The Spectre of The Heritage

The Heritage was become a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what it touched, twisting what it ruled, lord of werewolves; its dominion was torment

Let me tell you a story of a town living in the grip of an insidious evil.

Although the good folk of this town do their best to live their lives there is the constant reminder of the evil that besieges them. They never know when it will happen or who it will happen to. But from time to time the dark and baleful ‘Heritage’ reaches from the sky into the town. Where its hand rests an unimaginable curse of darkness and anguish is placed upon the land. The land and those who dwell in it are doomed to live thereafter in a state of perpetual limbo, unable to ever move forward.

Sometimes the citizen’s will rally. They will go to these dark and cursed places. The young and reckless among them will stand up and say. “No. Let us not live in fear of The Heritage. Let us go forth and lift the curse from these places. Make them alive again, fit once more for human habitation.”

But the wise old Burghers calm the crowd and offer their own advice.

“Do not be so reckless as to do anything to anger The Heritage. For it watches us. Your hearts are pure and you seek to help those afflicted but heed our warning. Once The Heritage has marked a place it is marked for all time. Do not risk the wrath of The Heritage. Go to your homes, protect your families and pray for those for whom it is too late.”

These wise words would disperse the crowd. The curse of The Heritage was too unimaginable a fate for any to risk displeasing it; drawing its gaze upon them. Thus, with no other recourse, the good folk of the town do their best to live their lives with the constant reminder of the evil that besieges them.

Okay so it is not quite that bad and I do apologise for paraphrasing Tolkien at the start there.

The above tale was inspired by a newspaper article about a town in New South Wales that was looking at seeking potential heritage listing now that the Council had changed because the former Council believed that heritage listing would ‘sterilise’ the place (although personally I think the article would have been a bit more colourful if they had used the term ‘unimaginable curse of darkness and anguish’).

I often hear that there is not enough information available about the heritage system. But I disagree. I did a Google search for ‘heritage listing NSW’ and of the top eight results; six specifically lead to pages that provide information about heritage listing:

The spectre of heritage listing is put forward as a reason why kitchens cannot be updated, why homes cannot be extended. It is given as a reason why no development can take place.

I feel that there are three groups when it comes to misinformation about heritage. The first is the group that relies on what they may have heard once or saw on Grand Designs, but don’t bother trying to find out the real situation. The second are those who have a vested interest on presenting heritage listing in the worst possible light. The third are those who truly do not know because it has never arisen for them before.

Having worked in and out of government I acknowledge that there is a problem with communication. I am the first to admit that communicating with the public is not something government departments do well.

I know that there is a lot of information about the heritage system out there. I also know that there is a whole floor full of people in Parramatta who are passionate about heritage and want to work with people to find a meaningful way to look after and preserve heritage places while still acknowledging that they must continue to be used.

The spectre of heritage is put forward to justify people’s lack of knowledge or their laziness or to support their own self interests.

But like all spectres it can be banished by shining a light on it, by presenting the truth about heritage and what it means.

So next time someone says sorry you can’t change the bathroom in your heritage listed property; or heritage listing gets in the way of poor hard-working developers who are just trying to make Sydney a better place; or asks how many children will die if hospitals have comply with heritage legislation – consider their motivations.

If you want to find out the actual situation give me a call. Or if you don’t want to take my word for it call the NSW Heritage Division on 02 9873 8500. Someone there will be able to talk you through how the heritage system works.

Having opened with Tolkien I’ll leave the last word to Jane Austen.

And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as what one reads about may produce – Have you a stout heart.

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