Healthy Cultures: Healthy Communities – a multi-disciplinary approach to heritage and well-being

Cover Image courtesy:  Tantrum Youth Arts  –   ‘Stories in Our Steps’ performed in 2015 (about Newcastle Industrial Girls’ School 1867-71)

NEW AND EMERGING CHALLENGES TO HERITAGE AND WELL-BEING ~ a one day conference at Griffith University QLD ~ November 23, 2016

This paper spoke about the UON’s Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative (HHI), and the multidisciplinary model in which this group operates.  The model is useful in promoting history and heritage of the Hunter Region. In 2016 the Australian Heritage Discourse (AHD) has evolved to a point where health and well-being are being recognised as outcomes of engaging with cultural heritage.  Many of the HHI projects align with the current AHD – the multidisciplinary model becoming embedded in UON structure with planning underway to have cultural heritage practicums for students and Indigenous cadets in Cultural Collection, Auchmuty Library in 2017.

There has been a broadening of the definition of ‘heritage’ in the 21st Century, bringing players from other professions and backgrounds into heritage discussions. This has also meant a more broad range of heritage practices and outcomes- including associations with well-being. The broadening of the definition of ‘heritage’ has seen interventions shift from a centralised position (often state bodies) to a local level, and away from a focus on government authorities and ‘heritage experts’ – to more community participation – enabling heritage discussions to occur earlier in planning processes.

It is important that communities have the opportunity to embrace heritage because those who connect and value cultural heritage enjoy more social benefits than communities that do not value heritage.

HHI projects have evolved in a way that may appear unplanned, however many projects have been guided by issues raised by the community- very much on a needs basis.  Members come from a variety of backgrounds, eg. history, engineering, geology, surveying, archaeology and creative arts, education, digital/ IT.  Representatives from Aboriginal communities, LGBT communities, as well as corporations and government departments. Each person brings their own expertise and knowledge.  The multi-disciplinary model supports diversity and is inclusive, and this broad application of heritage also aligning with environmental, cultural and GLAM sectors.

Over 5,000 Aboriginal artefacts were recovered during 2011, representing three Aboriginal occupation periods dating from 6,716-6,502 years and identified as a site of ‘high to exceptional cultural and scientific significance’. A motion was passed in the NSW’s Upper House to review Aboriginal Heritage Protection in NSW.  Many people (particularly young people) now know of the Aboriginal significance of the site, thanks to co-operation between the owners and others involved in making historical/archaeological reports available. UON’s Cultural Collections are caretakers of the Aboriginal artefacts found at the former Palais site.

There is a growing area of research acknowledging the benefits cultural heritage has on physical and mental well-being, and supports the connections between culture and well-being – and the environmental,  socio-economic benefits that stem from this.

So if we are talking about cultural wellness, are there jobs in this area?


  • LOCAL COLLABORATIONS- Encourage direct access and engagement with heritage projects at a local level
  • HERITAGE RESEARCH – Outcomes of cultural heritage projects can provide positive benefits – socially, emotionally, culturally and economically
  • JOB CREATION is paramount & educational facilities such as Universities can play a vital role in promoting pathways to knowledge and practical skills in cultural heritage (conservation, digitisation, curatorial and storytelling etc), and eg. of GLAM sector training
  • UNDERSTANDING INDIGENOUS CULTURE- We need to comprehend history and origins of Indigenous culture – Dreamtime stories – sustainability
  • BE CREATIVE – look for new opportunities for cultural programs/projects that better connect people with their culture – keeping communities well
  • HEALTHY HERITAGE PLANNING – Consider cultural heritage in the context of health – represented in social or public policy and away from ‘planning’
  • UNIQUE to Australia is the significant Indigenous heritage, we must listen and learn from the Indigenous perspectives for a sustainable future

Ann Hardy
Hunter Living Histories Co-ordinator

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