Handbook on the Law of Cultural Heritage and International Trade
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Handbook on the Law of Cultural Heritage and International Trade

Edited by James A.R. Nafziger and Robert Kirkwood Paterson

This Handbook offers a collection of original writings by leading scholars and practitioners in the exciting, rapidly developing field of cultural heritage law. The detailed essays are the product of a multi-year project of the Committee on Cultural Heritage Law of the International Law Association.
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Chapter 3: Australia

Craig Forrest


The protection of cultural objects in Australia is relatively new, owing mainly to an under-appreciation of both Aboriginal culture and, perhaps because of its youth, of migrant cultural heritage. The individual colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania did little to protect cultural heritage, though in some of these colonies museums were established as early as the 1820s. With the federation of the six colonial states of Australia in 1901, the ability to control the export and import of cultural objects fell to the Federal Commonwealth of Australia. Through the federal Customs Act 1901 the export of some cultural objects was regulated, but in no comprehensive manner, and the Act was reactive to the extent that it was applied on a piecemeal basis to address crises as they arose. Eventually the Act protected such categories as coins minted before 1901, ships and ships' stores, fossil material and geological specimens, archaeological material, and documents relating to land settlement between Aboriginals and early explorers. The opportunity to bring some order to this regime that protected a rather eclectic collection of heritage objects arose in the context of the international law agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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