ANU Spaces – Amy Jarvis

8 October 2018

Meet Amy Jarvis, who is the University's Heritage Advisor. Amy looks after the diverse heritage values of the ANU, ensuring legislative compliance and engaging the ANU and wider community with their own history.

Amy is one of 7 Churchill Fellowship recipients from Canberra, who has been selected to travel to the US in 2019, so she can gather insights into leading heritage engagement and advocacy practices

Congratulations Amy! Can you tell us a little bit more about the Churchill Fellowship from your perspective, and how you plan to make use of this exciting opportunity?

I am absolutely thrilled and humbled to be selected for a Churchill Fellowship. My project focusses on advancing the celebration and conservation of the mid-century modern heritage of Canberra.

Canberra is a modern city built on brave ideals and experimentation and mid and late twentieth century modern architecture and planning are a key part of the city's identity, but this heritage is rapidly disappearing due to a widespread lack of understanding and appreciation. So I co-founded Canberra Modern - an advocacy platform and festival of events (held at University House in 2017) to engage the community and advocate for Canberra's modernist heritage.

Through the fellowship I will travel around the USA, including visiting Palm Springs during its famed 'Modernism Week' to understand how communities and local government have converted their grassroots conservation action into tangible tourism and community benefits, conserving their heritage places and spaces.

I plan to bring back what I learn to Canberra Modern and grow Canberra's profile and reputation as a modern city. Basically the principle is 'conservation through participation' - building a community of engaged advocates who understand the unique and rare aspects of Canberra and want to protect them.

What do you love most about being the University's Heritage Advisor?

How much time have you got? Haha

I feel incredibly privileged to do what I do, to be paid to do what I love and to have a role which allows me to so deeply understand this place and its unique cultural landscape. I work across natural values, Aboriginal cultural connections and in the built realm, as well as understanding the important role the University plays in Canberra and in Australia.

ANU is an overtly modern university - developed in the post-war period which was new, bold and innovative - the buildings, landscape planning and commitment to world leading research, teaching and learning have shaped campuses with unique values that I feel exceptionally lucky to care for.

What does a Heritage Advisor do?

Well one of my primary roles is legislative compliance. ANU has obligations under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which include the identification, assessment, management and communication of heritage places under its ownership and control.

I also work closely with students through project-based internships, play a role in the management of University collections, in particular the ANU Historic Furniture Collection (Fred Ward and his counterparts), undertake liaison with the local Aboriginal community and provide strategic heritage advice to internal and external stakeholders.

What I also see as an integral part of my role is communication and celebration of the heritage and history of ANU to the University and wider communities, this includes giving tours, writing articles, representing ANU at industry events and promoting the great work we do.

What exciting projects are you currently working on, that you can tell us about?

I have been really enjoying having input into the Campus Masterplan as well as working on a recent landscape project at Mt Stromlo in which we were able to reinstate a historic orchard lost in the 2003 fires. I have also been involved in the Kambri project and working with the local Aboriginal community on a bushfood garden and other storytelling opportunities in the precinct. 

What is your favourite space on campus? And why?

That's a really tricky question for me as I have a long list, but I must say the courtyard within University House, with the fishpond and shady trees holds a special place for me. We used this space for the Canberra Modern Modernist Market in 2017 and it was amazing to see how flexible a space like this can be.

If you were free for an afternoon, what would you do and why?

Well I would love to spend more time at Mt Stromlo, it's such an amazing place which I have loved working at, but I have to admit that one of my favourite things to do is go through historic photos from the University's early years in the ANU Archives. I could spend hours browsing them, identifying faces and spaces and understanding how things have changed.

If you could pick 4 or 5 locations on campus that have heritage significance, which ones would you pick and why?

University Avenue - lots of people don't realise that University Avenue (originally called Terrace Avenue) is actually an axis of the Griffin Plan for Canberra, the plantings along the avenue were made by TC Weston and are in groups representing the four seasons - cedars for winter, poplars for autumn, elms for summer and flowering plums for spring.

  • Old Canberra House (1913) is an important building in both the story of ANU and Canberra, it was the first two-storey residence in Canberra, as home to the Administrator of the city, it was also the first ANU staff club (which also allowed students), so you can imagine the revelry that went on there.
  • Sullivans Creek - this waterway has significance in many different ways. It was a resource corridor and pathway for Aboriginal people, a key part of successful pastoralisation in the area and is now an iconic element of the ANU campus.
  • While it is technically its own campus, Mt Stromlo Observatory (1924) is too special not to mention, the site holds Canberra's earliest scientific building (the Oddie Dome, 1911) as well as buildings and equipment of international regard, it is also an important community site and memorial to the 2003 bushfires.  
  • RN Robertson Building (1972) - an underrated gem, the brutalist exterior often goes unnoticed, but the amazing atrium space on the interior is truly something to behold.

Most people would think of heritage as merely old buildings, but it is so much more. Can you tell us what heritage means to you and in a broader context and why it's important for the ANU community, Canberra and our society in general?

By definition, heritage is those things from the past which we value enough in the present to keep for the future. Heritage is about so much more than old buildings, it's about place, space, emotion and connection. It's about understanding who we are, where we have come from and how we can take these lessons forward.

Heritage is often tarred with a negative brush, as a stopper to progress but it is dynamic, changing and provides opportunities for innovation. Canberra is considered a young city, but we have over 25,000 years of history to celebrate here, and we need to understand that our more recent heritage is different and unique to other places, our modernity is something to be proud of and celebrated.

Conservation of heritage places is a direct benefit to the community and is demonstrated to be part of identity and in making cities more liveable. I truly believe that if you don't understand something, you can't appreciate it; if you don't appreciate it, you don't care if you lose it; and once it's lost, you can't get it back. That's why I am so passionate about sharing the heritage of ANU and Canberra as far and wide as possible, to empower people to engage with their National Capital, and re-frame Canberra's identity as an internationally significant, designed, dynamic & 'modern' city.