La Trobe archaeologist puts Pacific issues on the agenda

A member of Australia's new delegation to the World Heritage Committee, Dr Anita Smith, has joined La Trobe University's Archaeology Program as a Charles La Trobe Research Fellow.

As a Pacific archaeologist, she is keen to give a greater voice to what she sees as an under-represented region in international affairs.

Dr Smith says people of the Pacific could make valuable contributions to discussion on the impacts of global warming on cultural and natural heritage because their islands have experienced the impact of rising oceans, major storms and tsunami.

'Ocean levels have not been static in the past, and traditional Pacific cultures have learned how to deal with these changes,' she says.

In 1998, for example, when a tsunami destroyed farms and villages along the north coast of Papua New Guinea, traditional kinship systems enabled people to move inland, to live with groups in the hills until the coast recovered.

This strategy is underpinned by a system of land ownership which still exists through ninety percent of land in the Pacific Islands. Many islands are divided like slices of a cake so that each kinship group gains access to resources on the hill, coast and reef. This influences the way indigenous culture continues in the Pacific and creates the region's cultural landscapes.

Dr Smith – who holds a PhD from La Trobe and formerly taught at Deakin University – has just completed a report on cultural landscapes of the Pacific for the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the advisory body to the World Heritage Committee.

She is one of three Australian delegates appointed to the World Heritage Committee. (The others are Dr Greg Terrill of the Commonwealth Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, and Jon Day of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.)

The team will develop Australia's response to forty or more nominations for World Heritage listing that come before the Committee each year and help highlight important cultural and natural heritage issues.

Dr Smith says this year two nominations for cultural sites in Pacific Island states will come before the World Heritage Committee – a traditional cultural landscape in Vanuatu and an early agricultural site in PNG.

The Pacific, says Dr Smith, is the most under-represented region on the World Heritage List, which now includes more than 750 sites.

For further information, please contact Dr Smith on Tel: (03) 9479 1031; email: anita.smith@latrobe.edu.au

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