Leanne Howard

The local community has once again taken the initiative to conserve the significant heritage of Cornish Hill. It should not be forgotten that in the 1990s a group of concerned local residents vehemently campaigned to keep the historic Cornish Hill precinct protected as a public reserve, rather than sold for private housing development. In this they were partially successful.

The recent request from a group of 21 local Cornish Hill residents to Hepburn Shire Council to undertake a heritage assessment of the Cornish Hill precinct, including the houses and structures of the former 19th century residential area, is timely and welcome. While this area has Neighbourhood Character and Environmental Significance overlays, despite its heritage significance Cornish Hill curiously lacks the further protection of a Heritage Overlay. Heritage is currently at risk through inappropriate development and demolition. With a Heritage Overlay in place, some more questionable developments may never have been granted planning approval.

Since post-European settlement, as a working gold mine from the 1850s to the 1950s Cornish Hill was central to the development of Daylesford and an important symbol of the origins of the town and early mining. As well as the tangible relics of a mining landscape, and the residential timber cottages associated with the earliest days of mining, Cornish Hill is notable for its innovative historic gold production and high local social significance.

Through its stories Cornish Hill documents our social history and culture. Importantly, Cornish Hill strongly influenced the early development of Daylesford by changing the focus of settlement from Wombat Flat to the slopes of Wombat Hill. The scale of quartz mining, undertaken with the superior methods of the Cornish miners, provided major economic and social benefits for the growing township and district. Additionally, Cornish Hill is also part of the wider World Heritage global migration and goldfields story.

There are also well known Dja Dja Wurrung cultural sites within the area.

Therefore, a buffer zone around the site and the sightlines from and to Cornish Hill also remain extremely important and need protection. Views over Lake Daylesford or Wombat Flat and the township, and the gullies below, demonstrate the sequence of events leading up to the discovery of the quartz reefs and the shifting focus of European settlement leading to major economic and social impacts on the town.

Heritage can easily be lost if not understood and appreciated.  Hepburn Shire’s current review of the Daylesford and Hepburn Springs Structure Plan is opportune and a valuable exercise. Approaches which include local knowledge and expertise from individuals and organisations, such as Daylesford and District Historical Association, in identifying heritage gaps and sites including buildings, landscapes, trees, gardens, mining sites and other manifestations of heritage are an important first step.

A credible result would be that Council then ensures that this community consultation is meaningfully documented, analysed and included in establishing heritage significance. The Hepburn Shire Structure Plan, Heritage Strategy, Planning Scheme and Heritage Overlays need to be developed to be more than rhetoric; rather they are required to be values-driven, robust and adequately resourced to guide sound decision-making.

The potential of World Heritage listing for our region as part of ‘the most extensive, coherent and best-surviving goldrush landscape anywhere’ should not be jeopardised by inappropriate development that benefits few. While heritage has the ability to bring social and economic benefit, the relationship is not purely extractive. Safeguarding our heritage for past, present and future generations also brings its responsibilities. As a community we need to work together to protect our histories and heritages and ensure our tourism is sustainable and benefits the whole region in the long term.

Dr Leanne Howard is a local resident. She has a PhD in heritage and history with particular interest in communities, landscapes and heritages.

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