Cultural Heritage on the Move: Significance and Meaning.
Simpson, Cheryl Ann
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This article appears in a special issue of 'Law in Context', entitled "Law and Cultural Heritage", edited by Martin Chanock and Cheryl Simpson. As Australians' 'cultural cringe' has diminished in recent years there has been a developing interest in 'things' Australian. This interest is reflected in those laws which seek to preserve Australian culture. In particular indigenous heritage has been the focus of much protective legislation for it is thought to be distinctly Australian. The natural landscape too has actively been promoted and connected with an Australian identity and this is also apparent in laws which preserve the environment. Debate about what properly depicts 'Australia' indicate that while there may be much consensus as to the need for legislation to protect both the built and natural environments there are many different interpretations of the concepts which are key elements of the legislation, viz, 'heritage' and 'culture'. These terms are vague and subjective and may well shift in meaning when applied to different aspects of 'the things we wish to save'. The cultural heritage of immovable things, buildings or sites may be read or interpreted differently to that of movable cultural objects such as aircraft or a painting. This article examines the problematic nature of these concepts in the light of new legislation which protects cultural heritage objects, namely the "Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (Cth)". The article will focus on non-indigenous 'cultural heritage' objects as determined by this legislation in an attempt to see if these protected objects provide any meaning for a national identity. Under the Act certain cultural property will not be allowed to be exported from the country. The Minister makes the final decision on these matters. Where there is a dispute over the Minister's decision the matter may be appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. To date there have been a small number of these cases which have come before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review. It is these cases which will be examined.