Dennis Altman reviews 'The House that Jack Built: Jack Mundey, Green Bans hero' by James Colman

The term 'green ban', first used in 1973, is so much part of our political vocabulary that we forget it has a specific and Australian genesis, which had considerable influence on the Greens movement internationally. In 1970 the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), under Jack Mundey's leadership, refused to take part in a proposed redevelopment of an area of bushland, known as Kelly's Bush on the foreshores of the Parramatta River. Over the following couple of years, the BLF played a crucial role in blocking 'developments' which would have destroyed large areas of nineteenth-century Sydney. Mundey became a national figure as part of a rapidly growing recognition of the importance of urban heritage. In Sydney, the BLF played a major role in safe-guarding the character of the Rocks, Woolloomooloo, and Centennial Park. The last campaign brought writer Patrick White into an alliance with Mundey that is commemorated in White's play Big Toys (1977).

Sometimes the campaigns to save heritage became major political issues, as in the battle for Victoria Street, the surprisingly quiet street running from Woolloomooloo to Kings Cross. For a few days in 1974 a number of residents engaged in 'the siege of Victoria Street', which became a major media story the following year when one of their more prominent supporters, journalist Juanita Nielsen, disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

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Published in October 2016, no. 385