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From museum to living cultural landscape: governing Tasmania's wilderness world heritage


Lee, E and Richardson, BJ, From museum to living cultural landscape: governing Tasmania's wilderness world heritage, Australian Indigenous Law Review, 20 pp. 78-107. ISSN 1835-0186 (2018) [Refereed Article]

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At Melaleuca, in the remote southwest of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (‘TWWHA’), visitors may encounter the Needwonnee Aboriginal Walk. Established in 2011 by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service in consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, the Walk is an interpretive nature trail over 1.2 kilometres that educates visitors about the lives of this ancient Aboriginal culture and their environs. Most of the interpretive installations are ephemeral, fashioned from organic materials in the local landscape, and include huts, tools, baskets, shell necklaces and a paperbark canoe. The area today is unoccupied except for the few intrepid tourists seeking an iconic ‘wilderness’ experience. Despite the good intentions behind creation of the Needwonnee Aboriginal Walk, it conveys the impression of a past or extinct culture now memorialised in an outdoors museum, without any voice and no longer heard. Yet many Aboriginal representatives in Tasmania see the TWWHA as ‘belonging to a much larger living cultural landscape and seascape’ that should be managed jointly with Aboriginal communities.

The evolving governance of the TWWHA, which now recognises that Tasmania’s southwest region is a living cultural landscape rather than a museum, evokes a broader policy issue about how nature conservation often also involves decisions about the place of people. This issue sometimes gets framed negatively and rigidly around the ‘parks versus people’ dichotomy, 2 as though effective conservation depends on excluding the human presence. Not only is the notion of ‘pristine wilderness’, a nature without people, untrue for nearly all of the biosphere, this troubling narrative can undermine caring for country whose human inhabitants have evolved bespoke environmental knowledge and husbandry skills, as well as wrongly bleach from history the legal claims of such people. Of course, these observations are hardly insightful, especially in Australia whose environments have been socialised through some 50 000 years of Aboriginal occupation. More difficult to understand, as we tackle in our article, is how can Indigenous participation in environmental governance occur where such people were subject to genocide and whose survivors have struggled against the dominant culture‘s pernicious ideology of biological or cultural ‘extinction’.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:environmental law, Aboriginal legal issues, Tasmania
Research Division:Law and Legal Studies
Research Group:Environmental and resources law
Research Field:Environmental law
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Environmental policy, legislation and standards
Objective Field:Environmental policy, legislation and standards not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Richardson, BJ (Professor Benjamin Richardson)
ID Code:127774
Year Published:2018
Deposited By:Office of the Faculty of Law
Deposited On:2018-08-15
Last Modified:2019-01-11
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