Selective Consciousness: Re-crossing Heritage Narratives

Loneragan, John

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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The Burra Charter: the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance has evolved with a broadening of definitions, scope and acknowledgement of multiple values since first adopted in 1979. Accepted normative cultural heritage practices have been called into question in recent years, especially in places where settler colonial settlement occurred. These advances have unsettled previously accepted relationships between place, heritage fabric and community. This paper re-investigates the former Burns, Philp & Co Ltd Offices and Warehouse (1895) in the North Queensland regional centre of Townsville. It was identified in 1975 as a landmark and is at an important intersection of heritage buildings. The change from a hastily erected frontier settlement to a town confident in its future and place in the region is illustrated in this building.

The research found that the narratives underlying the cultural significance were incomplete and disconnected. This place was intrinsically linked with the foundation of Townsville and its early development as a port. Hence, it also symbolises the crossing of settler colonial and First Nations peoples’ cultures. It was also evident that the relationship between ongoing commercial needs and the cultural significance of the place were unsettled due to the selective consciousness evident in the narratives. Re-crossing these narratives within the context of contemporary practice provides a framework to inform ongoing change. This is essential for a commercial use that is required to adapt to commercial reality while also responding to heritage constraints. The focus of the paper is then the underlying narratives rather than their possible interpretation. This study is timely in the case of the Burns Philp Building as new owners contemplate further change after a period of decline and Townsville City Council is rapidly constructing the East End boardwalk across the site.