Enhancement through heritage
Integrated Heritage Services (IHS) is a team of independent heritage professionals dedicated to providing practical and objective heritage advice. Their team includes a range of consultants that are fully qualified in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Together, they have well over 900 successful projects between them, and extensive experience in heritage management for large-scale, complex, and sensitive jobs. When it comes to Aboriginal heritage management, their expertise is virtually unrivalled.
The leader of IHS’ expert team is David Mott, Principal Consultant and Senior Archaeologist. He personally brings more than 20 years’ experience in cultural heritage management to his role. Many of those years were spent in upper-management at one of the largest and most successful cultural heritage management firms in the country.
David left his previous role and formed IHS in late 2015. His goal was to get back to his roots, and do more of what he loved to do as an archaeologist.
“I wanted to get back to basics,” he said. “I wanted to get out and about and meet people. I wanted to engage with communities, particularly Aboriginal communities. I wanted to collaborate and assist with preserving and managing Aboriginal heritage.”
Over the years, the majority of the company’s work has indeed been Aboriginal-related. For example, since starting IHS, David has done several large-scale projects for Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia. He has also formed excellent relationships with a wide range of Aboriginal groups and traditional owners across South Australia. When a project involves Aboriginal associations, David has built a reputation for being the guy to call.
And it doesn’t matter if the project is large or small – David and his team are open to taking on a wide range of jobs, as long as they feel like they making a positive impact in the community.
“What I’m doing really depends on the day,” David explains. “I could be doing small desktop assessments, I could be giving advice, conducting heritage surveys, getting out on the ground with people and actually finding sites and proposing management measures for them, writing cultural heritage management plans – everything through to monitoring and archaeological excavation.”
“Every project has a different challenge and a different range of requirements,” he adds. “That’s what keeps it interesting.”
Clients come to IHS with those interesting jobs due to David’s reputation – not just for having good relationships with Aboriginal groups, but also for being fair.
“I think it’s really important to be independent, professional, and objective about the sorts of issues that may be coming across the table,” he says. “Quite often I’m interfacing between a large company and an Aboriginal group. Sometimes I’m engaged by the company, sometimes I’m engaged by the Aboriginal group, but at the end of the day it’s about giving an objective assessment about what the issues are and how to go forward in a matter that’s the best for all stakeholders.”
David recalls that in the past, bridging the divide between stakeholders was highly challenging. As the years have gone on, however, he says that the value of heritage management is becomingly increasingly better recognised.
“When I first started, heritage was sometimes seen as an impediment, or potentially a box-ticking exercise,” he says. “People didn’t really understand the value that could be derived from doing really good heritage management. I really had to sit down with stakeholders and say ‘Let’s look at this process as something that can enhance a development.’”
“Because it can,” he adds. “Heritage can enhance not just a development; it can enhance a wider community. It can lead to education, understanding, and engagement. We can actually integrate heritage, highlight it, and it can be really healthy and a great opportunity.”
“Fortunately, more companies are starting to see it that way,” he says. “In the old days it was just tick a box, salvage something, put it in a museum, and no one will ever talk about it. It’s a really different time now.”
David credits that evolution in thinking, at least in part, to a generation gap
“Generally, my clients used to be older than me,” he says. “I used to be the young green guy trying to fight for heritage management. Now I find myself in the position where I’m the older guy, and there’s a different culture in companies and government departments. The younger people that are coming through have a much better understanding, they have more empathy towards doing the right thing in regards to heritage management.”
A tree falls, a reserve rises
A recent example of IHS’ capability – as well as an example of the value-add of heritage management – is the company’s work on the Felixstow Reserve in Adelaide, which was recently transformed from a dust bowl to a thriving and award-winning wetland. There, David documented a rare canoe scar tree, which has since been listed on the South Australian Register of Aboriginal Sites and Objects. The tree is now a key feature of the revitalised reserve, and is identified with explanatory signage as part of an interpretive trail.
The long-dead tree in question was first discovered in 2011, when a storm caused it to fall across a creek line. Maintenance workers clearing away branches fortunately stopped just short of chain sawing the scar and reported it to authorities. David was called to take a look at it, and in the ensuing years, as methods for preserving and managing the site were discussed with Kaurna traditional owners, David was kept in the loop.
According to David, the discussions about preserving the tree evolved into wider discussions about restoring the reserve. The parties involved included the City of Norwood Payneham and St Peters, the Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage Association, IHS, Paul Herzich, Oxigen and landscape architect ASPECT Studios. As far as the tree was concerned, the three main options in play were leaving the fallen trunk in place, relocating it on site, and removing it from site and moving it to a more secure location.
Eventually, the Kaurna Elders argued that the younger Kaurna should make the decision, as it was their responsibility to continue to protect and pass on cultural knowledge. They ultimately decided to leave the tree in place, as the location of its fall was important to understanding its story. ASPECT Studios then worked on incorporating it as part of a trail where it could be clearly seen but not easily accessed.
Recently, at the 2019 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) SA Awards, the Felixstow Reserve received three prestigious accolades, including an Award of Excellence in the Cultural Heritage category. David credits that recognition to the advocacy of the Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage Association, who he says “drove the consultation.”
“They were heavily involved in the conversation about what Felixstow Reserve would look like, and what opportunities there would be to highlight the cultural heritage values of the area,” he recalls.
David also credits the other members of the project team for their enthusiasm, and for how supportive they were of the Kaurna’s cultural heritage mission.
“It was a really great project to be a part of, because everyone was really invested in making something special there,” he says. “From this tree that fell over in a creek almost 10 years ago came a huge plan of action that ultimately resulted in a really great outcome.”
“And the Felixstow Reserve is really special,” he adds. “There are nature play areas, natural settings, cultural markers throughout; the canoe tree is sitting in a safe area by the banks in an interpretive setting with educational elements. There’s a lot of information about native plants and vegetation, how that area would have looked in pre-European times, and how the Aboriginal people would have lived there.”
“It’s really cool,” he says. “And it was nice to receive some recognition for it.”
But again, David says the credit should be shared by every member of the project team. He says IHS is only successful because they work with the highest calibre of project partners, and not just on that project. He says that, in general, the company’s collaborators are always among the best in their field.
Mangoesmapping, for example, is one Australia’s leading geospatial technology and hardware specialists. They offer more than 90 years’ collective experience and technical knowledge, and their passion for the industry is virtually unmatched.
Circle Advisory, meanwhile, is another frequent project partner and industry leader. They help clients assess and manage social and economic impacts throughout a project’s development cycle. With their bespoke and practical advice and services, they help clients achieve optimal results in social performance.
“When I’m involved in a successful project, I’m just a small cog in the machine,” he says. “It takes a whole bunch of stakeholders pulling together to create something special, something that’s really going to benefit its community.”
Moving forward, David says that he will continue to pursue positive and impactful projects. If anything, he says his goal is to do jobs that are even more impactful, and provide even greater benefits to their communities. In particular, he hopes to continue contributing to the strengthening of Aboriginal communities.
“The more Aboriginal people invested in these jobs the better,” he says. “I believe looking at their cultural heritage provides them real value in terms of their health, their wellbeing, their self-belief, their independence.”
“These projects also lead on to other opportunities, including work in these areas,” he adds. “When something has to be done in a Felixstow Reserve, for example, and we’re dealing with cultural heritage, we’re also dealing with employment and training and Aboriginal participation on many levels.”
“So I really see cultural heritage as something that can lead to really interesting relationships,” he concludes. “I see it as something that can hopefully bring us closer together. That’s something we need in this day and age, I think.”
For more on Integrated Heritage Services and their capabilities – and to get in touch with David and his team – visit https://www.integratedheritageservices.com.au/