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Mr South Australia to lead state Heritage Council

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Keith Conlon, whose lifelong fascination with local history has seen him dubbed “Mr South Australia”, has been appointed to lead the state’s Heritage Council.

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Conservation Minister Ian Hunter has named the 50-year media veteran chair of the South Australian Heritage Council, which is responsible for the protection of buildings, places and objects through their entry on the SA Heritage Register.

Conlon said he would use the role to “broaden the debate” about heritage, and to give the community more of a voice in the protection of their history.

Asked to describe his approach to heritage, he said that while some buildings – such as the GPO on Victoria Square, or the Town Hall on King William Street – “speak for themselves” in terms of heritage value, often “the importance of a building is hard to explain unless you know something about it”.

“It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be grand (to be of state significance),” he said.

He gave the example of a shed at the back of the Adelaide Botanic Garden – all that’s left of a lunatic asylum morgue – as a hidden treasure of South Australia’s heritage.

Conlon said part of his work will be to counter a stereotype about snobbish North Adelaide residents.

“Imagine how much that pains me … (to be pilloried as) the landed gentry,” said Conlon, who lives in a cottage in North Adelaide.

“One of my (roles) might be to broaden the debate and include more people.

“The job of the Heritage Council … is to recognise and list and to make sure our heritage buildings and items are preserved and restored, if possible.”

Conlon’s interest in South Australian history was inculcated into him by his parents, who had “no formal education but a passion for knowing about what was around them”.

“If a sign said ‘lookout’ or ‘monument’ or ‘museum’, my dad would say ‘we better go’,” he recalled.

Conlon was born in Blackwood, which was “a country town when I was a kid”, and went on to study history, before eventually embarking on a career in the media.

He presented the weeknight ABC News bulletin in South Australia from 1989 to 1992 and hosted high-rating South Australian travel show Postcards on the Nine Network from 1995 until 2011.

He said he was first described as “Mr South Australia” by then-CEO of the South Australian Tourism Commission, Bill Spurr, at an event in the early 2000s, and the moniker has stuck.

Conlon retired, signing off as a presenter on Adelaide’s FIVEaa radio, in 2013.

He starts work as chair of the Heritage Council in April next year. He is appointed for a three-year term.

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