Blue Shield International Updates – August 2020

With disasters occurring all around the world, Blue Shield International continues to support those most in need in the cultural sectors.

Karl Habsburg, President of the Blue Shield, has visited Beirut to support the work of Blue Shield Lebanon, the Directorate General of Antiquities and other partners in securing the museums, libraries, and historic buildings affected by the catastrophic explosion on Tuesday 4 August 2020. Blue Shield International is working hard to provide support for those working in the heritage sector, which has been deeply affected by the crisis. Blue Shield Lebanon and partners have been working round the clock to compile a preliminary assessment of the damage.

Flooding in Yemen during July and August 2020 is also causing significant damage to cultural sites and loss of life.

Further updates can be found on the Blue Shield International Website, Twitter and Facebook.  Follow these accounts for up-to-date news when it is available.

PRESS RELEASE 05/06/2020 – Destruction of culturally significant Juukan Gorge rockshelters, Pilbara region, Western Australia

T.L. Park
Southern Cross University and Blue Shield Australia,
S. Hutley
Chair, Blue Shield Australia,

Recently 46,000 year old sites of high cultural significance have been destroyed by mining detonations.  Rio Tinto was legally permitted to destroy the culturally significant sites under a Section 18 Notice of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, with a permit issued in 2013. Seven years later the mining company has destroyed significant artefacts including early evidence of grinding and bone technology and plaited hair approximately 4000 years old that has been linked by DNA to the contemporary Puutu Kunti Kurrama & Pinikura Traditional Owners.

Some 350 km north of this site is the Burrup Peninsula, with rock art which is amongst the most ancient rock art in the world. The  peninsula and surrounding Dampier Archipelago also hold the highest concentration of rock art in the world. “…petroglyphs, include depictions of human life figures, human faces and animals that no longer inhabited the region, including the Tasmanian tiger”1

In January 2020, a submission was made to UNESCO to secure World Heritage Status for this region as Australia’s largest collection of rock art. If the submission is accepted it will reside on the tentative list for at least 12 months before the listing is formalised, due to a number of considerations that will be taken into account, such as outstanding universal value [OUV] of site, heritage management and including consultation with traditional owners [Murujuga]. The Burrup Peninsula is known to be a site of major industrial development and there are very real concerns that industrial emissions could adversely affect the stability and longevity of the rock art.

A number of academic studies have taken place around the protection of the significance of the rock art, one such study took place in 2013 pertaining to the natural processes and rates of weathering, erosion, including the effects of fire, that affect the stability of rock surfaces and subsequently the longevity of the rock art. Cosmogenic nuclides (or cosmogenic isotopes) were studied, and it was concluded that these rare nuclides demonstrate amongst the lowest erosion rates (at least measured by cosmogenic nuclides) anywhere in the world.  Thus low erosion rates, together with low rainfall, have favoured long-term preservation of petroglyphs, long enough to encompass the known period of human settlement in Australia.3

In 2013, after the mining company was granted mining rights in the region, archaeologists subsequently provided ‘evidence’ of the sites cultural significance via artifacts belonging to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners, including a 28,000 year old tool fashioned from bone and a piece of 4000 year old plaited hair belt.  Traditional owners visited sites, in line with best practice in cultural management procedure, alongside international exemplar for heritage management, highlighting the importance of ethical partnerships with Traditional Owners and communities. The importance and significance of the site was indisputable, both from a local and international perspective.   Once the significance of the place had been established there was no process under the Act, or within the administration of the Act, that could alter the terms of the section 18 permit.  Under the AHA, no parties other than the Land Owner can appeal a section 18 decision. So, the Traditional Owners had no right of appeal after the section 18 was granted, despite having found new and compelling evidence about the significance of the site.

Legal Framework for management and protection lies within the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), where, within the act it is an offence to negatively impact an area that has national heritage listing. A great number of ancient Aboriginal sites are not listed as national heritage, and if federal legislation is not applicable, State laws apply.   The Juukan Rockshelters were not listed on the National Heritage List, so EPBC doesn’t apply. The rock shelters in the Pilbara were protected under Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act of 1972. The Traditional Owners are the Puutu Kunti Kurrama & Pinikura people and the legal tenement owners are Rio Tinto Iron Ore.4 So, under the S18 process, only Rio Tinto would be allowed to appeal against a decision.  The fifty year old act is currently being reviewed by the State Government, hopefully addressing the blatant omission of the opportunity of the reform of a decision once new information has emerged. Without legal protection cultural property is at risk as economic interests are at the forefront.

Instead of the circular debates in which the outcry of protection of cultural property comes at the cost of economic progress, Australia’s place within a global context will need to at least be acknowledged. “Global mining giant Rio Tinto is set to contribute 10m to support Covid-19 community initiatives in the US and Canada. The funding will be used to support deprived families and supply critical equipment to frontline works…”4  Australia no longer exists in economic isolation, we are on the international stage both economically and culturally, the destruction of irreplaceable cultural property is highly emotional, and deeply saddening. We all have to do better and find a way forward.  It is of no use to throw up our arms in despair, blanket blame, there must be open and honest conversations, difficult conversations.

  1. Dineley, J., Australian Geographic, November 7, 2013
  2. Brad Pillans and Keith Fifield, Science Direct Journal.
    Volume 69, 1 June 2013, Pages 98-106.
  3. Jo Thomson, University of Western Australia, personal communication, 2020
  4. Mining Technology, News, 5 May 2020,

ATTACHMENTS: BSA_Press-Release_June-2020.pdf

Closed by COVID-19 – Checklist for GLAMs and Historical and Heritage Sites

Updated :  29 April 2020

Closed by COVID-19 – version 1.2 – 29Apr2020   Word Version

Closed by COVID-19 – version 1.2 – 29Apr2020  PDF Version

Blue Shield Australia and AICCM are pleased to release this Guide [now available as Version 1.2 as above] which has been produced to provide guidance for people who are responsible for closing collections of movable cultural heritage in collecting organisations such as archives, galleries, herbaria, historical societies, libraries and museums and at heritage sites. Whether working as volunteers or as paid staff, the aim is to preserve the collection for the long term, by achieving high standards in management of the collection and its environment. In uncertain times where things are happening so quickly, we hope that this guide and checklist will be useful.

AICCM Covid-19 Information and Links, including Disinfecting and Cleaning guides.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Mary Reid, Sarah Brown, Veronica Bullock and Margaret Birtley and with the support of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM).

Closed by COVID-19? – A Practice Guide for Managers V1.1   – note new version above
PDF Version – Closed by COVID19 – ver 1.1 – 27Mar2020
DOC Version – Closed by COVID19 – ver 1.1 – 27Mar2020 

May Day Webinar : Information Awareness Month 2020 Launch


Information Awareness Month 2020 Launch Webinar
Date: 1st May 2020
Time: 11:00 AEST                  COST :  Free

David Fricker, Director General, National Archives of Australia
Elizabeth Tydd, NSW Information Commissioner
Kathryn Dan, Committee Member, Blue Shield Australia
Tim Graham, Senior Lecturer (Digital Media), Queensland University of Technology

This webinar will focus on the importance of the right information, how information can be derived, distributed, used (and misused) in critical situations (such as natural disaster, terror-attack, disease outbreak and similar) and what have we learned from the recent experiences.

May Day Webinar: Caring for Collections during Covid Closure

This May Day, 1 May 2020, join AMaGA Victoria, Grimwade Conservation Services and Margaret Birtley AM, for a webinar on how to best care for collections with limited access. This session will explore and expand on the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material’s (AICCM) valuable ‘Closed by COVID’ resource. The Grimwade team will share practical advice and respond to questions about caring for specific materials at a distance. Our panellists will also look to the coming months and discuss returning to work, preparing for reopening and the ongoing ramifications of COVID-19 on collection care. 

2:00pm – 3.00pm Friday, 1 May 2020  AEST (VIC, NSW, QLD, ACT, TAS)

COST:  AMaGA Members: $20.00
BlueShield Australia member Associations –  AICCM, AICOMOS, ALIA, FAHS, PARBICA, and ASA members: AU$30.00 [ Create an account, and use the code MAYDAYWEBINAR at checkout / at the payment Cart]
Non-Members: $40.00

Impact of Fire and Storm Events on GLAM Institutions 2020

During 2019 and 2020 Blue Shield Australia joined with GLAM Peak and other creative industry peak bodies as part of a Roundtable, to provide advocacy, communication and support through the Australian disaster season on behalf of the cultural sector, GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) and the creative arts sectors.
Over the summer of 2019-2020, Australia experienced unprecedented bushfires, causing smoke-filled air, dust and ash, and extreme weather – high temperatures, strong winds, heavy rainfall with threats of flooding, as well as golf-ball sized hail.
Blue Shield Australia conducted a survey on behalf of the Roundtable during March and April 2020. Members of the Roundtable wanted to determine the impact of these extreme weather events on small and large organisations and to discover what assistance could be provided in the immediate aftermath of the events as well as in the months following.

We understand that many other GLAMs and heritage sites were affected (as summarised by our BSA News posts during January and February), and we also acknowledge the impact of Covid19 on organisations completing surveys at this time.   The survey report summarises the responses from the 32 respondents, it does give an insight into the impact on cultural heritage institutions from these events.

Blue Shield Australia acknowledges Sue McKerracher, CEO of ALIA, Alex Marsden, National Director of AMaGA and Natalie Fisher, Director, NSF Consulting for their work in co-ordinating the survey and writing and editing the survey report.

Survey Report: [pdf] Impact of Fire and Storm Events on GLAM Institutions in Australia 2020

Covid19 Supplies and GLAMs

As you may have read in the news, as a result of COVID-19, Australian Departments of Health are experiencing shortages of necessary protection equipment including masks and gloves for medical use.

While a number of GLAM institutions have small supplies of gloves, our national and state cultural institutions are currently liaising with their relevant Department to organise the transfer of these items.

This direct ‘institution-to-government’ response ensures swift collaboration which will be more efficient and effective than asking individual GLAM organisations to send supplies to a central point, with all the additional co-ordination and logistical issues which would then arise.

If the situation changes, we will put out a general call for supplies, but at this time we can concentrate on individual institutions’ responses to COVID-19 efforts.

Blue Shield Australia is working on a range of information and links for cultural heritage institutions at this time. Our Resources page will also be updated with relevant links.

Email Blue Shield Australia at

Blue Shield Australia impact survey 2020

BSA seeking information about the impact of 2019/2020 fire and storm events on cultural institutions and cultural heritage sites in Australia.

Blue Shield Australia is conducting a survey to quantify the impact of the bushfires and extreme weather events experienced across Australia from 1 November 2019 to 31 January 2020. The information will be aggregated to provide an overall cost to the sector of natural disasters this season. A report will be published using the results, which will be made available on the Blue Shield Australia website. BSA will not identify individual institutions’ results.
The questions in the survey relate to visitor numbers, building closures, staff absences, technical issues, impact on collections and on revenue. Please respond on behalf of your institution (or heritage site), rather than on an individual or department basis. 
There are 20 questions and it should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. All questions are optional, so if you don’t know the answer, move on to the next.
Deadline for responses is close of business Monday 30 March, 2020 – Now extended until Thursday 9 April, 2020

If you have any questions, please contact

Survey Link —>

Bushfires, Storms and Floods – update 15 February 2020

Since our last update, there has been widespread damaging severe bushfires and weather events across Australia. Note: This update is not meant to be comprehensive.


In late January the Australian Capital Territory saw the most destruction and damage. A few historic huts in the Namadgi National Park were lost. The Kosciuszko Huts Association is providing updates on damage as it is assessed. The Orroral Valley fire has seen Brindabella and Namadgi national parks having major destruction but some historic sites were saved. This fire continues to be at Advice level as at 15/2/20 and has not yet been extinguished. It is acknowledged that many indigenous sites in this region will have suffered damage, but have not yet been assessed. We acknowledge the ACT Parks and Conservation Service and the ACT Emergency Services Agency who have worked so hard to saved and protect so many sites and are now reporting on recovery e.g. in the Kiandra heritage precinct.

The Australian Wildlife Sanctuary in Bargo, a National Trust property, remains closed. The Original Gold Rush Colony in Old Mogo Town was destroyed (further updates here). A number of historic bridges have been lost in Victoria, including in Genoa (unfortunately demolished due to public safety, also recorded by the Gippsland History group) as well as the Wairewa Trestle Bridge (February update) with assessments at these sites continuing. The Genoa Schoolhouse Museum (part of the Mallacoota and District Historical Society & Bunker Museum) was destroyed. The Museum, in a recent Facebook post has requested assistance to document the recent history of the bushfires in Mallacoota. The Lithgow State Mine Museum sustained bushfire damage and repairs are underway.

In Western Australia there continues to be bushfires in a number of regions. There have been no reports so far of heritage sites being lost.

The NSW Department of Environment gave an updated summary of the environmental Bushfire Impact for NSW (as at 28 January). There have been unexpected situations of indigenous cultural heritage being uncovered after the fires, for example in Cobargo. On the 13th February 2020, the NSW Rural Fire Service declared that all bush and grass fires in NSW were finally contained.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services bushfire summary for 2019-20 can be found here.


Alongside Canberra’s bushfires came a severe hail storm that damaged many of the major cultural institutions in the city, including the Australian National Museum, Australian Academy of Science, CSIRO and the Australian National Botanical Gardens. Wildlife in Canberra also suffered severely from this storm. Australian Academy of Science Chief Executive Anna-Maria Arabia reported on the archives collection which includes some of Australia’s most famous scientists (The Frank Fenner manuscript collection was added to the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register in 2019) saying that there was no damage to the archives thanks to a rescue effort by staff, who formed a human chain to move the boxed archives to safety.  Follow the #SaveScienceArchives on twitter for updates.


Monash University provided a summary of Melbourne’s Crazy January Weather. In February, wild weather also hit Sydney. Queensland and Northern NSW have experience heavy rain and local flooding. Reports so far indicate some infrastructure damage, and some schools have closed, but no other reports from the cultural and heritage sectors as yet. News reports 13/2/20 & 14/2/20. Cyclone Eusi hit World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island.

On the 4th February 2020, the Directors/CEOs of Australia’s leading natural history museums issued a joint statement in support of increased funding and co-ordinated national action to address the impacts of climate change on the nation’s biodiversity following the bushfires which ravaged the continent over the past few months.

GLAM Peak bodies and Associations involved in Blue Shield Australia as well as Arts and National Trust organisations have been collaborating and meeting to share information and co-ordinate advocacy efforts.

We’d like to acknowledge all of the workers and volunteers who have given up their time towards saving and salvaging cultural and natural heritage sites in Australia these past few months. We encourage all GLAM and cultural heritage sites to keep in contact with their respective Associations and Blue Shield Australia with updates at any time.

Sue Hutley, Chair, Blue Shield Australia

Bushfire Crisis in Australia – update 20 January 2020

Note: This update is not meant to be comprehensive

With further evacuations and fires out of control in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, the critical bushfire situation across the country continues. Damage to some heritage property will only be known once affected areas are declared safe, and damage has been assessed and able to be reported. The sheer scale of the fires, the sensitive nature of many of the areas affected and with so many communities and wildlife displaced, the effort ahead is still ongoing and enormous.

Australia ICOMOS have updated their Heritage Toolkit to include a Rapid Assessment Form for Fire Affected Heritage Places for use by local councils. BSA has added a list of Recovery Agencies to our website.

From a GLAM perspective there are still no reports (yet) of libraries, archives or museums being damaged. A number of small galleries have sustained damage, but information is brief at this time. Severe smoke did affect cultural institutions in Canberra in January.

A number of heritage houses have sustained significant damage, especially in Victoria including Towong Historical Homestead. Victoria still has many fires burning but we acknowledge the East Gippsland region has been devastated. The South Coast Region of New South Wales and Victoria including the towns of Mogo with heritage houses and Cobargo and Mallacoota.

Some of the Kosciuszko Huts have been lost but with great work by NPWS and NSWRFS staff on saving so many. There are further reports of the loss of heritage at the Huts and Selwyn Snow Resort and the Kiandra Courthouse.

While the Jenolan Caves House was saved, there is significant damage close to the property. We are grateful that much of the Wollemi Pines Heritage Listed area has been protected.

There has been significant destruction and damage on Kangaroo Island.

There has been an update on Budj Bim National Park indigenous sites. It has been noted that many indigenous site areas are not yet safe to return to, to make any assessments at this time. We note comments from the Yuin South Coast of NSW Elders but also acknowledging the immediate and significant human need priority in the region.

Blue Shield Australia would like to note that if you are an owner of a State Heritage listed place affected by the fires (or other severe weather events), or if you are aware of any impacts to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Places and sites, or historic archaeological sites please contact your state Heritage Council or Department.

Conservation Volunteers Australia has been selected by the Australian Government to coordinate the national environmental volunteering response to the bushfire crisis. You can register your interest as a volunteer here. There are many other groups co-ordinating assistance, with BlazeAid being just one example.

We would like to acknowledge communities that sustained bushfires months ago, who are now very much in a difficult recovery phase. This includes Bobin and Wytaliba in the Glen Innes region, North Coast NSW and also Port Macquarie and the Blue Mountains. The ZigZag Railway is calling for volunteers and donations.

This heartfelt post by Kate Brady from Australian Red Cross describes the anguish, patience and fortitude that we must have for the very long recovery that’s ahead – it’s an important read on the blog by John Richardson.

One site to consider for a broad overview is the Wikipedia 2019-20 Australian Bushfire Season page and other useful pages with collated national information are currently being added and updated.

The Australian GLAM peak bodies and Blue Shield Australia will meet during the week of 20th January 2020 to discuss and update on the current situation and focus on planning for future support for affected communities and cultural heritage sites.

We thank the national and international cultural heritage community for their ongoing support and concern.

Sue Hutley, Chair, Blue Shield Australia