Key Points from Felton Valley Cultural Heritage Study


The Felton Valley is located approximately 30km south west of the City of Toowoomba and takes in an area of some 24,000 hectares.  With latitude of 27.8 degrees south, the study area might be classed as sub-tropical but at 428 metres elevation it is more often regarded as temperate.  Records collected by the Bureau of Meteorology since 1964 reveal an average annual rainfall of 663 mm.  The non-indigenous history of the Felton Valley spans most of the period since 1824, when colonial occupation of South-East Queensland began.  The cultural heritage significance of the Felton Valley stems from its linkages to the earliest pastoral settlement of the Darling Downs.  Despite this, the Valley finds itself threatened in 2011 by the prospect of an open cut coal mine and petro chemical plant.  Felton Valley's rich cultural heritage is one of many reasons why mining should be refused entry.

Accordingly, Gail Lipke of the Toowoomba-based heritage management consultancy Conservation Management Planners & Associates, recently undertook a cultural heritage study of the Felton Valley.  The study identified heritage values based on the results of a survey of non-indigenous sites, places, items or objects within or immediately adjacent to the proposed Ambre Energy mining site.  Before outlining some of the survey findings, we will reproduce excerpts from the consultant's study that explain the nature and importance of cultural heritage.

The term 'cultural heritage values' refers to the sense of place and connection afforded to a community by items, sites, experiences and landscape of cultural heritage significance.  Assessing cultural heritage significance against set criteria is the widely recognised method of undertaking a consistent unbiased assessment.  This criterion has been set down by respected organisations such as the Australia Heritage Council, the Queensland Heritage Council and the Toowoomba Regional Council.  The degree to which a place or item is culturally significant will influence how it should be managed to maximise the national interest. 

When people talk about their community's 'sense of self', they are recognising its links with the past.  Accepted ideas and beliefs about the past frequently form the basis of the manner in which people think about themselves as a community, even though these feelings are often left unsaid or poorly defined.  Every physical place has a history and some aesthetic value or social significance to particular members of the community.

Landscapes are important to community vitality and even more so the cultural landscape created over time.  Many of the world's outstanding cultural landscapes include both natural and cultural heritage values.  Aesthetic value is immensely important to defined groups, particularly when linked with natural scenery, and was a factor in the establishment of Australia's first national parks and scenic reserves.  Aesthetic values have come to mean much more than just visual quality or scenery.  They may include atmosphere, landscape character and sense of place.  The majority of places recorded in heritage registers have a component of aesthetic value.

The Felton Valley has a diverse range of cultural places, both geographically and culturally.  Identification and assessment of cultural heritage landscapes (landscapes mean all of place) generally begins with consultation and research of the relevant literature and heritage registers.  Consultations were held with a range of Felton Valley stakeholders and were complemented by intense field surveys of the area.  Through these activities, the Felton community's concerns about its heritage and connection to the place were eventually determined.  Specific heritage sites of importance were the Felton East Village and the Felton washpool in Hodgson Creek.  

Archaeological studies are useful for creating a permanent record of the historical nature of an area.  The Felton Valley is in fact a rich archaeological landscape with the ability to address important research issues of both regional and local interest.  A number of historic themes have already been identified as significant.  Indeed Felton Valley has contributed significantly to the development of the Eastern Darling Downs as well as the growth of Queensland as a State. 

The Felton Valley survey found that the area proposed for mining has a high level of cultural and historical significance for the resident community.  There are strong linkages between historic use of the landscape at Felton and its everyday use and ongoing occupation by the present community.  The 'Ambre project area' is a place relevant to both historic and contemporary spheres and it would be grievously impacted by the proposed mining activities.  Affected areas include Hodgson Creek, used by the early pastoral industry for water supplies, and the fertile flood plains of the valley used for grazing livestock.  Perhaps the most significant historic site identified to date is the washpool on the banks of Hodgson Creek - used in the 1800s for washing sheep prior to shearing.



Felton Washpool




survey tree

The proposed mine would impact identified cultural heritage values (landscapes) on the west side of the Felton Valley and visual and amenity values across the whole region due to water, air and noise pollution and greatly increased transport activities.

In addition to these direct impacts, many negative landscape values would occur including:

  • The current rural context, which complements the heritage themes of the area, would be shifted towards an industrial and engineered context thus creating a disconnected and incongruous backdrop.
  • Much of the original pastoral and agricultural land would be substantially altered, shifting the chronological emphasis of the Felton Valley onto a non-reversible phase.  Apart from diminishing the Valley's liveability, this would affect its critical scientific and interpretative values.
  • The cumulative regional impacts of the proposed mining project on the cultural heritage cannot yet be reliably quantified due to existing knowledge gaps.  In the absence of quantitative data, the assessment of cumulative impacts must be addressed via a qualitative review of relevant issues. 

The Felton Valley landscape was intentionally created by past generations e.g., paddock layouts, house gardens, open spaces and transport routes.  Despite the study area representing a modified landscape (resulting from the pre-historic climatic change and European settlement beginning in 1840) the potential for turning up unidentified artefacts within the proposed mining lease area is considered high.  To date, no ground truthing of the proposed mining development area for historical archaeological material has been undertaken.  But anecdotally, the Felton Valley exhibits a rich record of Aboriginal and European occupation.

The Felton Valley has valleys, hills, mountains, plains, and creeks of striking beauty and richness.  The diverse rural landscapes and rich natural vegetation attract people to settle in the Valley and provide significant visual amenity, a sense of place, aesthetic appreciation, community, recreational and spiritual involvement and inspirational values.

Our 'sense of place' is formed from our response to landscape and various cultural factors.  Both 'natural' (e.g., flowing waterways, undulation hills and valleys) and 'modified' landscapes (e.g., cleared and cultivated patchwork of paddocks, cleared areas around rural communities) are of great importance to many local people and visitors alike.  But rapid landscape modification can negatively affect people's health and sense of wellbeing.  In particular, people are dependent for sustenance, health, well-being, and enjoyment on stable and predictable biological systems and processes.  Biologically diverse areas enhance recreational and tourism potential and contribute to social and cultural well being.  In addition, they provide options for the future.  Thus the protection, restoration and sustainable management of biological resources are essential to the long term viability of the region. 

 

The richness of the Felton Valley cultural heritage landscape makes it desirable to develop strategies that will preserve and enhance its functionality.  This can be done in practice by: a) managing impacts on Aboriginal and European cultural values; b) maintaining the aesthetic and heritage values of the Felton Valley landscape; and c) undertaking further archaeological investigations to fully understand the extent and nature of both Aboriginal and the European heritage known to be present in the Valley floor and surrounds.

Activities associated with the pastoral era and subsequent development of urban settlements, transport routes, and large scale agricultural pursuits resulted in a variety of historical structures and features.  These included station homestead complexes, fences, yards, woolsheds with associated wash pools, mail routes, early tracks and roads, blazed trees resulting from the surveying of tracks and properties and infrastructure associated with secondary industries: e.g. quarries, sawmills; etc.  Much of this record may still exist but has not yet been recorded or properly assessed.  Impacts on cultural heritage have often been overlooked because properties and places of archaeological significance are not listed on State or National Registers.  This reflects the inadequacies of Cultural Heritage legislation and not a lack of heritage significance itself.

Conclusion

The cultural heritage impacts that would stem from Ambre Energy's proposal are very high as they would involve loss of amenity, disturbance to land and existing infrastructure and severe disruption to community lifestyle.

In the Australian context, the Felton Valley presents as an historic landscape.  While the evidence of historic activity might be subtle, the area is scattered with 'historical debris', the distribution and contents of which can generate useful information about past origins and lifestyles.  The persistence of many farming families and the growing intensification of farming in the Valley is testament to both the economic stability of local farming and a deep understanding of the climatic and economic environment in which the families live.