When we think of the oldest item on the National Trust Register, we often think of the first item listed. But what about the oldest by age – the ones that outstrip the lifetime of the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal combined? The National Trust Register includes many ancient sites, including volcanic landscapes, fossil sites, beaches, and sacred Aboriginal places. Read on to find out about the National Trust’s truly oldest listings.
The National Trust (NSW) Register has two main aims: to identify places and spaces across our state that are culturally significant; and to protect these items. In our search and collection of these valuable assets, we also record their history, features and social identity. The National Trust has been writing heritage listings for more than half a century, and over that time we have amassed many unique and interesting sites, some of which are a lot older than the rest.
The sky over New South Wales by day and night
The sky over the State of NSW by day and night was added to the National Trust Register in 2008, with the aim of documenting the importance of our connection to the sun, stars and universe for all places in NSW. The sky is arguably the oldest of the National Trust’s heritage items, having been part of human history and memory for all time.
This listing outlines the significance of the sky for its Aboriginal heritage, having been the subject of navigation, storytelling, ceremony and art for tens of thousands of years by the world’s oldest continuing living culture. It also notes the scientific value, having aided our understanding of time, expeditions, agriculture and even the space race in the 1960s. The Parkes Satellite, which has been instrumental to our contemporary understanding of the universe, is also listed on the National Trust Register.
One of the biggest threats to the sky over NSW is overdevelopment, which can block important cultural views to our surroundings as well as sunlight for a healthy and adequate living environment. Furthermore, light pollution throughout more populated areas can also cause damage to our ecosystems, with night lighting critically affecting the health of many species of flora and fauna, including humans. Pollution and climate change continue to threaten our access to a healthy and robust connection with the sky overhead.
The sky is constantly dotted throughout our Australian identify and cultural life; featuring in the national and Aboriginal flags, in our national anthem, Rising Sun Badge, poetry by Dorothea Mackellar and Banjo Paterson, and in the works of important Australian artists such as Arthur Streeton, Harold Cazneux and Olive Cotton. Its importance to our wellbeing and cultural identity cannot be underestimated.
Located west of the Great Dividing Range are the Jenolan Caves, nestled into the central tablelands below Oberon, and listed by the National Trust almost 40 years ago. They also form part of the UNESCO World heritage listed Greater Blue Mountains Area.
Through examination of the clay samples found onsite, the caves are estimated to be 340 million years old, which makes them the oldest known and dated open cave system in the world. They are also substantial in size, with around 40km of multi-level passages and more than 300 entrances along the route.
The caverns are located in a karst area, meaning the cave system contains underground rivers and natural archways. This has led to the cavern system being filled with a range of stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Above ground, the area also contains a stunning blue lake, which is coloured in such a visually striking hue due to its ancient limestone deposits and bedrock.
When lit up, the tunnels of the Jenolan caves create an extraordinary vision, illustrating some of the most untouched and ancient spaces in the entire world.
For thousands of years, the location has been a significant site for Gundungaurra and Wiradjuri people, featuring in Dreamtime stories, and with the Jenolan River believed to have healing properties for the sick.
Canowindra fish fossil site
Giving the sky a run for its money as the oldest register item, the Canowindra fish fossil site is another ancient item that provides a rare insight into the world 360 million years ago.
It is believed that during the Late Devonian period, the fish onsite lost their freshwater pool due to drought, and were very soon after their death buried in a fine layer of silt, possibly due to flooding. This layer, deposited prior to their decomposition, allowed over 4,000 fish across eight different species to be perfectly preserved and eventually cemented into rock.
Where many other sites of Devonian fish feature only fragments, the Canowindra fish fossil site captures thousands of fish ghosts in full body 3D format. Both the level of detail and the scale of the fossil site (which resulted in 60 tonnes of excavation) helped provide further information about the evolution of the world and even humankind; as amongst the Canowindra specimens are five species of sarcopterygians, the class of fish from which the first land animals and all later backboned animals including humans evolved.
The fossils are on display at the nearby Ages of Fishes Museum, a volunteer run establishment to showcase these rare finds. Next time you’re out in the central west, stop by and have a look at where we really came from!
Find out more
Since 1946 the National Trust has prepared close to 13,000 heritage listings, and every year this list grows as new places are added to the Register. Learn more about the National Trust Register.
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