World Heritage Sites of Australia (National Library of Australia 2019) is a stunning, non-fiction hardcover book by academic and environmentalist Peter Valentine.

The most immediate attraction of this book is the photography – beautiful shots of Australia’s World Heritage sites on the ground, from the air and underwater; close-up pictures of native flora and fauna; detailed drawings of man-made wonders; historical black and white photos; ancient Indigenous rock art captured from valuable sites … unique natural and cultural landscapes protected by World Heritage Listing.  

But alongside the photographs is the informative and fascinating text. Each of the 19 Australian World Heritage sites are given their own chapter, and this includes a brief literary ‘story’ about the history of the site, the remarkable attributes that mark this site as special, the history of the place (particularly the Indigenous history), a brief comment by the author on his connection to this particular site, flora and fauna of the area, historical context of protests in favour of protecting the site, and a final section titled Path to World Heritage, which explains the process that has occurred – over many years – to award each site its label of special significance.

The 19 sites include: Kakadu National Park; Great Barrier Reef; Willandra Lakes Region; Lord Howe Island Group; Tasmanian Wilderness; Gondwana Rainforests of Australia; Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park; Wet Tropics of Queensland; Shark Bay in Western Australia; Fraser Island; Australian Fossil Mammal Sites in Riversleigh and Naracoorte; Macquarie Island; Heard and McDonald Islands; Greater Blue Mountains; Purnululu National Park; Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens; Sydney Opera House; Australian Convict Sites; and Ningaloo Coast. Each is depicted in magnificent pictorial beauty with detailed explanations of the importance of that site and its historical significance.

In the foreword, Peter Garrett writes: ‘There is some truth in the observation that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat past mistakes … if there is meagre understanding by current generations of the natural wonders of significant human accomplishments that make up our world … we may be less likely to insist that such places be protected.’ He describes the Australian sites which have been designated as World Heritage listed, by the United Nations, as exhibiting ‘outstanding universal value … dazzling ecological complexity … and astonishing beauty.’ From tropical wetlands to vast, temperate forests, he is particularly struck by the ‘… living landscapes of timeless beauty that continue to sustain Indigenous populations.’

Author Peter Valentine then provides an Introduction to World Heritage, which explains the historical beginnings of this world-wide movement to preserve valuable sites, and gives international examples of sites first recognised and then protected by World Heritage status. The idea to ‘think globally, act locally’ is explored in terms of the future of encouraging an active and informed community.

The book concludes with a chapter on Potential New World Heritage Sites in Australia, which includes an additional 13 new sites and possible extensions to four existing listed sites, and what this might mean to our country’s environmental conservation management strategies, and cultural appreciation, communication and celebration of our magnificent and unique sites.