Emma Dortins

PHA Accreditation

Professional Members


Emma works for the Heritage Division of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. She leads a small team helping Aboriginal people to nominate places with cultural importance to them to be recognised as Aboriginal Places under the NPW Act. Previously, she was part of the cultural Research Team where she contributed to research on the nature of heritage and its importance to people in NSW, and on current heritage systems and how they came to be the way they are.

She has been awarded a PhD in History at University of Sydney for her thesis 'The Lives of Stories: Making histories of Aboriginal-settler friendship'. She explored popular, public, family and local history-making by following the lives of four stories told and retold across many decades. Her thesis can be accessed through Sydney University's rare books service or through the AIATSIS library. She has also talked about some of her research on the radio ('Castaways', Hindsight program on ABC's Radio National, produced by Nicole Steinke), and published a number of articles (see list below).

Between 2001 and 2008 Emma worked at Heritage Assessment And History, directed by Dr Sue Rosen, on a broad range of history and heritage projects (see select list below). Here she learned to be a disciplined, efficient and precise researcher, able to design and pursue a research program to the brief, budget and timeframe required, and to present this research in an accessible way. She researched and wrote many histories to form the basis for recommendations on the future management of places in NSW, and contributed to several methodological studies designed to improve heritage management generally.

Emma is interested in how people make and remake history, and how we make sense of this history-work. She has spoken at many conferences and public forums on topics including 'time travel' in oral life narratives; how people understand the heritage values of the houses they live in; and the importance of exploring the history of histories. She enjoyed facilitating the history unit 'What is History?' for University of New England 2013-14, helping students think about the nature of research and historical argument, the different questions that can be asked of historical sources and huge range of meanings history has in the public sphere.

While on maternity leave, she's working on making 'The Lives of Stories' into a book, and is hoping to get her teeth stuck into some research again soon


Publications/Past Work

 ‘Apology and Absolution – the poetic and public dialogue of Judith Wright and Kath Walker’, in Testimony, Witness, Authority: The politics and poetics of experience, Tom Clark and Sasha Henriss-Andersse eds (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013). 

'James Morrill: shipwreck survivor, Birri-gubba adoptee and explorer-in-retrospect', History Australia 9, no. 3 (2012): 65-86

'The Many Truths of Bennelong's Tragedy', Aboriginal History 33 (2010): 53-75

'Aboriginal Heritage in Perspective: a comparative review of legislation and management regimes in Australia and beyond', report co-written with Denis Byrne, Steve Brown, Caroline Ford and Alex Roberts for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (2011)

Beecroft Children’s Library. Giving the Gift of Reading 1942 – 1998, with the Library Sub-Group of the Beecroft and Cheltenham History Group (Beecroft/Cheltenham Civic Trust Inc., 2005)

Experience of WWI and WWII at Home on the North Coast, Central West and South Coast of NSW, with Sue Rosen and Museums and Galleries Foundation NSW, for Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History, for the NSW Heritage Office (2006)

Lines of Road: A Methodology for Assessment – Pilot Study for NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, with Sue Rosen, for Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History, for the RTA (2004)

Review of items of State Heritage Significance in Newcastle LGA, with Sue Rosen, Rosemary Kerr and Laila Ellmoos, for Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History for Newcastle City Council and the NSW Heritage Branch (2007-8)

Studies of the significance of RTA-controlled concrete slab, beam and arch bridges, and ferries, with Sue Rosen, Sid French, Rosemary Kerr and Laila Ellmoos, for Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment Ans History for the Roads and Traffic Authority (2003-5)