nature tourism services logo

HERITAGE
interpretation

... helping visitors attach
positive meanings and values
to their onsite experiences of places
with significant natural and/or
cultural heritage

Below: Heritage interpretation helps provide meaningful and valued experiences for visitors. The heritage interpretation work we undertook to deliver the Layers In Time heritage walk around the grounds of the Blue Mountains' oldest building – the Woodford Academy – provides some valuable insights into our approach to heritage interpretation projects.

footprints motif

what's special about heritage interpretation?

heritage icon

Heritage interpretation differs from museum interpretation in one key regard. Whereas museum settings create places wherein to tell their stories, with heritage interpretation the place is the story.

This is a subtle yet crucial difference to appreciate between the two disciplines. In the lead up to the development of heritage interpretation conservation guiding principles like the Burra Charter in the 1980s for example, adapting museum contexts and approaches uncritically to places of heritage significance fuelled a push to turn these areas into outdoor museums.

In the case of the Hill End village for example, initial local pressure to reconstruct historic buildings and recreate the town as it was in its heyday in the 1870s was a very real threat to its heritage landscape values.

hill end signs

Following the installation of interpretive signage in 1988 to help visitors reimagine these places for themselves, local pressures to reconstruct the town's 'missing' buildings subsided.

hill end signs

This approach recognised that while the roaring days of the gold rush decade may have brought international fame to Hill End, its significance as a heritage place embraced all of the forces shaping its landscapes and structures up to and including is conservation as a historic site.

heritage interpretation and significant places

heritage icon

Heritage interpretation helps visitors appreciate the special cultural and/or natural values of the places they explore. This focus on the significant qualities of a place means that a conservation heritage assessment is the primary step in any interpretation process.

This approach focusses attention on the place itself in the first instance. It ensures that a sense of place stands as the foundation of the heritage interpretation narrative. This avoids it being relegated to the backdrop against which various storylines are played out. A sense of place provides a foundation that can then support a diverse array of storylines and narratives that may have been draped across the landscape over time.

One example of how this place-centric approach to heritage interpretation can play out in practice comes in the case of the work we undertook for the Stringybark Creek Historic Area in Victoria in 2017/18.

Stringybark Creek is the location where three policemen were killed on 26 October 1878 by a group of four men who thereafter became known as the Kelly Gang. This made the site of central relevance to the Ned Kelly story narrative. It also was a place of great significance to the present day families of the policemen whose lives were destroyed there.

The original heritage interpretation work at Stringybark Creek was installed as part of the creation of a Ned Kelly Cultural Trail. This had resulted in the site being positioned as the backdrop against which the Kelly hero narrative was played out. Similarly the three policemen who died there (and the one survivor whose life was forever changed by the event) were relegated to the status of collateral damage in the Kelly saga. The need to redress this imbalance was the driving force behind the new heritage interpretation work we were commissioned to undertake.

Our approach to this work was not to simply correct one polarised hero narrative by replacing it with another. Rather it involved a focus first and foremost on the place itself as the backdrop against which an array of storylines overlapped and connected in a particularly fateful manner in October 1878.

Heritage-interpretation-stringybark-creek

The entry signage visitors encounter as they enter the Stringybark Creek heritage interpretation precinct focusses on the location itself in the first instance. It recognises that the events that occurred there and the characters involved can best be understood based on a clear sense of place and an understanding of how events conspired to arrange these players at this place at a given point in time. Zoom in on the image below to view the panel content.

heritage interpretation Stringybark CReek entry panel footprints motif