inherent in such management and the myths of heritage conservation – is it really the fabric that is important or its use for the maintenance of intangible values? The paper will address some solutions, examining various international models for ‘managing’ intangible values and its associated place.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Truscott, Marilyn C.
Languages: English
Keywords: intangible heritage; intangible values; sacred places; aboriginal cultures; spirit of place; rock art sites
Subjects: H.HERITAGE TYPOLOGIES > 22. Rock art
B. ARCHAEOLOGY > 12. Rock art site
O.INTANGIBLE HERITAGE > 01. Generalities
H.HERITAGE TYPOLOGIES > 17. Intangible cultural heritage
Name of monument, town, site, museum: Wandjina rock art sites, Australia; Craig’s Hut, Victoria, Australia
ICOMOS Special Collection: Scientific Symposium (ICOMOS General Assemblies)
ICOMOS Special Collection Volume: 2003, 14th
Depositing User: Jose Garcia
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2010 18:31
Last Modified: 26 Jul 2023 16:25
References: AHC Australian Heritage Commission significance criteria,

Bowdler, S. (1988) Repainting Australian rock art. Antiquity 62(23):517-523.

Context 1997. Social Value of North East Victoria. A report of the results of community heritage consultation for the Regional Forest Agreement of North East Victoria.

Lowenthal, D. (no date) "Fabricating Heritage" History and Memory Volume 10, Number 1.

Mowarljarli, D. & C. Peck (1987) Ngarinyin cultural continuity: A project to teach the young people the culture, including the repainting of the Wandjina rock art sites. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2:71-78.

Murray, L. Persistance in Folly. Sydney, pp.114, 126. Renan, E. (1882) “What is a Nation?” in: Homi K. Bhabba (ed.) National and Navigation. London, 1990, p.11.

Sale, K. (1993) “Make ‘em Bright: - Australian re-marking of rock art in past and present Australia. Australian Archaeology 37:65, 66.

Truscott, M. C. (1993) ‘Local Community and Cultural Heritage Management in Australia’, Archaeological Heritage Management, International Scientific Symposium Heritage of Asia and Oceania: 112-124. ICOMOS 10th General Assembly, Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 1993.

Truscott, M. C. (2003) Fact or Fantasy – celebrating mountain heritage today. Historic Environment 17(2):22-24.

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