Contested heritage, contested Aboriginality and the Blue Tier, northeast Tasmania

01st June 2012

In this thesis I examine a case study of contested heritage in northeast Tasmania as an embodiment of contested heritage issues generally. The focus of my analysis is the contestation over the authenticity of rock markings on Forestry Tasmania land known as the Blue Tier. I demonstrate that Aboriginal connections to country are routinely underappreciated in cultural heritage legislation, policy and practice that privileges archaeological interpretations of Aboriginal cultural heritage. I show that claims of custodianship of cultural heritage by traditional owners are tied to broader issues than authenticity of sites, and include assertions of Aboriginality and connections to country.

For some time, cultural heritage management has been dominated by archaeological approaches to classifying and managing cultural heritage, which may exclude traditional owners from the management process. Despite new discourses and theories which advocate greater community involvement and consultation, heritage management, particularly in Tasmania, continues to be viewed from a scientific perspective. In the setting of Tasmanian society and politics, input into cultural heritage management for Tasmanian Aboriginal people is primarily an issue of asserting identity as ‘Aboriginal’ in the face of a historical denial of their existence. This makes a Tasmanian case study an excellent test ground for conceptualising strategies that can aid in reducing instances of disputed heritage in a broader Australian context.

I approach my analysis by viewing and contextualising cultural heritage as a social construction. To understand Aboriginal constructions of heritage, I undertook interviews and visits to the Blue Tier in northeast Tasmania, and observed traditional owners’ articulations of their connections to country. I have grounded my findings in cultural heritage discourse and theory to demonstrate that the issues encountered in my analysis are those seen in instances of contested heritage all over Australia. This allows me to conceptualise strategies for alleviating contestation both in the Blue Tier and more widely. I conclude that approaches to cultural heritage management that emphasise both Aboriginal interpretations of heritage, and properly situate management of that heritage in a socio-political setting, are long overdue. I highlight strategies to achieve this aim.

Silas Piotrowski
Contested heritage, contested Aboriginality and the Blue Tier, northeast Tasmania
June 2012
Thesis Abstracts
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