The Future of the Past—A Cautionary Lesson: Heritage and Financial Mismanagement at the Port Arthur Historic Site, 1987–1996

Andrew K. S. Piper


The former relics and ruins of Tasmania’s infamous secondary penal station, the Port Historic Site is arguably Australia’s premier non-Indigenous historic site. Since the tragic events of 28 April 1996, when 35 people were killed and another 23 wounded the Site has received an increased public profile which has translated into significant public funding of both its tourism and conservation operations. However, public funding in the two preceding decades evidenced a pattern of largesse followed by parsimonious tightfistedness by both State and Federal governments. Such fickle funding arrangements have had a major impact upon the cultural significance of the Site and have wider implications in respect to the community’s access to its history and heritage. This paper will explore the failure of successive Federal and State governments to intervene effectively for the long-term conservation of the Port Arthur Historic Site.


Port Arthur Historic Site; Heritage Management; Heritage Conservation; Heritage Funding; Tasmanian History;

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Tasmanian Audit Office, Auditor-General Special Report No 21: Special Investigation into Administrative Processes Associated with Preservation and Maintenance of the Port Arthur Historic Site, State of Tasmania, Hobart, 1997.


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