Heritage as Commemoration

Myall Creek Massacre Memorial (Source: Heritage Council of NSW)

The initial title of this article was going to be ‘The Heritage of Commemoration’.  It seemed like an obvious choice because of the commemorations surrounding November 11. In doing my research I came across a lot of excellent articles and can recommend the writings of a colleague of mine Stuart Read on this topic .

The heritage of commemoration takes a variety of forms: engraved inscriptions, mausoleums and works of monumental sculpture. More modest elements reflect vernacular traditions or dedicated landscapes such as cemeteries or memorial gardens.

I was ready to give up on this post then I realised what I was missing. Heritage is commemoration. In fact, one of the major reasons we give heritage protection to places is to commemorate something.

Commemorating the sacrifice of war is obvious. Here in NSW the Martin Place Cenotaph is on the State Heritage Register. Other similar listings that commemorate our war efforts and losses include the ANZAC Memorial and El Alamein Fountain.

But there are hundreds of places that are on the State Heritage Register to commemorate something. It might be the home of a beloved entertainer such as Slim Dusty or talented artist such as where Brett Whitely painted some of his most iconic works.

Or maybe we need to never forget terrible events. The Myall Creek Massacre or the stealing of Aboriginal children from their families.

Sites are heritage listed for what they tell us about society, the nature of our community, how we have come together and how we have been torn apart.

Commemoration is remembering and celebrating. It is paying tribute to something and observing what that means to us as individuals and a society.

There is a stream of heritage that specifically can be considered commemorative in one sense of the word. More broadly most of the places that we consider important to us are places that helps us to remember or celebrate something.

So that is why the title to this blog changed from ‘Heritage of Commemoration’ to ‘Heritage as Commemoration’ because ultimately that is what our heritage recognises. Our heritage systems recognise and commemorate the places that mean something to us. These places are recognised because they help us remember things that we shouldn’t forget. Things that are good, bad, brave and beautiful.

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