Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

SYMPOSIUM | Queensland Heritage on the Map

This week we attended Queensland Heritage on the Map, a symposium presented at the State Library of Queensland. Given our engagement in cultural planning, cultural tourism and cultural heritage, the symposium presented diverse insights, case studies and reflections on the importance of cultural heritage for Queensland regions, visitors and communities. With particular emphasis on shaping and packaging a tourism offer, the symposium provided many examples of success, challenge and innovation. In Queensland, economic development policy has considerable focus on tourism and, for many localities, heritage and cultural tourism presents opportunities for diversifying economic activity as well as enhancing positive social and environmental impact. However, it requires strategic leadership and coordination from local and regional tourism networks, as well as a canny use of mobile technology, such as apps.

In several Central Western Queensland projects, we work through multi-stakeholder processes to explore the potential of cultural heritage tourism and creative placemaking. In drawing out the local stories and developing an interpretion strategy that focuses on visitor experience, the story is woven throughout the town as part of a cohesive desination management approach. Our cultural planning with local authorities also addresses heritage values as an integral part of the development trajectory of a place or community. As one speaker affirmed, ‘stories are more important than stuff’ as they underpin a place and locate us in country. In the context of heritage tourism, the stories should stick and the experience should feel authentic. Stickiness was a concept that emerged as essential for successful tourism and marketing – sticky info, sticky websites, sticky stories. The story has to be something the community itself believes in, can participate in and can bring to life. Stickiness was popularised by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book, Made to Stick. Participation is integral to the experience and requires more outward looking services and facilities.

We were particularly enthused by CEO of National Trust (WA) Tom Perrigo’s case studies involving natural, cultural, infrastructural and industrial heritage. All the projects involved creative thinking that enabled a breadth of experience design and story sharing as well as rigorous conservation, interpretation and business planning. We also noted that the National Trust (WA) introduced the first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) among National Trust organisations. RAPs are important for facilitating a better dialogue, respect and understanding between businesses and Aboriginal communities.

Based on the experience of the Swan and Canning Rivers project, Rivers of Emotion, Perrigo also commented that Queensland’s remarkable river system could provide for deeper engagements with natural heritage and intercultural understanding. In Queensland, however, these river systems also feed the Great Artesian Basin, which is the life support system of many regional communities. The case studies each presented specific logistical and problem solving issues. For example, as custodians of the Curtin Family Home in Cottesloe, the National Trust (WA) was challenged to both ‘make it work’ and ‘make it sustainable’. The Trust established that a museum was not an option given the suburban location, so the home of the former Prime Minister is available to rent for nine months out of every year. An artist in residence program is also hosted. It gives visitors an immersive experience and insight into the domestic life of the former Prime Minister and Labor Party leader.

In another project, the National Trust (WA) was charged with responsibility for abandoned pump stations along the 540km Mundaring pipeline. They developed a series of trails, such as walking and drive trails, supported by an app and other experiences available at the renovated pump stations. Perrigo stressed the importance of collaboration and partnerships as well as the need to undertake robust problem solving processes to establish a sustainable development pathway for each project. He also commented that the heritage industry was not particularly good at articulating its social purpose, impact and value. Another project, the Royal Perth Hospital Heritage Precinct, presented new problem solving challenges and opportunities. As a centrally located precinct comprising nine buildings and proximity to other important locations, the precinct has much going for it. However, making it sustainable is a major issue. Perrigo stressed the importance of defining the problem and the opportunity as well as relevance. For example, in this precinct, some consideration was given to adaptive re-use as social housing. As with most precinct planning, there was a need for an integrated vision that embeds heritage values and drives sustainability, legacy and conservation.

Perrigo provided some valuable insights into partnership, investment, volunteerism and engagement. Of particular note, given that so many small heritage ventures are based on volunteerism, he advised that it is appropriate to delegate responsibility to volunteers, but not accountability. That is, there is a need to work with volunteers not by volunteers; professional people should provide management. Across many sectors, there has been a steady shift away from funding towards investment. This requires new approaches to brokering partnerships and collaboration, with an emphasis on business case and return on investment. As such, there is a need to be more attentive to impact, being remarkable and creating value.

While collaborative tourism and strengthening local and regional networks can generate considerable value and impact, the tourism industry is significantly (nearly 75 per cent) comprised of micro to small enterprises (employing less than four people). However, the current state of the industry and the economic climate was poignantly described by Therese Phillips from Tourism Events Queensland who said “We’re small and we’re struggling”. However, she stressed that small shouldn’t be an obstacle, recounting how small initiatives, such as a pie shop and additional accomodation, in Boulia resuscitated the flagging economy. There are also clear signs that visitor expectations of cultural and heritage experiences are growing.

Many examples were presented throughout the symposium and the presentations will be available as podcast online by the State Library. However, we commend the remarkable efforts of so many groups working on heritage tourism initiatives:

  • In Maryborough, the stunning Victorian fabric is leveraged to build a narrative that shapes place identity, community engagement and cultural activation, including an Open House initiative. The buildings are used to tell and reveal local stories.
  • At Yugambeh Museum in Beenleigh, the Drumley Walk invites everyone to follow in the footsteps of an inspiring Aboriginal elder and uncle
  • At Quandamooka (Moreton Bay), tourism on country, such Straddie Camping (Minjerribah Camping), is designed in a culturally sensitive and coordinated way that generates cultural, employment and enterprise opportunities for Aboriginal people.
  • In Longreach, the QANTAS Founders Museum provides a platform for the community to celebrate its role in aviation history. It also plays a vital role in the local economy given the need to build resilience as the protracted drought in Western Queensland continues without signs of abatement.
  • In Brisbane, personalised experiences, such as Brisbane Greeters, gave visitors enduring memories and sparked insights
  • At the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich, events play an important role in attracting visitors and encouraging repeat visits. It’s about business models where facilities can be self-funding and collaborative – the Workshops Rail Museum attracts 87,000 visitors annually while the Abbey Museum, known for its annual Medieval Tournament, attracts 49,000.
  • New technologies are also part of the picture with many facilities engaging social media and apps to enhance the visitor and tourist experience.

Perhaps there are also learnings from events like G20 Cultural Celebrations’ Colour Me Brisbane, where the architectural and cultural history of the city was interpreted through projections and lighting, providing audiences and residents with an opportunity to appreciate the layering of many stories that have shaped the city. It’s been a week or so of thinking about social impact and social purpose. The preservation of heritage and adaptive re-use of heritage buildings is fundamentally driven by a social purpose grounded in culture, custodianship and community. Potential innovations and opportunities can result from an approach that purposefully links community benefit, enterpreneurship and heritage tourism.

We’re also grateful to the State Library for generously hosting this event, free of charge. The enthusiasm from participants and attendees was truly evident!


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