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Peerless, priceless and neglected: Tasmania’s heritage crisis.

More colonial buildings have survived in Tasmania than in any other state. But no state has had successive governments which care so little about this heritage or do as little to preserve and promote it.

One-third of all Australia’s heritage-listed properties, and half its pre-1850 buildings, are in Tasmania. A few are in good, even excellent condition. Many are not.

Willow Court ... the vandals moved in, the government stayed out

The British settlement in Van Diemen’s Land began in 1803, only 15 years after the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove. While Sydney prospered, Hobart became an economic backwater – and that saved it.

Poverty, it turns out, has some advantages after all. As early Sydney disappeared under characterless office blocks, the city lost its soul. A few remnant buildings remain – Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Bay House, the Francis Greenway buildings in Macquarie Street, a few others – but any coherent sense of the city’s origins has gone.

Nor has the heritage movement been able to guarantee survival. In the 1970s, attractive old buildings still gave central Brisbane an elegance and a human scale that has been obliterated by skyscrapers that belong of everywhere and nowhere. Sometimes, the facades of buildings have been glued onto ugly and overpowering commercial towers. The appalling Myer Centre in the Queen Street Mall is, unpleasantly, typical.

Money has been made, but at what cost?