Heritage Artefacts Down Under & On A Bus Route

Adair.Richards | January 8, 2013

In December I was fortunate enough to be in Australia for a couple of weeks and I was struck by some of the differences in heritage artefacts between Australia and the UK.

There are two very different cultures in Australia– that of the indigenous peoples (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) who have inhabited those lands for tens of thousands of years; and the predominant culture of modern Australia that has arisen since the first fleet arrived from England in 1788.

Whilst there are still evidently tensions between these two cultures – too complex for me to dare to go into on a blog post – their cultural artefacts often sit side by side in museums and public parks. When visiting I was informed that due to their spiritual beliefs, I wasn’t permitted to photograph any Aboriginal artwork. This I imagine presents significant challenges to digital heritage. Additionally, a significant number of artefacts are deliberately not on display as they are not allowed to be viewed by the uninitiated.* What artworks I did have a chance to see, for example in the Australian Museum, Art Gallery of New South Wales  and Museum of Contemporary Art, were fascinating and clearly distinct from all other art forms that I’ve viewed around the world. One of the things I found surprising was that there didn’t seem to be any indigenous Australian members of staff, or visitors for that matter. This didn’t make it particularly easy to interact and discover more about Aboriginal culture.

Outside of museums, all the buildings and monuments I came across had been built since 1788. Living in the UK, it is easy to forget how fortunate I am to be surrounded by so many buildings that have been constructed centuries ago and that have witnessed so many interesting and important events. As time has gone by and other buildings and networks surround these places, I find it easy sometimes to take for granted the heritage around me. This struck me in particular as I was recently on a London bus one evening travelling back from a drinks reception when I looked up to see the iconic Tower of London out of the window. Not being a resident Londoner I craned my neck, even in the dark, to get a good look. Nobody else in the bus batted an eyelid. I wonder if places like the Tower of London, or Thetford Priory for that matter, have any fresh tales to tell their neighbours or whether they remain primarily of interest to those of us merely travelling through.


* I am far from an expert in these matters and am relying on what I was told at the museums in Sydney. I would be delighted if you are better informed than me as to the reasoning behind these practices or the many apparent exceptions that can be viewed online, if you commented below.

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