Geoheritage: Protecting Western Australia’s Rock Stars

Presented by Dr Sarah Martin (GSWA)

NSB Meeting 16th June 2021

Sarah began her presentation by commenting that while Australians have extensively recognised cultural and biological heritage, the concept of Geoheritage is much less understood and has had a much slower uptake. She explained that Geoheritage is about identifying, managing and preserving exceptional or representative geological features.

So…what is geoheritage

The initial list of Perth and Southwest Geoheritage sites was compiled in 1979 by members of the WA branch of the Geological Society of Australia. It was expanded five years later to include localities beyond the Perth region. In 1989 The Geological Survey of Western Australia (GWSA) took over the responsibility of maintaining a register although this was not formalised until 2003. To qualify as a Geoheritage site, a location needs to have ‘Geological features considered to be unique or of outstanding value within Western Australia, and to have significant scientific and educational values for the good of the community.

In reality, this covers a number of different scenarios:

  • A site or landform could be unique or aesthetically spectacular – these are also known as monuments,
  • A site or landform could provide an important insight into Western Australian geological history and evolution – these are mainly research sites,
  • A site or landform could be an excellent representative of a critical geological process – these are mainly educational sites, or
  • A site or landform could have historical significance in State geology or could be strongly linked to a person of historical significance to geology in Western Australia — these are partially scientific and partly cultural sites.

Sarah then explained the two categories of registered sites in more detail.

Geoheritage Reserves (GR) are Crown C class Reserves which gives the GSWA an amount of control over the location. Each GR has its own management plan and most require permission from GSWA to enter. No fossicking or exploration is allowed, and samples can only be taken for scientific research. Also, in most cases tourism is not allowed. Of the eight GRs, four (Trendall, Buick, Hickman, Lowe) are recognised as Paleoarchean microbialite localities, two (Schopf, Awramik) as Paleoarchean microfossil localities and two (Dalgaranga, Veevers) are proven impact craters.

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Geoheritage sites have no specific tenure or management plans, and access depends on the underlying tenure. Their significance varies widely and includes fossil localities, rare mineral and rock types, iconic outcrops and landscapes and impact craters and even abandoned quarries. It was surprising to learn that no new sites have been added to the 136 first listed in 2003 due to GSWA’s higher priorities and the lack of specific legislation.

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However, things are about to change. Sarah will soon set out with her team armed with a drone to create 3D models of each of the sites, so a range of products, including digital datasets and virtual tours, can be produced. Sarah concluded her presentation with illustrated information on four Geoheritage sites located in the Western suburbs of Perth, Mudurup Rocks, Cottesloe, Peppermint Grove (see Golly Walk Report), The Coombe, Mosman Park and Minim Cove.

Don Poynton