Heritage is not a dirty word

• Richard Offen at the adaptively-reused treasury project. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

• Richard Offen at the adaptively-reused treasury project. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

“HERITAGE listing” used to be a dirty term.

Heritage Perth executive director Richard Offen recalls when he first arrived from Britain in the early 2000s people “viewed a heritage listing as an infringement on their civil liberties”.

“They thought it meant you couldn’t do anything with it and it reduced your values, which wasn’t true then and isn’t now. Most of what was in the media in those days was negative.”

Mr Offen was last week awarded a WA heritage award for his contribution to changing that view.

He says there’s been a lot of progress in just a few years, and a good measure is the number of heritage-themed TV shows that have become more popular lately.

Mr Offen’s been able to reach a wider audience on talkback radio with his casual, enthusiastic style, and he’s recently scored a spot on indy station RTRFM where he can reach hipster young ‘uns.

“I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense, [but] you can’t have the academic approach all the time,” he says. “Livening it up is not dumbing it down.”

Heritage Perth started in 2006 and Mr Offen is its only full-time employee. It’s main funder is the Perth city council but it remains independent.

“That independence means we’re not encumbered by all that bureaucracy,” Mr Offen says.

“We can speak out… as a result of that, and I’m very proud of this, we have become the go-to organisation for the media when they want independent comment.”

Other local heritage winners include the adaptive reuse of 140 William Street, which livened up under-utilised buildings in various stages of disrepair to house food, retail and government offices. Perth city council took out the gong for outstanding heritage practices by a local government for its heritage incentive scheme, supporting Heritage Perth days and other heritage exhibitions.

Meanwhile local guided walking tour group Two Feet & a Heartbeat picked up the outstanding heritage tourism product award for its Perth and Fremantle walking tours.

by DAVID BELL

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