Saturday, January 21, 2012

Scary - me??

I got told the other night by a new acquaintance, who also works in the same industry as me over here in WA, that I was "quite scary, professionally." Really??

I know I have a strong personality, but I don't think I am scary professionally, so much as this town lacks qualified and experienced heritage professionals. I am working at a world heritage-listed site, and I am the only person on the staff who has any sort of relevant training.

Don't get me wrong - I don't believe the bit of paper is the be-all and end-all (even though I know I am eventually going to have to do a PhD if I ever want to return to the eastern states in any kind of well-paid capacity). One of the best curators I know only has an honours-level degree (though yes, she is working towards a PhD). It's more that dealing with heritage requires a certain way of thinking, which if it's not instilled into you at Uni then should be instilled into you from working in the industry. And it does seem to be somewhat lacking as a whole over here.

The main powerbrokers in the industry over here are the National Trust and the Royal Historical Society. These organisations have all been eclipsed in the eastern states as thinking about heritage becomes more progressive, and even some cutting edge government organisations have lead the way at times (I'm thinking of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, as funded under the Carr government). There is simply nothing like that over here, and aparently the main cultural heritage management/museum studies tertairy course has just been axed, which will only compound the problem.

What is it about Western Australia that makes it so different? One thing I have noticed is that it is a wealthy state, but that wealth is in the hands of a few, and doesn't translate to well-funded arts or heritage programs at all. It's a state obsessed with the present - to think of the past (or even the future!) is anathema to the ethos of immediacy that seems to stem from the mining industry. Thus heritage is in the hands of old-fashioned organisations like the National Trust, and heritage interpretation is unable to move forward.

So getting back to being called 'scary' - my conclusion is that it's not me, WA, it's you!