The ways that the past impacts the Australian city in the present, sparking the historical consciousness of its residents and rulers alike, has its own social history. No doubt this history is tied to nineteenth-century Britain, the National Trusts and other voluntary organisations, and the farsighted local figures that drew attention to aspects of the Australian city. This accepted narrative is, however, inadequate for Australia today, where urban heritage has its own distinguishable twentieth-century history. This paper contends that Australian urban heritage—an iconic idea—has a complex history that demands further investigation, and that a fresh perspective might be achieved through considerations of scale.
This paper shows how the Inquiry into the National Estate—initiated by the Whitlam Government in 1973—was a national moment that spurred local communities, professional organisations, universities and governments to take heritage action. It examines submissions to the inquiry from Brisbane and the Gold Coast that were concerned about cities and the built environment. In doing so, this paper identifies the desires and motivations of the various people and organisations in having particular places entered into the national estate. It also investigates the uneven ways this inquiry dealt with these submissions as part of their deliberations. For the Australian city, the inquiry may have contributed further momentum to emergent local heritage movements, and yet certain conceptions of what might be called ‘respectable heritage’ ultimately dominated proceedings. These submissions at once shaped the future local and national boundaries of the national estate and in turn urban heritage.