Australia's heritage draws on its cultural and natural environments and the history of its people. It encompasses all the things that are significant to Australians which have survived from the past.
Cultural heritage includes historic places of significance, such as: old towns and residential and commercial buildings; Indigenous ceremonial grounds and rock art galleries; shipwrecks and streetscapes; as well as paintings, objects, books, aircraft and natural history specimens. Increasingly what was formerly intangible, such as traditions, customs and habits, is being recorded and documented in photographs, films, tapes and digital records.
Movable cultural heritage refers to items of cultural heritage which are capable of being transported. Australia is one of only a few countries which have developed and published a specific policy and strategy to care for their movable cultural heritage. Through the Heritage Collections Council, governments at all levels work collaboratively with the museums sector and non-government organisations to conserve, promote, manage and provide access to Australia's collections of movable cultural heritage.
Natural heritage refers to the importance of ecosystems, biological diversity and geodiversity to the existence of life, and to their scientific, social, aesthetic and life-support value to present and future generations of people. It includes places of scientific or aesthetic importance, and geological features and landscapes. Extensive areas of coastline, forests, wetlands and deserts are included in national parks, nature reserves and wilderness areas. Many smaller sites are important habitats for native flora and fauna, enabling the conservation of threatened species. Many natural places are significant to Indigenous communities for cultural reasons.
Conservation of heritage places involves identifying them, surveying their values, and classifying and managing them. These functions are shared between all levels of government and their statutory authorities, with assistance from academic and professional bodies, individuals and community conservation organisations such as the National Trusts, and conservation councils in each State and Territory.
The Commonwealth Government works in partnership with the community and with State and Territory Governments. It undertakes heritage activities on its own account. Examples of this include the nomination of sites for World Heritage listing, the protection of Aboriginal heritage, and the development of the Register of the National Estate - Australia's national heritage list. In December 2000, the Commonwealth Government introduced legislation to change the role of the Commonwealth in national heritage protection. It proposes to create a new heritage list of places that are significant to the nation as a whole.
See also the section Protecting natural heritage in Environment.