"The Mundeys and the Pringles and the Owens’ and the rank-and-file have effected one of those rare shifts in public thinking that occurs only a few times in a lifetime. Maybe they were mad hatters and larrikins — a true Australian tradition — but, by God, there’s many a Sydney resident who will remember them with love."
Peter Manning in Hardman and Manning, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon, Australian Conservation Foundation, 1975.
On the fortieth anniversary of the Green Bans, Green Bans Art Walk restates the ideals of the struggle to protect the character of the inner-city areas of Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. These were the most brutal of the Green Ban battle between citizens and the state.
Green Bans Art Walk and Exhibition in two parts at The Cross Art Projects and The Firstdraft Depot Project Space, tells the story of an inspired period, its charismatic leaders and grass-roots heroes. The series of public guided walks between the exhibition venues functioned as a living instruction manual and moral compass charting stories of good and evil, creativity and conflict.
For four years the NSW Builder’s Labourers Federation inspired a nation and the world with the concept of Green Bans. From 1971 to 1974, they voted on over 50 requests for bans from resident groups, the National Trust and/or the Institute of Architects. They voted for a big picture: to keep urban low cost housing and to protect the environment and heritage. They created a planning system revolution and changed institutions and introduced new laws. They set standards around the world.
Green Bans Art Walk aimed to recognise the losses and wins: in Victoria Street, low-cost housing was lost with some heritage gain. Juanita Nielsen was murdered in mid-1975 and Mick Fowler, the other key leader, died an untimely death. Developer Frank Theeman and his associates built in reduced form gated towers along a street termed by the National Trust ‘the Montmartre of Sydney’.
In Woolloomooloo a visionary medium density workers’ housing project embracing renewal and new designs was launched when the Labor Party won Federal government in December 1972. Developer Syd Londish lost his dream of consolidating high-rise office blocks into a city extension. The project co-ordinated by young architect John Devenish won 8 architecture awards and international acclaim for its model of community consultation.
Having a say in the city of the future created a planning system revolution, then changed institutions and laws. They set standards around the world. The state BLF leadership paid dearly. The union was de-registered and the leadership denied the right to work in their industry.
Green Bans Art Walk included 5 public guided walks between the exhibition venues, a “boots on the ground” mapping of key sites. Previously, 3 trial walks with local guides set out the community touchstones. Over 200 people participated in the walks with a rotating group of speakers on the art, architecture and planning (6-8 voices per walk.) Each walk sought ideas on reviving the old walkways across the basin in order to re-unify disconnections caused by rail and freeway infrastructure, historic interpretation and broad social observations about the need to put low-cost urban housing back on top of the action list and promote cultural diversity.
Ideas raised included a ‘Green Plaque’ heritage-style signage system, restoring existing plaques, adding new artworks, a possible statue to BLF secretary Jack Mundey, for the inspired Green Bans concept and a ‘linear park’ to create a peoples museum emphasising the area’s residential character.
Designation as a special area ensures that the planning system protects significance and character and this story is passed on. Privatisation and sell-offs of public housing began with the Maritime Services Board houses in Millers Point, a decision by then Minister for Housing Joe Tripodi in 1995 that remains substantively unchallenged by any state minister or local government. A list of key sites and outcomes was prepared at a Film Night finale.
Green Bans Art Walk presented by Performance Space as part of WALK, a season of walks, promenades, marches and strolls in and around Sydney.
This website document is an on-going resource with a downloadable map for self-guided walks.
Our supporters include The Firstdraft Depot, City of Sydney (a cultural grant), Awesome Foundation. This project couldn’t have happened without the generous involvement of Jack Mundey, Jim Donovan, Edmund Campion, CFMEU (Construction), local guides Stacey Miers and Michelle Blakeney, the artists, walks speakers and volunteers.