Heritage preservation, urban transformation and everyday life in the twentieth-century Australian city.

James Lesh : PhD Completion seminar

10 am. Thursday 14 June 2018, 363 Arts West , University of Melbourne

This thesis offers a fresh global urban history of the Australian city, its heritage places, and the preservationists who shaped those places. Twentieth-century Australian urban preservationists – such as architects and planners, heritage consultants and regulators, boosters and policymakers, and activists and everyday people – valued and sought to safeguard many kinds of urban landscapes, comprising buildings, streets, precincts and suburbs and invoking communities, histories, memories and stories. From at least the 1900s, alongside shifts in Britain, Europe and North America, the primary motivations for preserving urban heritage – including aesthetics, design, history, boosterism and reform, forming identity and community – resonated in Australia’s modernising cities. Particularly in capital cities, the postwar period (1940s–60s) and the unbridled pursuit of modern urbanism marked a turning point for preservation. Despite the tendency of city-shapers to erase existing urban environments at this time, Australians embraced their heritage places through tourism and in popular culture. Preservationists also established the structures and groups that drove the 1960s–80s transnational ‘heroic period of conservation’ and the illustrious Australian heritage movement. A watershed was the Whitlam Government’s Inquiry into the National Estate (1973–74), which produced an Australian conception for heritage as progressive, democratic, interventionist and unified. Heritage regimes and their principles were refigured, but contrary to the activists’ demands, preservation never triumphed over other urban priorities. In the 1980s–90s, nevertheless, heritage was strikingly integrated into Australian CBDs and suburbs and their social processes and built forms, exemplified by gentrification and postmodern skyscrapers. Employing rich social history sources and drawing on the insights of urban and heritages studies, this thesis argues that across the twentieth-century Australian city, urban and heritage space was co-constitutive, relational and entangled. Heritage preservation becomes an integral urban historical process with the potential to enhance cities, places and urban life.

 

Image: Report of the National Estate. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1974, p. 222.

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