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Cultural Resource Law in Australia

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Case Study: Victoria Archaeological Survey/Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Office


The Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Office was formed in 1972 to manage the state of Victoria’s cultural resources. In Australia there are many state and federal laws detailing how the nation’s cultural resources are to be managed. The foundation of modern Australian CRM law is the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act of 1972. Much as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established a system of state historic preservation officers, the Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act established the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Office. Inevitably this office, like the CRM industry, has undergone many changes in the past 50 years. Many of the changes the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Office faced was due to shifting political climates and the passing of innovative CRM legislation. While the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Office’s name has been changed and it has been cycled around various government departments the office’s function has always been to manage, protect, and record Australian cultural resources.


Australia much like the U.S. faced an issue regarding its cultural heritage. Many sites and objects were quickly disappearing due to unauthorized archaeological digs, looters, and urban development. In response Australia passed the Archaeological Relics Preservation Act of 1972 (Presland 2000). The passing of this legislation spawned a number of government advisory boards and offices. In response to the Archaeological Relics Preservation Act the state government of Victoria created the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Office. One of the primary goals of this office was to catalog a list of all of the archaeological sites in the state of Victoria. Originally the office was put in the Chief Secretary’s Department and consisted of a Protector of Relics, the Victoria state archaeologist, two other archaeologist, a geologist, a field assistant and three administrative staff. The goal of cataloging all of the sites in the state of Victoria is formidable. In the United States state historic preservation officers and their staff, concentrate only on maintaining a list of historic sites leaving the recording of sites up to CRM practitioners who usually working for a private firm or government agency. This administrative difference has created a CRM industry that is less centralized but perhaps more efficient at recording massive amounts of resources.


During 1975 the newly formed Relics Office underwent several changes. Firstly it was moved into the Ministry of Conservation and was rebranded the “Victoria Archaeological Survey”. The new name better fit the actual purpose of the office, which was to record all of the sites in the state of Victoria. Additional changes to legislation did away with the ‘Protector of Relics” position. Then in 1983 the VAS was again moved to the Ministry for Planning and Environment which eventually became the Ministry for Conservation and Environment. The 80s were a time of flux for the VAS which to spite its many location shifts managed to collect an impressive amount of archaeological data. Between 1975 and 1984 Peter Coutts was the first acting director of the VAS (Presland 2000). Coutts devised a strategy which eventually led to the successful publication of over 60 documents. During this period the VAS conducted numerous large scale survey and excavation projects. Due to the serious lack of staff and resources Coutts implemented a public outreach system. This system known as the Archaeological Summer School program enlisted the help of students who paid to be a part of the VAS’s field operations in exchange for school credit. The system which Coutts initiated was a forerunner to the U.S. Forest Service’s Passport in Time (PIT) program. However like in the U.S. the political climate was shifting during the late 80s away from an archaeological approach to a management approach. While the VAS experienced large scale operational success during the 1970s and early 80s the lack of consultation with Aborigine organizations during this period plagued future projects in the state.

In 1992 the VAS was again transferred to the Ministry for Aborigine Affairs and rebranded the Heritage Services Branch. The change was perhaps made to remedy consultation issues which reared their head in the late 80s. By 1993 the historic and maritime functions of the Heritage Services Branch was split into separate offices and put under control of the department of planning. The distinction between historic and prehistoric archaeological efforts was made final in 1995 with the passing of the Heritage Act (Presland 2000). For the next decade CRM legislation in Victoria and Australia remained fairly static. During this period the political shift from archaeology to traditional resource management continued to occur until in 2006 when the Aboriginal Heritage Act was passed. The Aboriginal Heritage Act (Victoria) of 2006 for the most part turned the CRM industry in Victoria on its head and repealed the 1972 Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act. This of course led to the Heritage Services Branch being disbanded and replaced by the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.


From the 1970s all the way up to the early 2000s Australian CRM legislation maintained strong parallels with U.S. legislation. These similarities in legislative bodies created government organizations with nearly identical tasking issues. The conflicts between the VAS and tribal organizations parallel those still occurring between state historic preservation officers and tribal historic preservation officers in the U.S. The primary dispute between these types of organization stems from their perception of cultural resources and how they should be protected.


The Larkspur project in northern California is an example of the dichotomy between tribal and archaeological perspectives on CRM creating management issues. In 2013 a massive data recovery project was initiated prior to a housing development being put in, in Larkspur. The data recovery stage was successfully completed prior to issues arising between the contracting CRM firm and the consulting tribal organization. The tribal organization reburied all materials recovered before they could be successfully cataloged, effectively destroying the site. The Larkspur project demonstrates the type of CRM disputes that occur between practitioners and consulting tribal organizations in both the U.S. and Australia. These issues can be avoided through discourse between CRM firms and tribal organizations. However the Aboriginal Heritage Act disbanded the need for CRM practitioners and the Heritage Services Branch in Victoria, making discourse between these two parties impossible. It could be said that the Aboriginal Heritage Act of 2006 was the death knoll for true prehistoric resource management in Victoria.

See also[edit]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/04/28/native-american-tribe-archaeologists-at-odds-over-indian-remains/ Gary Presland 2000 Scratching the Surface: A brief history of the Victoria Archaeological Survey 1972-1995. The Author, Victoria, Australia Tom King Accessed electronically 2014 “No, Federal Agencies DON’T Have to Nominate All Historic Places to the National Register”. Blog. Lindsey Bever Accessed electronically 2014 “Native American tribe, archaeologists at odds over Indian remains” The Washington Post. 1972, Version No. 050, “Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972”


External links[edit]

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