National Treasures host Chris Taylor standing near the wreck of the Batavia ship at the Western Australian Maritime Museum
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/collection/hero_image04-2018/batavia_high_res_hero_david_dare_parker.jpg

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures

Chris Taylor reveals the secrets behind a fascinating mix of treasures from Australia’s National Heritage List.

In the third season of five-minute documentaries in the National Treasures series, comedian and broadcaster Chris Taylor travels around Australia delivering historical snapshots of places from the National Heritage List.

He talks with experts and enthusiasts, revealing fascinating insights into our famous and not-so-famous past.

See also Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown and The Prime Ministers' National Treasures with Warren Brown.

Main image: Chris Taylor at the WA Maritime Museum. Photograph by David Dare Parker.

Naracoorte Fossil Mammal Site
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480945
Year:
Year

The extraordinary build-up of fossils in South Australia’s World and National Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves spans at least 350,000 years and provides rare evidence of Australia’s distinctive fauna and the way it has evolved.

Discovered in 1969, the site covers 300 hectares and gives scientists a snapshot of Pleistocene life in south-east Australia.

Only four per cent of the site has been excavated and already scientists have discovered 100 species, a quarter of them extinct, including the marsupial lion, a giant kangaroo and a wombat-like animal the size of a four-wheel drive. 

Did you know:

  • The Naracoorte Caves in South Australia had been a popular tourist destination for over a century before the fossil mammal site was discovered there in 1969.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

This clip features a still from the collection of the State Library of South Australia: B 59995.

Rules of AFL
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480933
Year:
Year

Ten hand-written rules displayed in a museum in the heart of the National Heritage-listed Melbourne Cricket Ground hold the key to a great Australian sport.

If Australian Rules football was a religion, these rules would be its bible.

Driven by champion sportsperson and sporting administrator Tom Wills in 1859, the rules established a football code to help cricketers keep fit in the off-season. While several rules remain the same today, some – such as allowing defenders to trip a person in possession of the ball – have been scrapped.

The Australian Football League is now a multi-million dollar business and one of the most popular sports in Australia.

Did you know:

  • Australian Rules football was played for the first time on the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1859.
  • In the first 18 years of Australian Rules football only nine matches were played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, because preparations for the cricket season began as early as July, in the middle of winter. Footy was played outside the ground at Yarra Park.
  • Tom Wills, who was one of the founders of Australian Rules football, also coached the first-ever Australian cricket team to tour England. The team was composed entirely of Indigenous Australians.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Fremantle Prison
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480927
Year:
Year

Built by convicts in the 1850s, Fremantle Prison is the best-preserved convict-built prison in Australia and is part of the earliest phase of European settlement in Western Australia.

One of the last remaining links to the days of transportation, the prison was notorious for harsh conditions, including isolation in tiny cells. The conditions triggered wild riots in 1988 and the prison was decommissioned in 1991.

Evidence of the hardships remains in the National Heritage-listed prison, including a flogging post, gallows and tunnels carved into its limestone foundations by prisoners.

Did you know:

  • Bon Scott, lead singer of AC/DC, once served a short sentence at Fremantle Prison while a teenager.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Batavia Shipwreck Ruins
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480931
Year:
Year

Stone ruins on Western Australia’s remote West Wallabi Island are the oldest structures built by Europeans in Australia and tell a tale of mutiny and murder.

Built as a fort in 1629 by survivors of the shipwrecked Dutch merchant ship Batavia, the National Heritage-listed shipwreck site provides a lasting memorial to the treachery of under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, who had conspired to mutiny and steal the treasure-laden ship before it struck a reef.

The mutineers murdered more than 120 shipwreck survivors before most were captured, tried and hanged for their crimes. The wreck convinced the Dutch East India Company to make accurate charts of the coastline, putting Australia on the world map.

The Batavia was found in 1963 and is now on display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

Did you know:

  • The oldest human habitation ever built by Europeans on Australian territory was by survivors of the Batavia shipwreck in 1629.
  • Before being hanged for his role in the Batavia mutiny and the slaughter of many passengers, Jeronimus Cornelisz was tortured, forced to sign a confession, then had his hands chopped off.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Ned Kelly Armour
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480861
Year:
Year

From violent cop killer to a champion of the working class, bushranger Ned Kelly is a solid gold Australian icon and folk hero.

By the time Kelly was captured in June 1880 after the famous siege at Glenrowan – a precinct included on the National Heritage List – the bearded bushranger had won the hearts of Victorians.

When he was sentenced to hang five months later for the murder of three police officers at Stringybark Creek, 30,000 people signed a petition demanding clemency.

The iron armour that saved – or some might say cost him – his life is preserved as a national treasure in the State Library of Victoria.

Did you know:

  • Ned Kelly’s suit of armour was half his own body weight.
  • Before being hanged at the Melbourne Gaol Ned Kelly uttered his famous words, 'Such is life'.
  • Twelve days after Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880, Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced him to death, himself died as a result of a carbuncle on his neck.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Wattie Creek
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480941
Year:
Year

Wattie Creek entered Australian folklore as the birthplace of the Aboriginal land-rights movement when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam visited the Gurindji people to grant them deeds to their land.

The Gurindji rose to national prominence in 1966 when, led by stockman Vincent Lingiari, 200 Aboriginal employees quit slave-labour conditions at Wave Hill cattle station and walked the now National Heritage-listed Wave Hill Walk-off Route to set up a community at Wattie Creek, which they renamed Daguragu.

The walk-off began a nine-year labour strike that ended with a win for Indigenous land rights.

Did you know:

  • The Gurindji strike in 1966 led to a nine-year battle to reclaim traditional land.
  • On 15 August 1975 the Gurindji became the first Aboriginal community to have land returned to them by the Commonwealth Government.
  • The well-known song first recorded in 1991 by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, 'From Little Things Big Things Grow', tells the story of the Gurindji’s fight for land rights.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Royal Exhibition Building
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480879
Year:
Year

During the 19th century, Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building was an architectural masterpiece which showcased Australia’s arrival on the world stage as an economic powerhouse.

It was 1888, the golden age of exhibitions, and Victoria, initially fuelled by the gold rush, boasted the largest exhibition building in the world with its annexes combining to cover 14 hectares.

The National and World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building was used for the opening of the first Australian Federal Parliament in 1901, and subsequently served as a hospital, an army training centre and a wrestling venue during the 1956 Olympics.

It is the only exhibition building from that period remaining in the world.

Did you know:

  • The Centenary Exhibition of 1888, held at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, was so successful that it attracted two million visitors, almost twice the Victorian colony’s population.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Bonegilla Migrant Camp
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480939
Year:
Year

More than 300,000 migrants had their first taste of Australian life at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp in Victoria before moving out to transform Australia socially and culturally.

Established in 1947 to house postwar immigrants, the National Heritage-listed property was a spartan former army camp with the most basic facilities. Isolated and primitive, it was freezing in winter, hot in summer, had shared bathrooms and laundries, and pit latrines.

Riots erupted in 1952 after the suicide of three young residents triggered widespread dissatisfaction with the standard of living. Conditions improved soon afterwards and the camp continued operating until 1971. Today, Block 19 is all that remains of 28 blocks.

Did you know:

  • Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre originally covered over 130 hectares.
  • To end the 1952 riot the Australian Government sent in 200 soldiers as a show of strength.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Eureka Flag
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1479373
Year:
Year

Since it fluttered above a group of rebellious gold miners at the 1854 Eureka Stockade, the flag of the Southern Cross has become a symbol of democracy and defiance.

The flag – and the National Heritage-listed Eureka Stockade Gardens – remain potent symbols of Australia’s only revolution, a battle that was over in less than 30 minutes and claimed 38 lives.

Whether the revolution is interpreted as the birth of Australian democracy or a middle-class tax revolt, it was without doubt a defining moment in Australia’s history.

The flag is on public view at the Eureka Centre in Ballarat, on long-term loan from the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Did you know:

  • At 30 shillings per month (the equivalent of three dollars per month in Australian decimal currency), the miners licence on the Ballarat goldfields of 1854 was twice the average weekly wage.
  • The battle of the Eureka Stockade on 3 December 1854 lasted less than half an hour, but it claimed 38 lives – 33 miners and five soldiers.
  • The Eureka flag was sewn in silk by three women and first hoisted at Bakery Hill in 1854.
  • Eureka Oath of Allegiance: 'We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties'.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Francis De Groot's Sword
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480923
Year:
Year

When right-wing agitator Francis De Groot upstaged the 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and sliced through the ceremonial ribbon, the antique sword he wielded cemented its place as an Australian national treasure.

Part of a monarchist militia called the New Guard, Irish-born De Groot was protesting about a perceived communist push led by working-class hero and nationalist NSW Premier Jack Lang.

The ribbon was retied and cut by Lang, but the story didn’t end there. A lengthy court battle followed, which resulted in De Groot being found guilty and fined £5 for trespassing. He immediately counter-sued for wrongful arrest and was awarded compensation.

The legal battle established that De Groot, not Lang, had legally opened the bridge, which is now included in the National Heritage List. His sword is held by a private collector.

Did you know:

  • Francis De Groot, the man who gatecrashed the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, was an Irish immigrant and successful antiques dealer.
  • When Jack Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, announced that he, rather than Australia’s Governor-General, would officially open the new Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, the right-wing monarchist group calling itself the New Guard planned to kidnap him.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures teachers' notes

Teachers' notes for Australia's Heritage: National Treasures study guide.

The complete series Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.