South Australian Museum professor’s new UNESCO role

The South Australian Museum’s John Carty has just been appointed to the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. Carty is the only South Australian-based representative on the commission that advises the federal government on matters pertaining to UNESCO as well as providing analysis and policy advice.

The Paris-based UNESCO (United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation) coordinates international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. Professor Carty, who is the South Australian Museum’s head of humanities, believes he’s been appointed to the commission due to his work for the museum around Australian heritage and Indigenous rights, which includes cultural heritage and cultural approaches to land management and the environment.

“These kinds of issues around cultural heritage are part of a global dialogue: so they are relevant to UNESCO and I think the work we’ve been doing at the South Australian Museum over the last couple of years has got their attention,” Carty says. “There’s an opportunity now for South Australia to show a bit of leadership in that regard; to look at the lessons of working closely with Aboriginal people to conserve their cultural heritage — in country and also in museums — and to be clear in sharing what we’ve learnt in Australia with other nations.

“There are so many challenges in some of the theatres of conflict overseas. You look at Syria and that whole region, archaeological sites are being looted and, over the last few years, we’ve also seen some cultural heritage sites destroyed. There are these huge risks around our world’s cultural heritage that we are facing, and we have an opportunity to show a bit of leadership around that in Australia. In South Australia we are particularly well positioned, as we have arguably the world’s most important collection of Aboriginal material and cultural heritage here in our Museum.”

Carty says the commission will advise on what Australia’s position needs to be in relation to some of these global issues.

“I think the main issue will be debating and analysing what our position needs to be in Australia around these same matters, looking at how Australia accords with global sentiments but also offer support and models for other people to follow as well.”

Professor Carty is the humanities and social sciences representative on the commission, which also includes representatives for other core areas such as education, youth, the natural sciences and information and communication.

“I think the museum is an interesting shopfront for all of the core issues that UNESCO is concerned with. We’re a really important research institute and we have world-leading scientists who look at the history of the earth, of animal life, the environment and evolution. This appointment is an opportunity to have these debates about the environment or heritage or languages in a really public way rather than it just being policy-driven or an academic debate. It’s an opportunity to bring some of these big political and global conversations onto North Terrace.”

Carty says the recent Federal Court case that recognises the Kaurna people as traditional land owners of most of the Adelaide area is “really important and powerful”.

“I don’t know if it got as much media as it should have but it’s a moment of pause to say, ‘We are on Kaurna land and it has been acknowledged’. This acknowledgment should be reflected in the priorities of the cultural sector; particularly in terms of how we conceive any future developments.

“The Kaurna determination came late for Kaurna people, but it also came at an opportune moment in our history. I hope it provides a bit of momentum and goodwill for this next stage of thinking about what Adelaide is, what Adelaide stands for and what message we’re sending the world about our commitment to Aboriginal people and Aboriginal heritage.”

The Adelaide Review is a media sponsor of the South Australian Museum

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