FINIA and others concerned with preserving natural integrity can learn important lessons by examining why so many of the wonderful heritage houses of Maryborough have been preserved, restored and protected without any conservation orders applying to them.
I grew up in Maryborough and spent the first half of my life there. I still love the place. This once prosperous river port city for decades escaped the development and re-development boom that has transformed most other Queensland regional centres. The result was that Maryborough was left with the best assemblage of vernacular architecture in the form of its wonderful and unique old ‘Queenslander’ wooden houses. However, these are difficult and expensive to upkeep: paint and deteriorating wood is costly and difficult to replace and renew. Thus, during the 1950s to 1970s many were destroyed, replaced or modified.
In the mid-1980s, Maryborough’s locals began to appreciate the heritage value of these unique buildings. Despite modern homes costing less and usually being better designed functionally, people were willing to pay a premium to be the proud possessors of a heritage home, all extra expenses included. The result is the lavishing of love and care on hundreds of homes that can’t be taken to vintage car rallies or even placed in any competition.
Now these houses are being lovingly cared for and renovated in their original style. Some wrecks, far from being destroyed, have been painstakingly restored with a passionate pride. This has been accomplished without any legal status being given to the houses. The National Trust hasn’t listed them, and most have no other preservation orders placed on them.
Maryborough thus demonstrates the major benefit of people having a greater appreciation of unique heritage value. The zeal to preserve displayed here is an interesting phenomenon of developing community pride as a basis for the better management of our heritage. While this example relates to our built heritage, it can easily be extended to protecting our natural heritage. Recall that community proprietorial response made oil-drilling on the Great Barrier Reef unthinkable, and an Australia-wide sense of ownership stopped the Tasmanian Government destroying the Tasmanian wilderness to generate hydro-electricity. The more people who take pride in and value our heritage, be it Maryborough’s heritage houses or the natural integrity of a unique asset such as World Heritage Fraser Island (K’gari), the more ‘watchdogs’ there will be out to protect it.
For K’gari, if more people can be brought to appreciate the island’s natural values, this will increase the numbers prepared to act to preserve and/or restore its natural integrity. It boils down to a matter of pride. Thus, the greatest value of World Heritage status isn’t the additional legal layer of protection added by the Commonwealth assuming some responsibilities, but more particularly the layer of protection that comes from a public that recognises in the status the site’s unique heritage value.
One of FINIA’s challenges is to engender in the public a pride and passion for K’gari similar to that of Maryborough home owners for their heritage houses. A visitor centre where people can learn about K’gari’s natural values would go a long way towards achieving this. This explains why FIDO so passionately wants to see an impressive visitor centre created for Fraser Island and Great Sandy Strait sooner rather than later.
John Sinclair (AO), FIDO