case study:

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area:
Joint management of sacred creation country,
Tasmania, Australia

All photos: © Jillian Mundy, permissions by DPIPWE

AUTHOR:
Tebrakunna Country and Emma Lee
CONTACT:
Dr Emma Lee
Research Fellow
University of Tasmania.
Email: emma.lee@utas.edu.au
Summary

When Aboriginal Tasmanian leadership is given the right to participate in protected area management then good governance can occur. Our peoples know TWWHA country as the home of our creator and ancestral beings who left their sacred messages in the rock art and landforms that gave rise to our ways of life. Once we were the only peoples to care for TWWHA country, but then we were excluded under government processes and management plans. In 2016, a new plan of management for TWWHA country became the first time that any protected area in Tasmania became jointly managed with us. We were able to do this by respectfully working together with Tasmanian and Australian governments, and the World Heritage Committee, to demonstrate how our knowledges are best to conserve and promote the cultural values of TWWHA country.

Cultural and spiritual significance

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, or TWWHA country, is 1.58 million hectares and over one-fifth the land mass of Tasmania. TWWHA country is a conglomerate of seven national parks and 45 other protected areas largely known for being the most substantial, intact temporal rainforest in the world. With four natural Outstanding Universal Values (OUVs) and three cultural OUVs, for the longest time, until Mt Taishan in China, TWWHA country held the most world heritage criteria.

For us, Aboriginal Tasmanian peoples, TWWHA country is a place of landing – it is here that our first palawa (person) came to earth in the form of a kangaroo man. A female creator ancestor also resides in the waters off TWWHA country. However, is it not the sacred creator and ancestral beings that comprise the cultural OUVs, but the ways in which we have cared for country by the laws they gave us. By this, the cultural OUVs reflect the oldest, southernmost human occupation of over 40,000 years, where Pleistocene rock art is a tangible signifier of sacredness and fire management practices of over 30,000 years have shaped much of the natural OUVs (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment 2016; Fletcher & Thomas 2010).

All Photos © Jillian Mundy, permissions by DPIPWE
Ecology and biodiversity

From the fire-managed button-grass plains to the world’s tallest flowering eucalypts, we once lived in the limestone caves and coastal dunes to conserve this biodiversity of our precious temporal rainforests. We told stories of the animals, such as the Tasmanian Devil, and of the emu, now long gone from TWWHA country. We watch the scientists try to save the orange-bellied parrots, but are sad they do not include our knowledges. Our songs cannot stop the sea-level rises that destroy our living midden sites who are thousands of years old and protect the natural values in-shore like a large cloak.

Governance

The Park is an IUCN type II PA governed by a public authority that responds to the Ministry of the Environment. Park governance aims at transparently conciliating the interests of 39 municipalities and 6 ‘mountain districts’. Strategic planning is oriented by a consultation with local administrators (2002). Other major stakeholders include famers, herders, tourist developers, and dioceses, although there is no evident mechanism for systematically including them in Park governance. Important areas of the Park fall within ancient privileges of customary law (usi civici, comparable to the commons) that should grant land governance and management to consortia of local residents. This occasionally engenders ownership conflicts between local institutions and the Park Authority, and management conflicts between local uses (including animal grazing and forestry) and EU directives.We have been excluded, since first inscription in 1982, from conserving and promoting TWWHA country cultural OUVs according to our governance structures (Lee 2016a). Our peoples undertook advocacy to rectify this during the drafting of the new plan of management in 2014. The first joint management plan for any Tasmanian protected area resulted in 2016, where the Australian and Tasmanian governments statutorily approved the new plan of management for TWWHA country.

The joint management governance, between the Tasmanian government and Aboriginal Tasmanians, lies with a newly established cultural management group that sits within the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. The cultural management group will act as an intermediary to link the management of natural and cultural OUVs, provide advice to the Director, and take a lead role in shepherding project and policy work in conjunction with us (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment 2016).

Management

In repairing the past neglect of cultural values, such that in 2012 less than one per cent of the total TWWHA country budget was dedicated to the cultural OUVs (Australian Government 2012), an additional $575,000, for example, has been set aside by the Tasmanian government for further research into the cultural OUVs and consultation with our peoples (Groom 2015). This research will aid in delivering the Key Desired Outcomes (KDOs) of the new plan, including assessing TWWHA country as an outstanding Aboriginal Cultural Landscape under the World Heritage Convention (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment 2016).

Lessons Learned
  • The sacredness of TWWHA country infused our advocacy methods to focus on the relationships with stakeholders, rather than locked-in outcomes that left little room to build on strengths developed over the course of the plan (Lee 2016b).
  • The key strategy of ‘reset the relationship’ (Hodgman 2016) – a Tasmanian Government policy that was borne of our Aboriginal leadership (Lee & Hamilton 2016) – guided our actions to further link the joint management of TWWHA country to constitutional recognition as First Peoples (Lee 2015).  Constitutional recognition was formally delivered in Tasmania a month after the TWWHA country plan of management became statutorily approved (Department of Premier and Cabinet 2016; Groom 2016).
  • To ‘reset the relationship’ meant that traditional authority, such as our Elders, was recognised as a legitimate governance structure by the government.  • To ‘reset the relationship’ meant that traditional authority, such as our Elders, was recognised as a legitimate governance structure by the government.
  • To inform the public of our commitment, we distilled our advocacy message as a mantra of ‘culture not politics, families not organisations, relationships before agreements’.
  • At the heart of TWWHA country sacredness was our desire to use the symbols of rock art and creator beings as a means of collegial and non-adversarial advocacy that respected the rights of all people and a plurality of views to enjoin in good governance and sound management.
  • In 2015, the Reactive Monitoring Mission from the World Heritage Committee stated that the comprehensive level of participatory engagement by us, on our own cultural terms, was noted as outstanding and “both the quality and the level of participation in the process appear high by global standards” (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2016 p. 10).
  • As our Old People did for 40,000 years, we care for TWWHA country through respecting, knowing and enacting sacredness.

Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (2016). Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) management plan 2016. Department of Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment, Hobart, Tasmania.

Fletcher, MS and Thomas, I (2010). The origin and temporal development of an ancient cultural landscape. Journal of Biogeography 37(11): 2183-2196.

Lee, E (2016a). Protected areas, country and value: the nature-culture tyranny of the IUCN’s protected area guidelines for Indigenous Australians. Antipode 48(2): 355-374.

Lee, E and Hamilton, F (2016). Tasmania – after a long journey, world heritage area delivers Indigenous rights. The ICCA Consortium newsletter, issue 12, 19-21.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2016). Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Tasmanian Wilderness, Australia, 23-29 November 2015. Mission Report, International Council on Monuments and Sites, International Union for Conservation of Nature, report accessed at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/181/documents/

Australian Government (2012). State party report on the state of conservation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (Australia) property ID 181bis: in response to World Heritage Committee decision WHC 32 COM 7B.41. Canberra, ACT.

Department of Premier and Cabinet (2016). Constitutional recognition of Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Page accessed at: http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/policy/constitutional_recognition_of_tasmanian_aboriginal_people

Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (2016). Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) management plan 2016. Department of Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment, Hobart, Tasmania.

Fletcher, MS and Thomas, I (2010). The origin and temporal development of an ancient cultural landscape. Journal of Biogeography 37(11): 2183-2196.

Groom, M (Minister for Parks, Tasmania) (2016). Outstanding significance of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area protected with new management plan. Media release 10 December, Department of Premier and Cabinet, page accessed at: http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/releases/outstanding_significance_of_tasmanias_wilderness_world_heritage_area_protected_with_new_management_plan

Groom, M (Minister for Parks, Tasmania) (2015). Government invites World Heritage Committee advisors to Tasmania. Media release 30 May, Department of Premier and Cabinet, page accessed at: http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/releases/government_invites_world_heritage_committee_advisors_to_tasmania

Hodgman, W (Premier, Tasmania) (2016). The Premier’s 2016 Australia Day address. Public Lecture delivered 22 January 2016, Department of Premier and Cabinet, pages accessed at: http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/speeches/the_premiers_2016_australia_day_address

Lee, E (2016a). Protected areas, country and value: the nature-culture tyranny of the IUCN’s protected area guidelines for Indigenous Australians. Antipode 48(2): 355-374.

Lee, E (2016b). Talking Point: Aboriginal inclusion in world heritage management good move, The Mercury, 11 April, page accessed at: http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-aboriginal-inclusion-in-world-heritage-management-good-move/news-story/e8419dfbef4ed014e572492bc45f9ba9

Lee, E and Hamilton, F (2016). Tasmania – after a long journey, world heritage area delivers Indigenous rights. The ICCA Consortium newsletter, issue 12, 19-21.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2016). Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Tasmanian Wilderness, Australia, 23-29 November 2015. Mission Report, International Council on Monuments and Sites, International Union for Conservation of Nature, report accessed at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/181/documents/

Header Image and article photos: © Jillian Mundy, permissions by DPIPWE 

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