The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986 (extended in 1994).
The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia was one of 15 World Heritage places included in the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007.
The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (formerly known as the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia)) include the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world, large areas of warm temperate rainforest and nearly all of the Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest.
The Gondwana Rainforests are one of only a few places on earth containing so many plants and animals which remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record.
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The World Heritage listing was extended in 1994 to include extensions to the area in NSW and add reserves in southeast Queensland. The current listing includes approximately 40 separate reserves located between Newcastle and Brisbane. Only areas of reserved Crown land are listed.
Rainforest occurs in New South Wales and southeast Queensland as discontinuous patches surrounded by fire-prone eucalypt forest and agricultural lands. These patches range in size from tiny gully stands to lush forests covering large valleys and ranges. The Gondwana Rainforests include the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world, large areas of warm temperate rainforest and nearly all of the Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest.
Description of place
Rainforest once covered most of the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana and remains the most ancient type of vegetation in Australia. The Gondwana Rainforests provide an interesting living link with the evolution of Australia. Few places on earth contain so many plants and animals which remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record. Some of the oldest elements of the world's ferns and conifers are found here and there is a concentration of primitive plant families that are direct links with the birth and spread of flowering plants over 100 million years ago. A range of geological and environmental influences in the Gondwana Rainforests determine where forest communities grow. This process has occurred over millions of years and will continue to change the forest mosaic into the future.
High waterfalls crashing into steep gorges are spectacular examples of an important ongoing natural process - erosion. Erosion by coastal rivers created the Great Escarpment and the steep-sided caldera of the Tweed Valley surrounding Mount Warning. This towering mountain was once the buried plug of an ancient vast volcano. Today, rainforest grows on the fertile, well-watered soils that remain.
The evolution of new species is encouraged by the natural separation and isolation of rainforest stands. Many plants and animals found in the World Heritage property are locally restricted to a few sites or occur in widely separated populations.
Although rainforests cover only about 0.3 per cent of Australia, they contain about half of all Australian plant families and about a third of Australia's mammal and bird species. The Gondwana Rainforests have an extremely high conservation value and provide habitat for more than 200 rare or threatened plant and animal species. The distributional limits of several species and many centres of species diversity occur in the property. The Border Group is a particularly rich area with the highest concentration of frog, snake, bird and marsupial species in Australia.
Exploring the World Heritage rainforests in the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage property is easy. Many of the reserves are readily accessible from major towns by sealed or graded gravel roads.
On-ground management of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia is principally undertaken by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia is a serial property comprising the major remaining areas of rainforest in southeast Queensland and northeast New South Wales. It represents outstanding examples of major stages of the Earth’s evolutionary history, ongoing geological and biological processes, and exceptional biological diversity. A wide range of plant and animal lineages and communities with ancient origins in Gondwana, many of which are restricted largely or entirely to the Gondwana Rainforests, survive in this collection of reserves. The Gondwana Rainforests also provides the principal habitat for many threatened species of plants and animals.
Criterion (viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features:
The Gondwana Rainforests provides outstanding examples of significant ongoing geological processes. When Australia separated from Antarctica following the breakup of Gondwana, new continental margins developed. The margin which formed along Australia’s eastern edge is characterised by an asymmetrical marginal swell that runs parallel to the coastline, the erosion of which has resulted in the Great Divide and the Great Escarpment. This eastern continental margin experienced volcanicity during the Cenozoic Era as the Australian continental plate moved over one of the planet’s hot spots. Volcanoes erupted in sequence along the east coast resulting in the Tweed, Focal Peak, Ebor and Barrington volcanic shields. This sequence of volcanos is significant as it enables the dating of the geomorphic evolution of eastern Australia through the study of the interaction of these volcanic remnants with the eastern highlands.
The Tweed Shield erosion caldera is possibly the best preserved erosion caldera in the world, notable for its size and age, for the presence of a prominent central mountain mass (Wollumbin/Mt Warning), and for the erosion of the caldera floor to basement rock. All three stages relating to the erosion of shield volcanoes (the planeze, residual and skeletal stages) are readily distinguishable. Further south, the remnants of the Ebor Volcano also provides an outstanding example of the ongoing erosion of a shield volcano.
Criterion (ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals:
The Gondwana Rainforests contains outstanding examples of major stages in the Earth’s evolutionary history as well as ongoing evolutionary processes. Major stages represented include the ‘Age of the Pteridophytes’ from the Carboniferous Period with some of the oldest elements of the world’s ferns represented, and the ‘Age of Conifers’ in the Jurassic Period with one of the most significant centres of survival for Araucarians (the most ancient and phylogenetically primitive of the world’s conifers). Likewise the property provides an outstanding record of the ‘Age of the Angiosperms’. This includes a secondary centre of endemism for primitive flowering plants originating in the Early Cretaceous, the most diverse assemblage of relict angiosperm taxa representing the primary radiation of dicotyledons in the mid-Late Cretaceous, a unique record of the evolutionary history of Australian rainforests representing the ‘golden age’ of the Early Tertiary, and a unique record of Miocene vegetation that was the antecedent of modern temperate rainforests in Australia. The property also contains an outstanding number of songbird species, including lyrebirds (Menuridae), scrub-birds (Atrichornithidae), treecreepers (Climacteridae) and bowerbirds and catbirds (Ptilonorhynchidae), belonging to some of the oldest lineages of passerines that evolved in the Late Cretaceous. Outstanding examples of other relict vertebrate and invertebrate fauna from ancient lineages linked to the break-up of Gondwana also occur in the property.
The flora and fauna of the Gondwana Rainforests provides outstanding examples of ongoing evolution including plant and animal taxa which show evidence of relatively recent evolution. The rainforests have been described as ‘an archipelago of refugia, a series of distinctive habitats that characterise a temporary endpoint in climatic and geomorphological evolution’. The distances between these ‘islands’ of rainforest represent barriers to the flow of genetic material for those taxa which have low dispersal ability, and this pressure has created the potential for continued speciation.
Criterion (x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation:
The ecosystems of the Gondwana Rainforests contain significant and important natural habitats for species of conservation significance, particularly those associated with the rainforests which once covered much of the continent of Australia and are now restricted to archipelagos of small areas of rainforest isolated by sclerophyll vegetation and cleared land. The Gondwana Rainforests provides the principal habitat for many species of plants and animals of outstanding universal value, including more than 270 threatened species as well as relict and primitive taxa.
Rainforests covered most of Australia for much of the 40 million years after its separation from Gondwana. However, these rainforests contracted as climatic conditions changed and the continent drifted northwards. By the time of European settlement rainforests covered only 1% of the landmass and were restricted to refugia with suitable climatic conditions and protection from fire. Following European settlement, clearing for agriculture saw further loss of rainforests and only a quarter of the rainforest present in Australia at the time of European settlement remains.
The Gondwana Rainforests protects the largest and best stands of rainforest habitat remaining in this region. Many of the rare and threatened flora and fauna species are rainforest specialists, and their vulnerability to extinction is due to a variety of factors including the rarity of their rainforest habitat. The Gondwana Rainforests also protects large areas of other vegetation including a diverse range of heaths, rocky outcrop communities, forests and woodlands. These communities have a high diversity of plants and animals that add greatly to the value of the Gondwana Rainforests as habitat for rare, threatened and endemic species. The complex dynamics between rainforests and tall open forest particularly demonstrates the close evolutionary and ecological links between these communities.
Species continue to be discovered in the property including the re-discovery of two mammal species previously thought to have been extinct: the Hastings River Mouse (Pseudomys oralis) and Parma Wallaby (Macropus parma).
Statement of integrity
The Gondwana Rainforests contains the largest and most significant remaining stands of subtropical rainforest and Antarctic Beech Nothofagus moorei cool temperate rainforests in the world, the largest and most significant areas of warm temperate rainforest and one of only two remaining large areas of Araucarian rainforest in Australia.
Questions related to the small size of some of the component parts of the property, and the distance between the sites for the long-term conservation and continuation of natural biological processes of the values for which the property was inscribed have been raised. However, noting that the serial sites are in reasonable proximity and are joined by corridors of semi-natural habitats and buffers, compensation for small size and scattered fragments is being made through intensive management consistent with approved management plans and policy.
Since inscription, there have been significant additions to the protected area estate in both New South Wales and Queensland in the region encompassing the Gondwana Rainforests. These areas have undergone a rigorous assessment to determine their suitability for inclusion in the property and a significant extension of the property is planned as indicated by the addition of the property extension to Australia’s Tentative List in May 2010. In relation to ongoing evolution, the level of legislative protection provided for World Heritage properties will minimise direct human influence and enable the continuation of natural biological processes.
Requirements for protection and management
Institutional arrangements for the protection and management of Gondwana Rainforests are strong. The property is made up of 41 reserves, almost all of which are within the protected area estate, and primarily managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. Both States have legislation relating to protected areas and native flora and fauna that provide protection for the values of the Gondwana Rainforests.
In 1993, Governments agreed to establish a Coordinating Committee, comprised of on-ground managers from these agencies and the Australian Government, to facilitate the cooperative management of the property at an operational level. A Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee and a Community Advisory Committee have also assisted with management advice since their establishment in 2002.
In 1994 when the property was extended, the World Heritage Committee requested the Australian authorities to complete the management plans of individual sites, particularly those within Queensland. Management plans have been produced for the majority of individual reserves within the property, and are in draft form or planned for the remainder.
In 2000 a Strategic Overview for Management for the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia (now Gondwana Rainforests) World Heritage Area was published. This overarching document is a major element in guiding cooperative management by the three Governments in relation to the identification, protection, conservation, rehabilitation and presentation of the Gondwana Rainforests.
All World Heritage properties in Australia are ‘matters of national environmental significance’ protected and managed under national legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This Act is the statutory instrument for implementing Australia’s obligations under a number of multilateral environmental agreements including the World Heritage Convention. By law, any action that has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a World Heritage property must be referred to the responsible Minister for consideration. Substantial penalties apply for taking such an action without approval. Once a heritage place is listed, the Act provides for the preparation of management plans which set out the significant heritage aspects of the place and how the values of the site will be managed.
Importantly, this Act also aims to protect matters of national environmental significance, such as World Heritage properties, from impacts even if they originate outside the property or if the values of the property are mobile (as in fauna). It thus forms an additional layer of protection designed to protect values of World Heritage properties from external impacts.
On 15 May 2007, the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia was added to the National Heritage List; National Heritage is also a matter of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act.
The impacts of climate change and high levels of visitation, undertaking effective fire management, and mitigating the effects of invasion by pest species and pathogens present the greatest challenges for the protection and management of Gondwana Rainforests. Climate change will impact particularly on those relict species in restricted habitats at higher altitudes, where particular microclimatic conditions have enabled these species to survive. Management responses include improving the resilience of the property by addressing other threats such as inappropriate fire regimes and invasion by pest species, and trying to increase habitat connectivity across the landscape.
History of World Heritage listing
The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia was included on the World Heritage List on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee at its 10th session in November 1986, under the name ‘Australian East Coast Temperate & Subtropical Rainforest Park’.
The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia was extended and its name changed to ‘Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia)’ by the World Heritage Committee at its 18th session in December 1994.
Nomination of the New South Wales Rainforests for inclusion in the World Heritage List (1984) (PDF - 34.26 MB)
The World Heritage Committee agreed to Australia’s proposal to extend the property and change the name of the property to ‘Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia)’ at its 18th session in December 1994.
Nomination of the Central Eastern Rainforests of Australia for inclusion on the World Heritage List (1992) (PDF - 28.1 MB)
The name ‘Gondwana Rainforests of Australia’ was approved by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session in June-July 2007.
The retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was approved by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in June-July 2012.
Outstanding Universal Value, including Statements of Outstanding Universal Value
Official listing information
Visit the UNESCO web site for official listing information on the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia:
Management Plan for the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia
A revised Strategic Management Framework for the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia is being prepared.
World Heritage Committee consideration of the state of conservation of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia
From time to time, the World Heritage Committee requests reports on the state of conservation of properties included on the World Heritage List. Australia provided a state of conservation reports on the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia in 2020 and updates in 2021 and 2022.
The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee considered the state of conservation of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia in 2021.
The Committee requested a further state of conservation report to be submitted by 1 December 2022.
- Gondwana Rainforests of Australia State of Conservation update - April 2020
- Additional information on the state of conservation of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia - Key updates 1 February 2021
- State Party Report on the state of conservation of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia - December 2022
The full text of the decision of the World Heritage Committee is available on the UNESCO website - Decision: 44 COM 7B.89
- Australian Heritage Database record for the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia
- Protected Planet Database - Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Site
- Spatial data (in an ESRI shapefile format) for all of Australia’s World Heritage properties is held by the Department. This information is available to the public via the Department's Information and data - Databases and applications.
Gondwana Rainforests WHA Executive Officer, NSW
Gondwana Rainforests WHA Executive Officer, QLD