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Eric Martin AM gives annual address

28 October 2022

Alastair Crombie, guest speaker Eric Martin, and Ken Heffernan
Alastair Crombie, guest speaker Eric Martin, and Ken Heffernan

Eric Martin, a veteran of both professional heritage architecture and community heritage in the Canberra region, gave the 2022 Hall Heritage Centre address on 27 October to a large and very engaged audience. Eric also formally proclaimed that new name for our proud voluntary organisation centred upon the Hall School heritage precinct.

Eric's central message was about the critical need for historic heritage buildings to have a continued use or occupation if they are to survive for the benefit of future generations. For a heritage architect, this means respecting the elements of significance but also finding ways to compatibly modify a place to allow for continued use. Sometimes this requires compromises, but heritage places across the world survive because they are not static. One question to Eric was precisely about the Ginninderra Blacksmith's Workshop where there has been conservation work for stabilisation, but which has limited ongoing use. We were led to think whether there could be a greater role for volunteers in the care and presentation of historic places which cannot be lived in?

The address reminded us that new technologies, like solar panels that have been so popular in Australia, can typically be positioned in ways that do not detract from the significance of heritage streetscapes. Also, as a modern community we must improve access to places for people with a disability, and finding access solutions that respect heritage values has been a key aspect of Eric's Australian and international practice over decades.

The practical world of heritage management is a complex balance of issues, and Eric raised many very practical challenges that professionals face. These included the need to update guiding documents to deal with technological change, the need for access to heritage expertise, and the value of studies that fill information gaps and allow heritage building of value to be identified long before an owner has expectations of demolition or incompatible change. While many areas for improvement were canvassed, Eric and members of the audience noted the great challenge that heritage and environmental management faces in obtaining sufficient resources in the face of so many competing community priorities. Nevertheless, the energy and activity of passionate community volunteers can help demonstrate the value of such investment, and, as such, the address was beautifully suited to an audience with a great sensibility to the long story and values of their local environment.

Following his address Eric responded to a number of questions from the audience, before he formally pronounced the Centre's new name - the 'Hall Heritage Centre'.

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