The wearing of the green

Dictionary staff had a most interesting lunchtime on Tuesday last, listening to Jack Mundey at the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts giving a talk marking 40 years since the start of Sydney’s famous Green Bans.

Jack Mundey, Builders Labourers Federation, 1973, photo by Rennie Ellis, courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

Jack is a giant in union, environmental and political activism in Sydney, and at 81, he is just as inspiring to listen to as he was back in the 1970s when his union, the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), joined forces with residents, environmental activists, heritage groups and many others to try and make sure that Sydney’s development was socially and environmentally responsible.

The first Green ban struggle was at Kelly’s Bush, in Hunters Hill, a parcel of bushland that still exists. The 42 Green bans that followed saved swathes of The Rocks and Woolloomooloo, as well as individual buildings scattered across the city. The bans were a shining example of socially aware unionism, as members risked losing work in order to ensure that the work they did was worthwhile.

Next week, when the new Dictionary upload goes live, you’ll find a new essay on  Green Bans  by Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann, showing how the BLF influenced the development of the city and suburbs, and permanently changed attitudes to Sydney’s architectural and natural heritage. By the end of the 1970s, New South Wales had passed heritage protection legislation, the first in Australia. Those effects, and the transformation of Sydney during the late twentieth century, are further examined in the Dictionary’s essays on Planning by Paul Ashton and Robert Freestone, and Built Environment by Philip Thalis and Peter John Cantrill.

The SMSA is continuing the theme of transforming Sydney, with a talk by eminent architect Colin Griffiths on Tuesday 21 June at 12.30. If you are in Sydney, come along — it’s free.


About Emma Grahame

Emma Grahame has been Editorial Coordinator of the Dictionary of Sydney since May 2007.
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