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Burra Charter @ 40!

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30th August 2019
South Australia celebrated the 40th year of the Burra Charter at the home of the Charter, Burra, on Friday 30 August, 2019. Burra is located 170 km north of Adelaide, on the land of the traditional owners, the Nadjuree People. Over 130 people from the community and profession joined the lively discussion on the night, sharing thoughts, wine and cheese. The event was organised by Australia ICOMOS, Heritage South Australia and the District Council of Goyder and comprised a panel discussion, with questions from the floor.

Burra Charter @ 40 – Burra and the future

Panellists included:

  • Dr Jane Lennon, AM, ICOMOS Hon., who was present at the 1979 Burra Charter in 1979
  • David Stevenson, Chief Executive Officer, Regional Council of Goyder
  • Marcus Rolfe, current member, South Australian Heritage Council
  • Stephen Schrapel, Swanbury Penglase Architects, author of the 2019 Burra Conservation Management Plan
  • Margaret Heathcote, State Heritage Adviser and Architect, Heritage South Australia
  • Barry Wright, National Trust, Burra branch.
  • Shannon and Ryan, Architecture Masters students, University of SA

Jane Lennon commenced proceedings, offering her reflections on the momentous night of 18th August, 1979, when the Burra Charter was born.  The meeting involved, “a two hour discussion of the ‘Australian-Venice Charter Revision.’ It continued after dinner at the Kooringa Hotel. The meeting, fuelled largely by Southwark or West End beer, rather than chardonnay or pinot, had some passionate presentations on minor discrepancies in the Charter.  For those who witnessed considerable disputes between Doctors Miles Lewis and Jim Kerr on the meanings of “restoration”, “reconstruction” and “adaptation” it was a long afternoon and night. About 10pm I left with some others to play pool against a local team at the hotel. Next morning the chairman announced that agreement had been reached subject to a revision in one year…the rest is history! …. when time came to finally give this document a name it was suggested first it be called the Burra Burra Charter Charter! Burra was deliberately chosen as the place to ratify the Charter because it was seen as everything that the genteel European renaissance city of Venice was not.” The Burra Charter was developed to provide a new, Australia focused, best practice approach to heritage conservation. Jane then reflected on the ‘Australianness’ of the Charter – its understanding of ‘place’, its inclusivity, adaptability and its ongoing importance to cultural heritage management in Australia and the wider world.

The Burra Charter process was based on a clear understanding of heritage value, developed through a structured, sequential conservation process involving identification, assessment, policy and implementation of recommendations. The process was intended to be transparent, available to all and supported by a series of guidelines and illustrated examples of application.

Jane reflected that after 40 years, the Burra Charter principles are still valid, but could further evolve to include the recognition of the continuing cultural values of Australia’s First Nations peoples, the impact of Climate Change and also the complexities of urban conservation in today’s growing cities. Further, it could be more accessible, the language more relevant and it could be used by some more earnestly, rather than cursorily. Internationally, the Burra Charter also has a role in the current ‘nature-culture journey’ debate.

David Stevenson, CEO of Regional Council of Goyder, reflected on the impact and value of heritage to the community. While statutory processes were required to manage change, Council and government continue to work with the community to manage outcomes, to retain heritage character and maximise its economic benefit to Burra. Burra’s future is built on heritage opportunities. If the passion is there to reuse heritage buildings, Council is supportive and can assist, to encourage economic development and regional growth. The proposed ’East meets West Centre for Renewal Excellence’ project reflects these ideals. To the east, heritage is retained. To the west, a renewable industry is growing to power the district and State, feeding the economy and supporting heritage tourism growth. Direct support from these Renewables will enable realisation of many heritage related projects.

The Burra Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Swanbury Penglase Architects, was recently commissioned following the inscription of the Cornish Mining Site of Burra on the National Heritage Place. Steven Schrapel summarised the purpose and outcomes of the Plan, which was prepared on Burra Charter principles. The Plan will be a valuable management tool in the ongoing conservation and development of the town of Burra. The future potential of World Heritage listing is also enhanced by this document.

Margaret Heathcote, Heritage South Australia’s advisor to Burra reminded the audience of the key Burra Charter Article 3.1, to ‘change as much as necessary, but as little as possible’. This simple, practical approach ensures heritage places can be adapted to new needs, but without loss of important features. Good outcomes in Burra are achieved through a collaborative, flexible approach, balancing heritage, good design and economic sustainability.

Barry Wright, Chair of the Burra branch of the National Trust summarised the history of the Burra Passport tourism strategy, which is a self-guided, key accessible, tourist experience. The Trust manages a mix of heritage sites around the town and is an active community group.

Shannon and Ryan provided a fresh perspective as architecture students undertaking a design project within the ruins of Hampton Village, Burra. It was noted that ruined buildings could be left as artefacts, or be renewed through sensitive design solutions to ensure ongoing maintenance and conservation of heritage fabric.

The community then joined the discussion, noting:

Explanation of the purpose and content of the Burra Charter was appreciated by the community – who now understand what it means and how it can be used. Is it flexible, adaptable? Jane confirmed that yes – been amended 4 times in 40 years and needs to grow with issues such as Climate Change and economic development.

What is the capacity of Burra for tourist growth? Can Burra sustain its heritage values and is it robust enough if it were to become a World Heritage Site? Council understands that growth can be managed and supported through enablement of the community to grow economically and to use future use policy within the Burra Conservation Management Plan as a guide to sustainable growth.

It was noted that there are many farm ruins in the district. How can statutory processes be changed to allow these ruins to be conserved and reused into the future. Council is examining this problem – many ruins could be saved if roofs were reinstated/ not lost. Planning policy also needs to be addressed and this is achievable. Subdivision, rates rebates or covenants are all options as well.

Funding is always a problem for community groups who wish to restore heritage places. The UK has a Heritage Lottery scheme, can SA also consider this? The Heritage SA Manager responded, noting that several funding options were currently being explored by the SA Heritage Council. A lottery scheme was one of those options.

The Burra community is actively behind the heritage value of the town and has been instrumental in the success of the place – restoring properties and caring for streetscapes.

David Saunders, one of the early members of ICOMOS and instrumental in the establishment of the Burra Charter, was passionate about the industrial heritage of Burra. An architect in the audience reflected on David’s passion, his research in Burra and noted that Burra was a better place for David’s early interest and support.  Jane was asked to reflect on what David might wish the Charter addressed today. Jane felt David would have been concerned about addressing the appropriate adaptive reuse of heritage places.

Jane reflected on the cultural landscape values of the town – the way the town is nestled in the creek valley, surrounded by mines under hills. It is a unique view of particular heritage value.

One audience member noted the valuable role of volunteers in heritage management. Volunteers allow heritage places to be restored and opened for appreciation. Their actions ensure heritage is an important part of a community’s values. Governments don’t recognise this when funding is cut to heritage place management.

The architecture students on the panel were asked – what have they learnt about heritage, through their  design project in Burra?  

Both noted that they now have a greater appreciation of place and locale. Heritage values can inform design decisions and can enrich design solutions. There are also lessons to be learnt through the understanding of early settlement dwellings and construction techniques – such as passive environmental design, use of resources, use of local materials and innovation.

The students were further asked to comment on the future of heritage. Both noted that history taught us all lessons, so was valuable. Otherwise, we can’t move forward with architectural innovation. History is a rich way of engaging with the exploration of new ways of living.

Jane Lennon confirmed that community engagement is important – they allow you to experience and understand a place through a fresh lens.

An audience member congratulated UniSA for the architectural program in Burra, allowing students to engage with the unique history of the place.

David Stevenson noted that ‘thinking differently’ helps to engage future generations. UniSA’s Vernadoc program, or a traditional trades training centre – all located in Burra, will give new generations a fresh exposure to the values of cultural heritage.

Michael Queale, Senior Heritage Conservation Architect