kids encyclopedia robot

Australian Heritage Commission facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

The Australian Heritage Commission (AHC), was the Australian federal government authority established in 1975 by the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 as the first body to manage natural and cultural heritage in Australia until its demise in 2004. It was responsible for the Register of the National Estate.

Creation and role

The Australian Heritage Commission was one of a number of ventures by the Whitlam Labor Government to establish cultural heritage as a more substantial government activity. In his Policy Speech in November, 1972, the Federal Labor leader said that overriding objective of a Labor Government would be 'to preserve and enhance the quality of the National Estate. When the Labor Government came to office in December 1972 a Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate was set up, with terms of reference report on: the nature and state of the National Estate; the measures presently being adopted; the measures which should be adopted; the role which the Australian Government should play in the preservation and enhancement of the National Estate; the manner in which the National Trusts of Australia and other appropriate conservation groups could be supported by public funds and the amount required in order that these bodies can immediately increase their effectiveness, in arguing and working for the preservation and enhancement of the Nation1 Estate.

The AHC had a wide gamut, covering natural, indigenous and historical heritage. It was first proposed in the Government-appointed Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate, chaired by Mr Justice R.M. Hope, in April 1973. The Committee reported to Federal Parliament in August 1974 that ...uncontrolled development, economic growth and 'progress' to that time had had a very detrimental effect on Australia's national estate... and called for ...prompt action and public education to prevent further neglect and destruction.

An Interim Committee on the National Estate was formed in August 1974 to continue the work of the Inquiry and begin to develop a national policy for the National Estate, based on UNESCO’s Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and National Heritage, which spoke of an ‘International Estate’. The Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 was assented to on 19 June 1975. The Commission was a statutory authority, responsible to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. Commissioners meet four to six times a year, and with the part-time Chairman and six part-time Commissioners being chosen for their skills and interest in the natural and cultural environment.

Standards and criteria

In the 1980s and 90s the AHC developed a number of policy documents which became standard heritage practice. Heritage practitioners including Jane Lennon and Michael Pearson were important figures in this process. The first meeting of the seven part-time members of AHC chaired by (later Professor) David Yencken, was held on 27 July 1976. A small staff supported the work of the Chairman and Commissioners.

A critical component of the Commission was the creation of the Register of the National Estate, which was intended as an inventory of ...those places, being components of the natural environment of Australia or the cultural environment of Australia, that have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community.

The AHC was an important catalyst to other state and local heritage protection and took on the early role of establishing guidelines, standards and criteria for assessment and managing places of heritage significance. An example was the development of the Australian Historic Themes for use by heritage professionals at the national level, as a means for co-ordinating research and significance assessments.

The Commission also established criteria for the assessment of places on the Register of the National Estate, which have been subsequently adapted and adopted by most State and community heritage organisation.


Formed just as the Fraser Liberal-Country coalition government came into power, the AHC came under criticism from mining and development lobbies, and the Commonwealth Government itself over issues such as the Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu, and the Gordon-below-Franklin dam proposal which had been placed on the World Heritage List in 1983.

The AHC was ultimately abolished under the Howard Liberal-National coalition government and the Australian Heritage Council formed in its place on 19 February 2004.

Major publications

  • Lloyd,C, 1977, The National Estate: Australia’s Heritage, Cassell, Sydney
  • Australian Heritage Commission, 1981, The Heritage of Australia: the illustrated register of the National Estate
  • Australian Heritage Commission, 1983, The Heritage of Tasmania: the illustrated register of the National Estate
  • Mulvaney, Derek John, 1985, A good foundation: reflections on the heritage of the first government house, Special Australian Heritage Publications Series, Australian Heritage Commission, no. 5.
  • Marquis-Kyle, Peter, 1992, The Illustrated Burra Charter: making good decisions about the care of important places, Australia ICOMOS Inc. with the assistance of the Australian Heritage Commission
  • Cairnes, Lorraine, 1996, Australian Natural Heritage Charter: standards and principles for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance, Australian Heritage Commission.
  • Australian Heritage Commission, 1998, Protecting local heritage places: a guide for communities
  • Cairnes, Lorraine, 1998, Natural heritage places handbook: applying the Australian Natural Heritage Charter to conserve places of natural significance, Australian Heritage Commission.
  • Australian Heritage Commission, 2002, Ask first: a guide to respecting indigenous heritage places and values.
kids search engine
Australian Heritage Commission Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.