Saving history reaps reward
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Saving history reaps reward

By collaborating with an international network of heritage professionals, Michael Pearson has put back on the map long-forgotten places of significance in Australia and abroad.

In one case, Dr Pearson, who is chairman of the Institute of Professional Practice in Heritage and the Arts at the ANU's Research School of Humanities, stepped in to preserve an important part of Japan's coal mining industry.

Dr Michael Pearson in front of the Amitabha Buddha, Kamakura, Japan.

Dr Michael Pearson in front of the Amitabha Buddha, Kamakura, Japan.

The community had suffered economic depression after the mines closed and, while proud of their own history, residents felt national heritage authorities were not really interested.

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Dr Pearson nominated works by Japanese coal miner Sakubei Yamamoto for UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. Mr Yamamoto painted and wrote about his experiences and memories of the coal mines and they became Japan's first item on the world registry.

The overall nomination included 585 paintings and numerous diaries and manuscripts.

''They took a punt and backed me to do the nomination, and getting the collection listed has multiplied visitor numbers to the town many times over,'' Dr Pearson said.

''This has provided a real focus for local and regional pride, and links them into World Heritage work we are doing in the same region.''

Dr Pearson has been appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO).

For the past four years he has worked in Japan with international specialists to help authorities develop the World Heritage nomination for Japan's 19th century industrial revolution.

He also returned to prominence or saved historic sites in NSW national parks, in Kosciuszko, and in the far west and north of NSW in the 1970s.

He helped develop some of what became standard heritage practice through work with colleagues in the Australian Heritage Commission in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Dr Pearson has also worked in Canberra as a past chairman of the ACT Heritage Council, achieving good conservation outcomes through the planning system.

With colleague Sharon Sullivan he wrote a course for Charles Sturt University to help upgrade professional qualifications of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers in the early 1980s that led to a book Looking After Heritage Places: The Basics of Heritage Planning for Managers, Land Owners and Administrators.

''Max Bourke, then director of the Australian Heritage Commission, really liked the course and got some funding for us to rewrite it as a book targeted at people dealing with heritage management in local, state and national government, land managers and others who needed the basics of heritage planning and management,'' Dr Pearson said.

''It was a great success, being picked up by a number of universities as a text for their courses, and also being used by its target audience.''

Dr Pearson, the author and co-author of many journal articles, said it needed revision and updating, but was still in demand.

He is a founding member since 2000 of the International Polar Heritage Committee, a scientific committee of the International Council for Monuments and Sites.

''I was very keen as I had been to Antarctica three time at that stage, with the Australian Antarctic Division and New Zealand Antarctic program, to advise on heritage survey and planning for Mawson's huts and other historic sites in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands.

''I subsequently went another three times with the Chilean museum, working on sealing sites of the 1820s in the South Shetland Islands.''

This weekend he is in Whitehorse, Yukon, catching up with Doug Olynyk, the Canadian member of the committee, to help raise the importance of heritage research, planning and conservation of historic sites in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Dr Pearson says Canberra is blessed with an active heritage sector, including the Archaeological Society and local chapters of the Garden History Society and Griffith Society, among many others.

He did the background historical and site assessment research for Australia's convict sites World Heritage listing, with Duncan Marshall.

Dr Pearson has also worked within government organisations and as a consultant on conservation planning for the National Library, Old Parliament House, the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian War Memorial.

  • For a full list of the ACT's 2013 Queen's Birthday award winners, click here and follow the prompts.