Green bans

Mundey

Jack Mundey

A father of the Green Bans movement (Jack Mundey) died recently.

When it was proposed to demolish the Chatswood Railway Station to create the new Transport Interchange, the Willoughby District Historical Society called on Jack Mundey of Green Bans fame to lend his support. Green Bans were well and truly a thing of the past at that stage but Jack went to a Council meeting to argue for the preservation of the Station.

‘Green bans’ became household terms for Sydneysiders during the 1970s. A remarkable form of environmental activism was initiated by the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) under the leadership of Jack Mundey, Joe Owens and Bob Pringle. The BLF refused to work on projects that were environmentally or socially undesirable. This green bans movement, as it became known, was the first of its type in the world.

The green bans were of three main kinds:

  • to defend open spaces from various kinds of development;
  • to protect existing housing stock from demolition intended to make way for freeways or high-rise development; and
  • to preserve older-style buildings from replacement by office-blocks or shopping precincts.

Mundey and Owens, along with about a hundred of the union’s most committed activists, were members of the Communist Party of Australia, which at this stage was subject to New Left influences; Bob Pringle was a member of the Australian Labor Party.

In a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1972, Mundey articulated the union’s principles:

Yes, we want to build. However, we prefer to build urgently-required hospitals, schools, other public utilities, high-quality flats, units and houses, provided they are designed with adequate concern for the environment, than to build ugly unimaginative architecturally-bankrupt blocks of concrete and glass offices…

Our Secretary became involved with the Jack Mundey and the Green Ban movement when he was a Town Planner at the City of Sydney Council. The state government had rezoned Wooloomoloo for high rise Council was working to keep it for low income housing and to save the wonderful terrace housing in Victoria St at the Cross. There was a meeting between the Jack Mundey and local activist Juanita Nielson and Council working on a strategy to counter Sid Londish’s development ambitions. Londish had submitted an outrageous DA. The next day two things happened. The building on the land Londish had bought mysteriously burnt down. Plus Juanita disappeared, never to be seen again.

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