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Our cities owe much of their surviving heritage to Jack Mundey

The Conversation 11 May 2020

Jack Mundey, who has died at the age of 90, was a pioneer of the Australian heritage movement. As well as contributing to labor and environmental politics, Mundey reconceived of the ways that Australians related to their cities and heritage places.

As the NSW Builders’ Labourers Federation (BLF) secretary, Mundey created the “green ban” (a term first used in 1973). No union member would work on a site subject to a green ban.

These bans were placed to give communities a say in development and to protect heritage and the environment. At a time of historically high union membership in the construction industry, a green ban effectively prevented development from proceeding.

By painting the traditional union “black ban” in a new colour, Mundey and the BLF created a new conception of urban and labor politics which highlighted community heritage concerns. As Mundey explained:

The adjective “green” was more apt than “black”. It also explained our wish to extend our help to other citizens, not to unionists alone.

Applying the first ban

The first green ban was applied in Sydney at Hunter’s Hill in 1971. A group of women founded “Battlers for Kelly’s Bush” to campaign against a proposed housing development by Melbourne firm A.V. Jennings. The housing estate was to be built on the Parramatta River at Kelly’s Bush, the last undeveloped open space in the area.

It was a typical housing project in this era of suburban expansion. But the rise of resident and civic groups fighting for heritage across Australia shifted the development terrain.
The Hunter’s Hill residents heard Mundey’s claim that workers “had a right to express an opinion on social questions relating to the building industry”. After a meeting between Mundey and the Battlers, a green ban was applied, eventually foiling the development. Kelly’s Bush was saved.

It did not matter that Hunter’s Hill was a solidly middle-class suburb. The green bans would be instituted on behalf of a range of communities.

A time of public revolt

Australian cities underwent dramatic change in the postwar period. Funded by a long economic boom, it was the era of modernist architecture and planning. Many parts of cities would be redeveloped following wholesale demolition.

Although goals of postwar urban planning for the welfare state included housing for all, full employment and exciting new environments, sizeable cracks in the vision were appearing in the 1960s. Planners and architects were increasingly criticised for being technocratic and adopting overly scientific and rationalised modes for urban design and development.

Their efforts were too often disconnected from communities and needlessly destroyed historic and natural environments. Widespread demolitions of commercial and public buildings in Australian CBDs and of terrace and free-standing homes in the inner suburbs were increasingly seen as unacceptable by the community.

More broadly, the late 1960s and early 1970s was a dramatic time for Australian social movements. Second-wave feminists, anti-Vietnam war protesters and historic and environmental conservationists rubbed shoulders during street marches. The federal Liberal Party had been in power for two decades and there was a great deal of energy among progressives for change.

An expanding movement

The Australian heritage movement was gaining momentum. National Trusts had been active in designating heritage places from the late 1940s. By the late 1960s, thousands of historic places were identified by National Trust classifications, metropolitan planning schemes and sympathetic governments and property owners.

However, a new generation of heritage activists had come to see the Australian National Trusts as narrow in their architectural interests, tame in their advocacy methods, and led by a coterie of elites. Green bans were seen as a more effective means of safeguarding heritage and were swiftly expanded from Hunter’s Hill.

Mundey and his fellow unionists Joe Owens and Bob Pringle, as part of the broader green ban movement, engaged with the ten inner-suburban Melbourne resident groups that comprised the Committee for Urban Action, established in 1970, and the 40 such groups that in 1971 had formed the Coalition of Resident Action Groups in Sydney. From Woolloomooloo and Pott’s Point to Fitzroy and Collingwood, residents took to the streets to protest comprehensive urban renewal and freeway construction plans.

Unions backed these citizen movements by placing green bans on these neighbourhoods. The green bans extended across Australia’s historic suburbs into the CBDs.

Perth’s Palace Hotel and The Mansions in Brisbane were subject to these efforts. In Sydney, Mundey was arrested during protests at The Rocks. In Melbourne, the City Baths, Mac’s Hotel, Victoria Market, Gothic Bank, Regent Theatre, Windsor Hotel, Princess Theatre, Collins Street and the Rialto precinct, and Tasma Terrace all received the attention of the union movement. (The Victorian National Trust would find a new home at Tasma Terrace despite the Australian National Trust movement’s reticence about supporting the radical green bans.)
The Victorian Housing Commission’s high-rise housing program was brought to a sudden halt. Corrupt Melbourne unionist Norman Gallagher, who notoriously clashed with Mundey, took part in applying green bans in his city.

Unions backed these citizen movements by placing green bans on these neighbourhoods. The green bans extended across Australia’s historic suburbs into the CBDs.

Perth’s Palace Hotel and The Mansions in Brisbane were subject to these efforts. In Sydney, Mundey was arrested during protests at The Rocks. In Melbourne, the City Baths, Mac’s Hotel, Victoria Market, Gothic Bank, Regent Theatre, Windsor Hotel, Princess Theatre, Collins Street and the Rialto precinct, and Tasma Terrace all received the attention of the union movement. (The Victorian National Trust would find a new home at Tasma Terrace despite the Australian National Trust movement’s reticence about supporting the radical green bans.)
The Victorian Housing Commission’s high-rise housing program was brought to a sudden halt. Corrupt Melbourne unionist Norman Gallagher, who notoriously clashed with Mundey, took part in applying green bans in his city.

https://theconversation.com/our-cities-owe-much-of-their-surviving-heritage-to-jack-mundey-138293

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