Social value and the conservation
of urban heritage places in Australia
* Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Architecture, Design and Planning
The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 43
Across the world, researchers and practitioners are recognising the potential of social
value to bolster the conservation of heritage places. Operating alongside aesthetic
and historic signiﬁcance, the integration of social value into conservation practice
seeks to enhance the assessment and management of cultural heritage by dissolving
divides between practitioners and communities. Australia has long been recognised as
a trailblazer in the development of social value due to its inclusion in the 1979 Burra
Charter, but social value’s adoption in identiﬁcation processes and its implementation
in practice has undergone various evolutions in the past four decades. Its current
meaning is far more disputed than either aesthetic or historic value. To provide stronger
foundations for ongoing examinations of social value, this article historicises notions of
social value in the Australian urban conservation context. It focuses on Melbourne and
draws on extensive heritage literature and urban history archival research to suggest
that social value was a tangential inclusion in the 1979 Burra Charter. It relates examples
of where social value has come to the fore in heritage practice, including Flinders Street
Station in the 1970s–80 and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the 1990s–2000s.
Social value has been reworked to meet changing urban and heritage priorities but has
never quite achieved its potential: placing people at the heart of conservation practice
and heritage places.
Safeguarding the relationship between people and place lies at the heart of heritage
conservation. To achieve this, critically-engaged researchers and practitioners are refreshing
their conceptions of cultural heritage signiﬁcance, supplementing traditional notions of
aesthetic and historic value with social value. Since the emergence of the modern conservation
movement in Europe in the nineteenth century, for a place to be deemed signiﬁcant enough for
retention, in part or whole, it has had to surpass implicit or explicit thresholds of signiﬁcance, as
assessed by practitioners, against broader principles and guidelines. Drawing on the postmodern
assumption that heritage is socially constituted and contingent rather than contained within
and intrinsic to place (and its historic fabric), social value has been increasingly championed by
researchers and practitioners as an additional threshold of signiﬁcance and linchpin of value.
The ambition of social value has been to embrace communities, people and their relationships
to and associations with heritage places as part of the conservation, identiﬁcation, analysis,
management and interpretation of heritage places. In the literature, social value has been
perceived as part of narrowing, or even eliminating, the divide between community and
place in conservation practice (Schoﬁeld 2014; Smith 2006). After all, theoretical distinctions
such as signiﬁcance, values and thresholds are of much more interest to practitioners than
the community at large, whose relationship to place might be characterised as ineffable,
variable and expansive, embracing aspects that are at once material (or physical), i.e. fabric and
intactness, and immaterial (or intangible), i.e. narratives and experiences (Lesh 2020).
The article explores the history of Australian urban heritage ideas, regimes and practices and,
speciﬁcally, interrogates social value by disentangling it from conventional and presentist
accounts of its development. It draws on original and extensive urban history archival research
to contribute a historical dimension to ongoing debates about the relationship between
conservation, people and place. The many studies, reports and regulations considered in
this article provide an important but incomplete perspective on social value, and so a range
of additional sources—including published and unpublished social, cultural and oral history
material—are utilised as part of this article’s methodology. The diversity of sources reﬂects how
conservation knowledge circulates within practitioner networks, often taking tacit rather than
codiﬁed forms. By interpreting the rich primary archival record of Australian urban history and
heritage management, this article’s critical approach to social value emerges.
This article examines the relationship between social value and heritage conservation in Australian
cities with a focus on the urban context of Melbourne. In 1990s Melbourne, particularly, crucial
social value ideas were formulated and tested, and so this city and its heritage places serve as
a useful case study to examine this broader phenomenon. Urban thinkers have also played a
signiﬁcant role in shaping how heritage researchers and practitioners have understood social
value during its various evolutions (Gregory 2009; Freestone 1995; Davison 1991a). Social
value has undergone three key periods of historical development. These correspond to its infant
stage in the 1950s–60s, its popular stage in the 1970s–80s, and its formalisation stage since
the 1990s. Intermingling micro case studies such as Flinders Street Station in the 1970s–80s and
the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the 1980s–90s, this article reveals how social value
has been understood and employed by practitioners, with each successive period building on
earlier developments. Each case study operates within the urban, architectural, planning and
conservation paradigms of the time period(s) when they were assessed and protected, and so
illustrates changing conceptions of heritage and value. The second section on the 1970s–80s
incorporates detailed analysis relating to the tangential inclusion of social value in the 1979
Burra Charter. Social value emerges as a particularly malleable heritage value.
Deﬁning social value
Places in cities are shaped by heritage conservation processes (Kalman 2014; Freestone 2010;
Pendlebury 2009; Larkham 1996). Architects, planners and policymakers negotiate elaborate
international, national, regional and municipal policy and legal environments around heritage.
The role of specialist heritage practitioners is to manage, identify, measure and narrate the
value of places in order to determine signiﬁcance and then guide conservation. In her study of
the World Heritage system (1972–2011), Finnish scholar Tanja Vahtikari (2017: 5) writes that
‘heritage may be seen as a continuous cultural process in which social and cultural meanings
and values are created, negotiated and transmitted’. Notions of value and cultural signiﬁcance
underpin heritage conservation (Torre 2013; Gibson and Pendlebury 2009; Ireland 2002a;
Avrami, Mason and Torre 2000). American historian Randall Mason (2002: 12) deﬁnes social
value through ‘social connections, networks and other relations…not necessarily related to
cultural historical values’ and ‘includes the “place attachment” aspects of heritage value’ within
its remit, namely ‘social cohesion, community identity, or other feelings of afﬁliation’ (cf. Manzo
and Devine-Wright 2014; Lewicka 2011).
In this article, social value refers to the conscious embrace of communities and their perspectives
by practitioners in the assessment and conservation of heritage places. Most optimistically,
social value is generated, constituted and identiﬁed for places by communities, and then
recorded and implemented by practitioners. It is a bottom-up people-focused aspect of
conservation practice, rather than a top-down expert-driven phenomenon. Despite changing
trends in local and international heritage management, this general approach to social value
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 45
has been evoked in the Australian context since at least the 1990s. However, these ideas have
a longer, contested past. From the 1970s, for instance, Anglo-American geographer David
Lowenthal (2015) deconstructed the historical and spatial contingencies of heritage and the
means and ways it has been valued and protected by societies. Subsequently, social historian
Raphael Samuel (1994) sought to democratise the idea of heritage for the UK context. Recently,
British archaeologist Siân Jones (2017: 93; S. Jones and Leech 2015) has found allusions to
social value in the conservation sphere from the nineteenth century, but notes it only ‘became
an explicit component of conservation policy and practice [in the twentieth century] coinciding
with increasing attention to broader, non-expert perceptions of heritage and the communal
values associated with these’.
The cultural heritage values of aesthetic and historical signiﬁcance had been addressed in
international heritage practice by the mid-twentieth century. In 1903, Austrian art historian Alois
Riegl (1996) stated modern societies think not of ‘deliberate’ monuments, but rather ‘artistic
and historical monuments’. Riegl demarcated ‘age’, ‘historical’, ‘deliberate commemorative’
and ‘newness’ values. A notion that heritage possessed values was carried into heritage
guidelines including the Athens Charter (1931) and Venice Charter (1964), the latter of which
also mentioned archaeological value. The relationship between urban space, monuments
and aesthetics, incorporating proto-notions of heritage value, was also theorised by Austrian
architect Camillo Sitte in City Planning According to Artistic Principles (1889) for the modern
town planning mode (Sitte 1965; cf. Sulman 1921: 18). Lists of heritage places prepared
during the 1940s–60s across Europe, North America and Australia typically emphasised the
architecture and history of the items listed (Glendinning 2013: 284–88; Lesh forthcoming).
The Australian Burra Charter—drafted in 1979, and revised in 1981, 1988, 1999 and 2013—
has been credited as both a symbolic and practical transition towards a more sophisticated
recognition of cultural heritage values, including social value. A key innovation of the Burra
Charter has been to rationalise the value-orientated approach to heritage, not only for social
value but also for aesthetic, historic, scientiﬁc and, in its subsequent revisions, spiritual values
(Hanna 2015; M. Walker 2014; Sullivan 1993). All cultural heritage values named in the Burra
Charter are to be treated equally. However, as explored below, this has rarely happened in
practice. Each revision of the Burra Charter has also offered increasingly precise deﬁnitions for
cultural heritage signiﬁcance. In 1988 this was by relating it to people, in 1999 to associations
and meanings, and in 2013 to change over time. Critics of the Burra Charter cite its complicity
in the ‘authorised heritage discourse’: a critical theory which posits the ways practitioner
expertise distances heritage from the communities to which it is said to belong (Smith 2006;
Waterton, Smith and Campbell 2006). A rigid interpretation of this theory would suggest the
genuine inclusion of social value in heritage management is not possible.
More practically, the Burra Charter’s philosophical similarities to the Venice Charter mean the
Burra Charter has difﬁculty embracing social value because it still over-emphasises historic
fabric. Critiques of the Venice Charter since the 1990s have suggested it was a modernist
document, translated into heritage practice in ways that assumed objective intrinsic value
in, and privileged tangible historic fabric at sites (Jokilehto 1999: 288–9; Glendinning 2013:
392ff.; Harrison 2013: 61, 98, 145). Contemporary conservation theory adopts a post–1980s
theorisation of social value which treats the tangible and intangible features of places as
embodying (within and beyond their fabric) a range of socially-constituted cultural heritage
values. In heritage practice, the various revisions of the Burra Charter have still not wholly done
away with the principle of inherency (Sullivan 2015; Byrne, Brayshaw and Ireland 2003: 55, 8):
the long-held assumption that the signiﬁcance of places and things naturally resides within,
rather than being given to, the heritage place and its historic fabric by societies over time. The
most-recent Australia ICOMOS (2017: 3) practice note on intangible cultural heritage implies
that not every place necessarily has an intangible component to its signiﬁcance, suggesting that
cultural heritage value can somehow be contained within the physical fabric of places.
Whether social value is more or less tangible or intangible than aesthetic or historical value,
along with the fact that the term ‘intangible values’ itself is a tautology, is a matter of ongoing
discussion (Smith and Campbell 2017; Kaufman 2013; Vecco 2010; Ahmad 2006; Spennemann
2006). Arguments have been made that social value has no material or tangible basis and can
only be found through contextual and social study of places. These debates engage not only
with the Burra Charter, but also with other inﬂuential conservation guidelines such as the
Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), San Antonio Declaration (2006), Faro Convention
(2005), and UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (2011). Ultimately,
this article operates on the assumption that social value is no more or less physical or related
to fabric than any other heritage value. Alongside other implicit and explicit heritage values,
social value, in its various guises, has operated in tangible and intangible ways across the period
examined in this article. It would be ahistorical to claim that heritage places have only recently
begun to possess social value. The considerations raised by social value have been present
within heritage practice in Australia since at least the immediate postwar period.
The inclusion of social value within the Burra Charter has been internationally recognised as
signiﬁcant for the global history of heritage management (Taylor 2018; Sonkoly 2017: 40;
Silberman 2015; Jerome 2014; Johnston 2014; Harrison 2013: 144–45; Jokilehto 1999: 289).
Across the world, understanding the theoretical and practical basis for social value has become
increasingly important as academics and practitioners have sought to better integrate social
value into heritage conservation processes (Mornement, Garduño-Freeman and Lovell 2018;
Historic England 2017: 9; Taylor 2016; Dümcke and Gnedovsky 2013; cf. Avrami, Mason and
Torre 2000: 9, 18). In the last decade alone, organisations ranging from Historic England, the
European Commission, US/ICOMOS, and the Heritage Council of Victoria have examined their
social value arrangements. The various reports and studies make reference to the Australian
genealogies of social value, but have not adequately accounted for the reasons why social value
ﬁrst appeared in the Burra Charter, nor the various evolutions that social value has undergone
in Australian heritage theory and practice since at least the 1970s. While Aboriginal cultural
heritage considerations might be assumed as the driver leading to the inclusion of social (and
later spiritual) value in the Burra Charter, empirical historical research has the potential to
complicate this conventional narrative, as this article does for the domain of urban heritage.
This article accepts that social value has been recognised in Australia for decades, but questions
and challenges the assumption that Australia has therefore led the world in the assessment,
implementation and conservation of social value. In 2001, heritage researchers Shaun Canning
and Dirk Spennemann (2001: 458) wrote, ‘Social value is perhaps the most misunderstood and
misused assessment criterion in the Australian cultural heritage management process’. That
same year, practitioners Chris Johnston and Kristal Buckley (2001) made a similar point that
public participation and social value were niche aspects of the conservation process. Almost two
decades later in 2018, heritage researcher Cristina Garduño-Freeman (2018: 48) maintains that
while ‘social value is acknowledged [in Australia], its use as a primary criterion for inscription is
still not commonplace’. Even with the many advancements in heritage management in recent
decades, conservation has not fully embraced social value. Ongoing endeavours to refresh
conservation to encompass experiential, affective and emotional aspects of place may well
have some potential to better address the challenges of social value (Madgin et. al. 2018;
DeSilvey 2017; Smith and Campbell 2015).
A key ambition for scholars and practitioners examining social value has been to develop more
robust approaches for its assessment and protection. That similar challenges related to the
implementation of social value are being experienced across the world suggests a contradiction
lies at the heart of discussions of the Burra Charter and Australian heritage management. Explicit
notions of social value have operated in Australia since at least the 1970s (Byrne, Brayshaw
and Ireland 2003: 4ff.; Pearson and Sullivan 1995: 16ff.; Marquis-Kyle and Walker 1992: 22;
Kerr 1985: 8ff.), yet local conservation processes retain similar structural issues around the
embrace of community perspectives as national contexts where social value has never formally
existed. This historical examination of the genealogies of social value has relevance for ongoing
scholarly and practitioner debates.
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 47
1950s–60s: frontiers of social value
Since the emergence of Australian twentieth-century modern town planning, heritage has
been tied to notions of community. The interwar Melbourne Metropolitan Town Planning
Commission report (1929: 267) identiﬁed the kinds of historical buildings that interested city
planners. It detailed ‘The Location of Prominent Buildings’, including the Houses of Parliament
and Treasury Building (Figure 1), along with the Public Library, Law Courts and Melbourne
Town Hall—which ‘if given proper setting, are deﬁnite expressions of community pride’.
These historical buildings certainly required retention for their aesthetic and historical reasons.
Planners also made explicit that these buildings had the potential to serve a civic and moral
purpose for the community (Davison 1991b: 17; Grifﬁths 1996: 195). Typically for the time,
there was no clear-cut distinction between aesthetic, historical or social values, but all three
values were implied within planning documents. Heritage was as much a past as a future
concern for the city and its people.
In the immediate postwar period, the National Trust movement led the way in the evaluation
of heritage places. Their self-appointed task was to raise a popular heritage consciousness by
advocating around heritage issues, identifying places for conservation, and building property
portfolios of historical places for the public to visit. For the Trusts, the Australian people were
both the audience for and the guardians of heritage. The Trusts led institutional heritage efforts
during this period, a unique feature of the Australian heritage landscape, as Melburnian and
heritage policymaker David Yencken explained in 1973. Returning from a study tour of Europe,
the UK, Canada and the US, Yencken (1973: 4) wrote that ‘No country used a body similar to
our National Trusts to carry out any of the listing or administrative processes’ of conservation—
although this would change following the Inquiry into the National Estate (1973–74) and the
raft of federal, state and local heritage legislation which followed over the next two decades.
The heritage tasks of advocacy and classiﬁcation intermingled for the state-based National
Trusts. Despite being organisations founded and operated by elites, the National Trusts had
a diverse range of interests (Witcomb and Gregory 2010: 15; Freestone 1999: 60; Davison
1991a: 17ff.). After the Victorian National Trust was established in Melbourne in 1956, its
nascent classiﬁcation processes were shared with the other National Trusts (Witcomb and
Gregory 2010: 90; Wyatt 2005: 53). The ﬁrst meeting of its ‘Sub-Committee of Survey and
Identiﬁcation’ was held in Melbourne on 16 December 1956. Its membership was formed
of architects, including academic David Saunders. Heritage was broadly orientated towards
Figure 1: Parliament House and Treasury Building, Melbourne, Postcard, Unknown Photographer, ca. 1900.
(State Library of Victoria, Pictures Collection, H2014.76/44.).
the community for the National Trusts, and particularly Saunders who also sought to build a
broader community consensus around conservation. The community could nominate places
for National Trust classiﬁcation, but there was no systematic consultation mechanism. Saunders
developed the classiﬁcation committee’s initial approach in 1959 around the guiding principles
of ‘beauty, age, representative of social history, representative of building history, and other
historical associations’ (Classiﬁcation Committee, 6 August 1959). In 1962, the process was
formalised around four values: ‘architectural’, ‘historical’, ‘social’ and ‘technological…which
must be represented when making decisions’ (Classiﬁcation Committee, 1 November 1962).
This expanded list of values represented an evolution to the earlier thinking of, for instance,
This explicit appearance of social value alongside aesthetic, historical and scientiﬁc values in
the early 1960s at the National Trusts demands further interrogation. The clearest indication of
what was intended by the term ‘social value’ comes through the deliberations of the committee
around speciﬁc places. A good example was proto-Edwardian Illawarra Mansion (1889–91) in
the exclusive inner-suburb of Toorak. Illawarra was a large and ostentatious mansion built for
land speculator Charles Henry James by builder G. B. Leith in 1889–91, during the ‘Marvellous
Melbourne’ period of rapid urban and economic growth that was soon followed by a sizeable
crash and depression. Illawarra came before the committee in 1966, and so was assessed
against the general principles laid down in 1962. Illawarra’s architectural, historical and social
value were recorded in meeting minutes.
Illawarra had ‘no particular merit in the aesthetic sense’, and its historical associations were
also deemed insigniﬁcant. It reached the signiﬁcance threshold based on its import as a ‘social
The most interesting aspect of the house lies in the fact that it records the ostentatious
display which typiﬁes the larger homes of this period…It is for this reason that the house
has been given a higher classiﬁcation than if it had been judged purely on aesthetic
grounds, or on the basis of historical signiﬁcance of the early owners or occupiers
(Classiﬁcation Committee, 24 February 1966).
In statements to the media, the National Trust said ‘The importance of Illawarra was as a “social
document of the boom era”’ and it was also the ‘ﬁrst time that a completely self-supporting
property had been given to a national trust [in Australia, sic]’ (‘Trust given old mansion’, Age 10
June 1966; Wright 1966; National Trust of Australia [Victoria] Archive 1966).
Illawarra was considered to possess social
rather than historical value due to the
traditional remit of historical inquiry and the
character of historical practice at this time.
Historical value was tied to older conceptions
of capital-h History that emphasised narratives
of nationhood and urban progress alongside
associations with notable and prominent
individuals who had contributed to that narra-
tive (Ireland 2002b: 199). Heritage places had
to unambiguously relate to this kind of past
to be historically (or aesthetically) signiﬁcant.
Public buildings and national monuments
were most likely to pass the test. Equally,
the historical value of heritage had to serve
a spiritual or didactic purpose in service of,
in the Australian context, the national, state,
or local community; as it did at the public
buildings identiﬁed in the 1930s by town
planners (Davison 1991b: 17; Grifﬁths 1996:
195). In contrast, the National Trust rendering
Figure 2: Illawarra House, Melbourne, Mark Strizic, Photograph,
1958. State Library of Victoria, Pictures Collection, H2008.11/357.
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 49
of social value was tied to emergent conceptions of social and urban history. This new historical
mode expanded the potential of history to embrace the study of exceptional and everyday lives
in urban space (Kelly 1984; Bongiorno 2015). These ideas were still too new and too radical to
be considered historical value, and so entered the realm of social value. Social value, therefore,
served this exciting frontier of historical inquiry and heritage practice. Illawarra reached the
classiﬁcation threshold because it demonstrated the social and economic life of the Marvellous
While the inﬂection of both historical and social value would change over subsequent decades,
the introduction of social history into heritage classiﬁcation had the intention to preserve
places, not on the basis of their being representative of the people, but rather for the people
themselves (Davison 1991b: 11). Historian Graeme Davison made this evocative argument in
1991 because he believed it was the imperative of heritage practitioners to work alongside the
community rather than on behalf of it (or, worse still, in service of the heritage practitioner’s
own esoteric interests). This idea conjures one of the truest senses of the idea of social value
and suggests an afﬁnity between historical and social value, even as the temporal basis of social
value shifted away from the past and towards the present by the close of the twentieth century.
In other words, 1950s–60s social value embodied social history, the remit of which would soon
be transferred into an expanded conception of historical value, as social history became a tenet
of capital-h History itself.
The most-recent 1999 statutory heritage listing for Illawarra no longer identiﬁes its social value.
Rather, it possesses ‘historical signiﬁcance for its association with the prominent land boom
ﬁgure Charles Henry James (1848-1898) and as a remnant manifestation of the land boom itself’
(Victorian Heritage Register 1999). It is also listed for its architectural and scientiﬁc signiﬁcance:
as a ﬂamboyant Victorian-era mansion; and for its wire wall construction, respectively. Heritage,
and its historical and aesthetic values, soon adopted more explicitly material and more explicitly
intrinsic meanings, leaving social value a prominent yet ill-deﬁned vessel ready for re-deﬁnition
into the 1970s.
1970s–80s: Australian Heritage Movement
Social value was next shaped by the Australian heritage movement, which operated from
the late 1960s and faded during the 1980s (Davison 1991a). The National Trusts, architects
and planners, politicians and policymakers, construction unions, resident action groups and
communities themselves demanded stronger statutory heritage measures and a new mode of
city building that prioritised people and conservation as part of urban development and change
(Howe, Nichols and Davison 2013). The 1970s heritage movement focused on nineteenth-
century historic environments in Australia’s capital city CBDs and inner suburbs. Heritage
advocacy served to democratise Australian conservation practice. At this moment, heritage
was perceived as being constituted by the people themselves—described in the Inquiry into the
National Estate (1974) as the ‘the things we want to keep’—and social value had the potential
to capture this sentiment.
The Inquiry into the National Estate instigated the formalisation of social value in Australian
heritage management. Initiated by the Whitlam Government in 1973 (Lesh 2019; Waterton
2018; Veale and Freestone 2012), the committee of inquiry examined four domains of heritage:
the built environment, the natural environment, Aboriginal sites and other special areas, and
cultural property. The National Trusts held some sway over proceedings. In addition to Yencken,
another committee member was businessman Reg Walker of the NSW National Trust. Walker
coordinated submissions from each of the state National Trusts (R. Walker 1973). Reﬂecting
the progressive spirit towards environmentalism of the era, the report’s conclusion was that:
‘The Australian Government has inherited a National Estate which has been downgraded,
disregarded and neglected’ (Report of the National Estate 1974: 334). The inquiry received over
650 submissions. Community sentiment and social history were terms used interchangeably in
many of these heritage submissions, suggesting some continuity with the earlier 1950s–60s
conception of social value and also hinting towards the future of the concept (Inquiry into the
National Estate, 1973–74, doc. 1973/453: 37a).
The crucial submission for social value was prepared by J. M. Freeland on behalf of the National
Trusts. Professor at the University of New South Wales (though he grew up in Melbourne),
Freeland was the leading Australian architectural historian of the period and published the ﬁrst
comprehensive scholarly history of Australian architecture in 1968. Prepared in 1972, and so
pre-dating the inquiry, Freeland’s submission contained an already-ratiﬁed report that he had
prepared for the Australian Council of National Trusts (a national umbrella body founded in
1965 and led by Walker). Freeland’s report (1972: 3, 6) recommended a set of uniform heritage
classiﬁcation criteria: ‘architectural, historical, cultural, social, scientiﬁc or environmental
signiﬁcance and importance which, taken by themselves, justify a classiﬁcation’; and, crucially,
continued that ‘public esteem and regional or local importance…are not sufﬁcient to justify
an assessment’. However general, Freeland’s conception of social value was explicitly expert-
driven rather than community formulated. Yet it was novel for the time and reﬂected the
democratic and progressive conceptions for heritage circulating in the 1970s.
Freeland was also aware of the extent to which municipal authorities had been unable to
address conservation, despite the desires of resident action groups and local communities.
Social value was a potential solution. Councils ordinarily lacked the power to prevent building
demolitions on social and economic grounds (incorporating community sentiment). In another
National Trust report about future heritage legislation in NSW (also provided to the national
estate inquiry), Freeland (1973: 7) cited an inﬂuential 1957 Sydney planning tribunal decision
to permit the demolition of houses for a petrol station, contrary to the desires of the Leichardt
community and council (Shell Co. of Australia v. Leichardt Municipal Council  1957). For
Freeland, incorporating social value into heritage and planning regulations could potentially
overcome this well-known legal precedent. In addition to federal and state heritage legislation,
the 1970s–80s introduction of conservation areas into urban planning eventually had this
effect (e.g., National Trust of Australia [NSW] 1977; National Trust of Australia [Victoria] 1980).
Community viewpoints became a deﬁning factor of social value. However, Freeland also wrote
that local distinction was not an adequate threshold for safeguarding a place.
The Federal Government adopted the Freeland or National Trust approach to social value (Inquiry
into the National Estate, 1973–74, docs. 1973/212, 1973/185). Since they had undertaken the
bulk of heritage classiﬁcations to date, it was in the National Trusts’ interest for the new national
criteria to align with their general approach. Among the recommendations of the inquiry
was the establishment of a statutory national agency for heritage. Following the November
1975 constitutional crisis and the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor-
General, the incoming Fraser Liberal Government ultimately re-committed to the Australian
Heritage Commission and the national estate: ‘To preserve areas and buildings of historical,
social, cultural, ecological or environment signiﬁcance’ (Australian Federal Government 1976:
700). The enabling federal legislation had the wording: ‘aesthetic, historic, scientiﬁc or social
signiﬁcance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community’
(Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975). Cultural heritage signiﬁcance guided the national
commission in its preparation of the Register of the National Estate, the national heritage
list, and its day-to-day activities including its grants and education programs. At the state
government level, notions of social value appeared in legislation after 1975, alongside the
traditional categories of historical and aesthetic associations (cf. Historic Buildings Act 1974
[Vic]; Heritage Act 1977 [NSW]).
The Australian Heritage Commission’s national estate grant programme supported the
establishment of Australia ICOMOS in 1976, and the subsequent preparation of the Burra
Charter in 1979 (Department of Home Affairs [Cth] 1980). In the process, social value was
extrapolated from the urban sphere to become part of the new uniﬁed and integrated
Australian heritage approach (Yencken 2011). Australia ICOMOS was tasked by the Australian
Heritage Commission to develop guidelines for the conservation of heritage places, both to
enhance conservation outcomes and to professionalise the heritage industry (Bourke 2004).
The guidelines took the form of the Burra Charter, drafted by working groups that among
others included built environment experts Miles Lewis and Jim Kerr. The 1979 Burra Charter
included the line: ‘Cultural signiﬁcance means aesthetic, historic, scientiﬁc or social value for
past, present or future generations’ (Burra Charter 1979).
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 51
Kerr provided an early interpretation of the Burra Charter in practice in The Conservation Plan:
A guide to the preparation of conservation plans for places of European cultural signiﬁcance.
Its ﬁrst edition of 1982 makes no mention of any categories of value or signiﬁcance. Its second
edition of 1985 through to its ﬁnal edition in 2013—which incorporated feedback from
Lewis—quoted the deﬁnition of cultural signiﬁcance provided in the Burra Charter. Kerr (1985:
8) explained that the source of these values were 1970s federal and state heritage legislation.
He even critiqued the existing categories of value, ‘recognising the inadequacy of the wording’,
and suggesting that ‘more precise categories [of value] may be developed as understanding of
a particular place increases’ (Kerr 1985: 8). Kerr’s observation suggests that even by the mid-
1980s, the streamlining of the identiﬁcation of cultural heritage signiﬁcance along the lines of
the Burra Charter’s four original values (aesthetic, historic, scientiﬁc and social) had not yet
been settled in Australian heritage practice.
From an urban heritage or built environment perspective, social value seems to be an
extraneous feature of the 1979 Burra Charter. Given the lack of detailed discussions around
social (or any other) cultural heritage values in the 1970s historical archive, it would appear that
the term ‘social value’ had been carbon-copied from organisation to organisation, report to
report, and document to document: drawn from National Trust heritage practice, brought into
the Commonwealth policy and legislative arena, and then inserted back into heritage practice
via ICOMOS and the Burra Charter. In other words, social value appeared in the 1979 Burra
Charter because its sponsor was the Australian Heritage Commission, which had social value
speciﬁed within its enabling legislation; due to the National Trusts and their role in the national
estate inquiry which recommended the aforementioned legislation. In addition, key players at
the Australian Heritage Commission—Yencken, Kerr and Max Bourke—were also intimately
involved in ICOMOS and guided the preparation of the Burra Charter.
With the many people involved pursuing a shared heritage vision, it was entirely logical for
the realms of Australian heritage ideas, regimes and practices to integrate a consistent and
normalised set of cultural heritage values. Primary aims of the 1979 Burra Charter included
producing a systematic process and uniform language for managing Australian heritage
places. Social value was part of this language and process, an input into a ﬂedging Australian
assemblage of heritage ideas and practices. For these reasons, recent academic critiques of
the Burra Charter and social value for being constitutive of an authorised mode of heritage
management have been cogent and inﬂuential (Smith 2006; Waterton, Smith and Campbell
2006; Harrison 2013).
The suggestion above that the inclusion of social value in the Burra Charter was extraneous
raises disciplinary tensions between the urban or built environment realm and other domains
of heritage such as archaeology. An aspiration of the national estate inquiry was to chart
an integrated and wholistic Australian philosophy for heritage. However, perceptions and
interpretations of social value and other foundations of Australian heritage management
have necessarily differed between, for instance, archaeologists traditionally concerned with
Indigenous artefacts and architects traditionally concerned with built environments (Lesh
2019). Despite a growing awareness in the 1960s–70s of the deep Indigenous past among
archaeologists (Grifﬁths 2019), there does not seem to be archival evidence to suggest a
direct relationship between Indigenous heritage and the initial inclusion of ‘social value’ in
the Burra Charter. Archaeologist John Mulvaney (2004)—who sat on the Australian Heritage
Commission and helped draft the Burra Charter—saw Aboriginal cultural heritage, then called
‘prehistoric’ heritage, as operating in a related yet separate realm to post-settlement ‘historic
heritage’, the latter of which was the original emphasis of the Burra Charter in the view of
Mulvaney, as well as Kerr and Lewis. Although ICOMOS was concerned with both ‘prehistoric
and historic heritage’ (Bourke et. al., 1983), these were two distinct domains of heritage, with
the values crossover primarily occurring through notions of ‘universal scientiﬁc value’ (Ireland
2002: 143, 175).
Australia’s two leading built environment heritage thinkers of the period never truly embraced
social value. Lewis (2011) said that there was ‘No logical reason’ for the speciﬁc values
identiﬁed in the Burra Charter: ‘We got saddled with trying to ﬁnd a meaning for scientiﬁc
and social signiﬁcance that otherwise would not have been in the Charter at all’ had the
Australian Heritage Commission not been involved. By dismissing scientiﬁc value, Lewis alludes
to the 1970s divide in the values approach adopted by architectural historians as compared
to archaeologists (as well as proponents of technological, scientiﬁc and industrial heritage).
His rejection of social value suggests his traditionalist tendencies; in this view, aesthetic and
historical signiﬁcance are the rightful categories of heritage value, certainly for architectural
heritage. Kerr’s discussion of social value in the 1985 edition of The Conservation Plan was the
ﬁrst prominent reﬂection among the drafters of the Burra Charter about the speciﬁc categories
of value in the Burra Charter and, even then, these categories were still not considered by Kerr
to be ﬁxed. The ﬁnal edition of Kerr’s The Conservation Plan (2013: 49) emphasises aesthetic
and historical values in its primary sections, and then includes ‘social value’ within the glossary
entry for a ‘sense of place’ (citing Chris Johnston).
Nevertheless, in practice, social value took on a speciﬁc meaning that drew from 1960s–70s
academic and professional thinking on the relationship between urbanism and society. In
1972, the Victorian State Government proposed the Flinders Gate project for Melbourne
(Urban Systems Corporation, Civil and Civic Pty. Ltd., and Meldon Properties Pty. Ltd. 1972).
This redevelopment project involved the demolition of Flinders Street Station, except for the
Flinders and Swanston Street entranceway arch façade which was to be retained (ﬁgure 3). A
train station had existed on the site since the 1850s and, after construction delays, the existing
Edwardian baroque building was completed in 1910. The main entrance to the station is
accessed by a ﬂight of steps, at the top of which is the iconic entranceway arch. Above the arch
is a horizontal series of analogue clocks, each indicating the departure time of the next train
on the city’s major suburban railway lines. This spot is a common meeting place. A newspaper
reported in 1936: ‘There is a practice well known to Melbournites [sic]—that of meeting “under
the clocks” at Flinders-street station’ (Age 26 December 1936: 10; Davison 1993: 62).
Threatened by demolition in 1972, the station came before the Victorian National Trust
classiﬁcation committee, which at this time included Lewis as a member. Over many meetings,
the National Trust committee debated the listing of Flinders Street Station because it was a
twentieth-century building (so perceived as too new) and also an ‘architectural monstrosity…
the least scholarly of all public buildings in Melbourne’ (Classiﬁcation Committee, 20 July 1972,
18 August 1972). The Edwardian Baroque was out of favour among the modern architects on
the committee. After some discussion, it was ultimately classiﬁed as a ‘Melbourne landmark
important for its position in the history of the railway systems, its social signiﬁcance and as
Figure 3: City trafﬁc at Flinders and Swanston Streets intersection, Melbourne.
Rennie Ellis / Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria.
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 53
a competition-winning design of its day’ (Classiﬁcation Committee, 18 August 1972). The
committee later clariﬁed that the station held social value ‘as a major focal point of Melbourne’s
city life in the early 20th century’ with ‘the “Clocks! section [sic] inextricably bound to the social
fabric of Melbourne and Victoria’, while acknowledging it as ‘perhaps not aesthetically pleasing
to some, but still evocative as the prime identifying symbol of Melbourne [emphasis in original]’
(National Trust of Australia [Victoria] Archive 1978). Despite a metropolitan newspaper thinking
this a ‘strange’ decision (Herald 20 November 1972), the station survived after the public outcry,
and also thanks to the economic shocks and reduction in urban investment and development
following the end of the postwar Long Boom and the next year’s Oil Crisis.
The debate around Flinders Street Station—which continued even after its classiﬁcation—
suggested it had low aesthetic value, mid-to-high historical value and high social value. In
the early 1980s, social value was explicitly deﬁned by a National Trust Working Group on
Classiﬁcation and Citation Policy (1983–84), which included Miles Lewis and Chris Johnston
as members. The working group recorded that social value 'embraces the qualities by which
a place has become a cultural landmark: a part of the community consciousness or a well-
established focus of political, national or other cultural sentiment. It does not take account
of more ephemeral contemporary associations'. This deﬁnition for social value was consistent
with the Flinders Street Station classiﬁcation deliberations of the previous decade. In this
conception, social value materialised through everyday social practices of the public or urban
community over an extended time horizon. A perception existed that the passage of time was
necessary for an (ostensibly) objective canon of heritage places demanding conservation to
formulate (though brand-new buildings were listed in Melbourne in the 1980s, including the
Arts Centre complex). It had been other members of the classiﬁcation committee in 1972,
particularly the historians, who had identiﬁed the station’s social value in a way that would later
resonate in heritage practice in the 1980s and 1990s.
The notion of social value employed in the 1970s–80s resembled Kevin Lynch’s deﬁnition of
‘landmarks’ in The Image of the City (1960). Lynch (1960: 78ff) argued that landmarks were a
physical aspect of the urban environment which contributed to a city’s legibility in the mental
maps of its inhabitants. Similarly, historian Andrew May (1993: 35) argued that the Flinders
Street intersection with its surrounding landmarks—St. Paul’s Cathedral, Young and Jackson’s
Hotel and the Station—produced a ‘pre-eminent sacred and secular ground, reinforcing the
special prominence of the place in the mental cartography of Melburnians’ from at least the
turn of the twentieth century. Social value had been deﬁned in terms of community familiarity,
established esteem and public adoration as formalised over time. Social value possessed at once
historical, sociological and geographical impulses. Drawing on the 1972 National Trust listing,
Flinders Street Station was state heritage listed in 1982, and the current citation expresses that:
The Flinders Street Railway Station Complex is socially signiﬁcant [and] has a treasured
place in the consciousness of many of the city’s inhabitants, and the steps under the
clocks at the entrance of the main station building have been a popular meeting place
for generations of Melburnians (Victorian Heritage Register 2015).
1990s–2000s: social value deﬁned
‘What is Social Value?’ asked Chris Johnston (1992) in her inﬂuential report for the Australian
Heritage Commission. Johnston had provided an answer some eight years earlier as a consultant
on the Victorian State Government Heritage Plan (1984): ‘Social value embraces the qualities
through which a place has become a cultural landmark, a part of community consciousness
or a well-established focus of political, national or other cultural sentiment’ (Victoria National
Estate Committee 1984: 6). Reﬂecting the circulation of heritage ideas in Melbourne, this
deﬁnition for social value, indeed, mirrored that which had been collaboratively developed by
the National Trust's conservation policy working group. However, Johnston did not add that
social value emerges over time. Rather, she suggested the possibility for consultation with
existing community groups to assess social value for the present. Referencing the national
estate, and simultaneously identifying a political basis for social value, Johnston then went a
step further. She drew on Yencken’s ﬁnal major
report as Chairman of the Australian Heritage
Commission (1982: 19): ‘Lying behind all action
to identify, conserve, and explain the National
Estate there must be clear social objectives‘.
The response of the Victorian National Trust
to the draft Victorian Heritage Plan provided
a social objective: ‘Heritage conservation is not
for one group only in our community—it is for
young and old, recent migrants, the disabled,
rich and poor’ (National Trust of Australia
[Victoria] 1984: 8). For Johnston, Yencken
and the National Trust, heritage was politically
progressive and inherently social, an activity
for people and communities. These ideas were
again expressed in Johnston’s well-known
In the 1980s, heritage conservation underwent
a transition from popular social movement to
its incorporation into day-to-day urban policy
and planning (cf. Pendlebury 2009, chap.
5). Davison (1991a: 26) wrote, ‘Many of the
voluntary activists and enthusiasts of the late
1960s and 1970s became the professional
consultants, managers and planners of the
1980s [and 1990s]’. Alongside the growth of
conservation architecture and planning, the raft
of new heritage regulations of the 1970s–80s contributed to the rationalisation of conservation
processes (Yelland 1991; Boer and Wiffen 2005). In the 1980s context, heritage lost its political
urgency. The response of practitioners such as Johnston was to posit a fresh political agenda
for heritage via social value. Idealistically, Johnston suggested in What is social value? (1992:
25) that tempering urban development might be a positive social objective, in order to re-assert
the community dimension into heritage management.
Heritage thinkers were seeking to re-ignite the political agency of heritage and re-engage with
communities. The deﬁnitions of both historical and social value were simultaneously examined.
A 1988 report by Sydney heritage planner Helen Proudfoot (1988: 44) for the Australian Heritage
Commission on historical signiﬁcance explicitly stated that ‘social associations’—the national
estate register’s closest criteria to social value—necessarily had a strong historical component.
Historians Chris McConville and Davison published A Heritage Handbook in 1991 to put the
safeguarding of social and historical complexity on an equal footing with fabric retention in
heritage management. In Melbourne, Davison, as Chairman of the Heritage Council of Victoria
(1983–86), had considerable inﬂuence on redeﬁning historical value, while Johnston was a key
thinker and proponent of social value. Johnston drew on intellectuals and writers such as Kevin
Lynch, Jane Jacobs, Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Relph, David Lowenthal and Dolores Hayden. Social
value became about ‘community’, ‘attachment’, ‘sense of place’ and ‘conﬂict’, and a number
of workshops, papers and studies across Australia furthered the idea for conservation practice
(Blair 1994; Pearson and Sullivan 1995: 153ff.; M. Walker and Debono 1998). This was a fresh
multi-disciplinary approach for conceptualising the relationship between people and place,
community and heritage.
Heritage practitioners engaged with social value in the 1990s. A 1991 amendment to Victoria’s
heritage legislation identiﬁed that the Heritage Council was to assess ‘aesthetic, scientiﬁc,
architectural, historic or social value of the building’ in its decision making (Historic Buildings
[Further Amendment]) Act 1991 [Vic], s 7[3)]. The new Heritage Act 1995 (Vic) explicated
‘social or cultural associations’ as criteria for the Victorian State Heritage Register (s 9). This
Figure 4: Book cover, ‘What is Social Value?’ by Chris Johnston
(Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra 1994),
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 55
formed the basis for present-day Victorian Heritage Council (2014) Criterion G. As a consultant,
Johnston and her ﬁrm Context built a reputation from the early 1990s for specialisation in social
value as part of the preparation of heritage reports, particularly for municipal authorities (Clinch
2012: 158, 227). Rather than experts identifying signiﬁcance exclusively from tacit knowledge
and archival research, the best-practice approach was for practitioners to work alongside the
community via formal consultation and engagement protocols to identify what was valuable
Approaches to conservation and social value shifted in the 1990s and the MCG is an exemplar.
The National Trust (1984–91) ﬁrst attempted to have the MCG added to the state register in
the 1980s when the sporting museum was built in 1984, and again when the Great Southern
Stand was developed towards the end of the decade. These moves were resisted by the MCG
Trust and the State Government on the assumption that a state listing would prevent the
redevelopment of the site. Unlike in the 1980s, the MCG found a place in the state register
in 2001. Informed by a conservation study prepared as part of the MCG’s Commonwealth
Games (2006) redevelopment (Victorian Heritage Register 2001; Allom Lovell & Associates and
Raworth 2000), social value contributed to the argument for the MCG’s signiﬁcance. The State
Government and MCG Trust agreed that ‘the matches and public not the buildings’ made the
stadium important (Sunday Age 24 December 2000: 3). After consulting Melbourne Cricket
Club members, the members’ stand (1927) was demolished (Figure 5) to make way for new
grandstands. One of the grandstands incorporated the reconstructed historic Long Room, the
members’ dining room. Writer Keith Dunstan declared that ‘The Melbourne Cricket ground has
a long history of being fairly ruthless with its old clubhouses’ (Sunday Age 24 December 2000:
3). With its long linage of continuous redevelopment, the MCG was conserved in ways that
captured its evolving heritage signiﬁcance as it was understood at the time.
In both theory and practice, social value in the 1990s transformed from being effectively a
derivative of historical value (as had been the case since the 1950s–60s) to being deﬁned,
explored and realised in its own right. Social value was tied to notions of community and
Figure 5: Ian Harrison Hill, ‘Demolition of Members' Stand [Melbourne Cricket Ground]’, Photograph, 2004.
Source: State Library of Victoria, Pictures Collection, H2004.24/4.
place attachment. To reveal social value required engagement with the community or, more
straightforwardly, for a place to be threatened by redevelopment (T. Jones, Mozaffari and
Jasper 2017). A difﬁculty in assessing social value was the suspicion of community and local
knowledge in conservation circles (Tonkin 2009, in Clinch 2012: 263). Additionally, Davison
(2000: 129) questioned whether the beneﬁts of creating a rationalised means of assessing
social value might be outweighed by the added burden and complexity within the conservation
system, while also asking whether practitioners were sufﬁciently qualiﬁed to assess social value.
A related issue was the lack of a systematic way to negotiate community sentiment when it
emerged only after the proposed redevelopment of a place (an issue with continuity to the
1970s heritage movement). Conservation becomes equally concerned with the past and future
of places, a doing away with notions that social value had to explicitly emerge over time.
Conclusion (2010s–): back to the future of social value
Since the immediate postwar period, social value has come a long way. Its infant stage
occurred in the 1950s–60s and involved the National Trusts. At this time, social value and
social history were treated interchangeably, securing the listing of the Illawarra mansion in
Melbourne in 1966. Social value’s second stage, the 1970s–80s, intersected with the Australian
heritage movement. The popular support for conservation combined with existing National
Trust procedures contributed to social value entering the Inquiry into the National Estate and
becoming a pillar of Australian heritage management. The Burra Charter incorporated social
value and disseminated the concept across Australia and the world. Social value became more
nebulous and related to inferred urban knowledge. It was reconstituted by leading heritage
researchers and practitioners to serve the mental maps of city inhabitants and their local
landmarks, such as Flinders Street Station. Australia had pioneered a speciﬁc kind of cultural
heritage approach as part of which social value, broadly, had a role to play.
From the 1990s, social value took on many of the associations for which it is now known:
explicitly community orientated, about people deﬁning their own heritage through formal
community engagement, and overtly addressing the qualities of place including but not limited
to historic fabric. An emergent generation of practitioners gave it a fresh impetus as part of a
renewed political mission for conservation. Social value came of age as a recognised aspect
of the conservation process, appropriate for iconic heritage places such as the MCG, within
the array of possibilities towards achieving enhanced conservation outcomes. Social value
proposed a means by which places could be meaningfully safeguarded in ways that were not
necessarily directly tied to physical fabric. Despite the frequent allusions to the 1979 Burra
Charter in the international scholarship on social value, this third stage of development in
the 1990s has actually had the strongest inﬂuence on global heritage practice. As at Flinders
Street Station and the MCG, social value tended to be presented in ways that emphasised its
apparent immateriality, at least more so than aesthetic or historic values. Such an assumption
was problematic, since there was nothing more or less material or immaterial, tangible or
intangible about social value than any other heritage value (Smith and Campbell 2017). Social
value has been wrongly perceived as a lesser heritage value, perhaps because it is challenging
to conserve through dominant heritage processes (which work best for historic fabric).
Reviewing half a century of Australian heritage ideas, regimes and practices, social value
appears where elements of heritage places that did not quite ﬁt within other categories of
cultural signiﬁcance have been assessed. Ultimately, social value may simply reproduce the
same underlying tensions of other aspects of the conservation process; the authorised heritage
discourse being so hegemonic as to make social value ineffective. More optimistically, social
value could have the political potential to be an aspect of peoples’ claiming of the right to
heritage in the city (Herzfeld 2015; Lefebvre 1996: 147ff.). Heritage has been an instrumental
force in cities, and so the intensiﬁcation of its political and social urgency could generate better
conservation outcomes by continuously re-orientating heritage practice towards communities
(Page: 2016). In order to fully realise its potential for conservation, social value demands
ongoing critical and historical interrogation.
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT | VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 - 2019 57
The author thanks Professor Rebecca Madgin and Professor Andrew May for their constructive
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