Skip to main content

We’d love to know what you think of this new site — please complete this short survey to give us your feedback.

Logo DMDC Logo NMA

Battlers for Kelly's Bush

1971: First green bans imposed in Sydney

Marion Marrison/Copyright Agency 2019
1900 2000

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Do you think the green ban movement is an important example of environmental activism? What are other examples of environmental activism today?

 

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the first green ban is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

 

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Kelly’s Bush. A Sydney park that was set to have houses built over it during the 1970s, but was saved by community and union activism.</p>
Department of the Environment and Energy

In a snapshot

The first ‘green ban’ in the world took place in June 1971 at Hunters Hill on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. This ban helped protect Kelly’s Bush, a treasured public area that contained Aboriginal sandstone carvings. It began a movement that saved many important historical and public sites in Australia from development. Green bans continue to be supported by many members of the public, trade unions and organisations such as the National Trust of Australia.

Kelly’s Bush. A Sydney park that was set to have houses built over it during the 1970s, but was saved by community and union activism.

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. How was Sydney changing in the 1960s and 1970s?

2. Who were (i) the BLF, and (ii) the ‘Battlers’?

 

3. What was the first green ban, and why was it a success?

What led to the first green ban?

The Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) was a trade union created in 1911. By the early 1970s this organisation had around 11,000 members. It covered a number of jobs including dogmen (crane directors), riggers (ship workers), scaffolders (who work on scaffolding for buildings), powder monkeys (explosives workers), hoist drivers (large-vehicle drivers) and steel fixers (who reinforce concrete with steel rods).

The BLF represented many workers who were helping to transform Sydney from a low-rise city, mostly based around the harbour, into a large city with many skyscrapers. BLF members worried that building office blocks and high-rise apartments might damage the environment, and they preferred to build hospitals and schools.

Jack Mundey, a well-known BLF member, created the phrase ‘green ban’ in 1973. It could refer to workers defending public spaces, protecting existing houses from demolition or preserving old and historic buildings that might not yet be protected by heritage listing.

Research task

 

This article focuses on the first green bans. When and where have there been other green bans since the ban at Kelly’s Bush? Do some research to find out.

‘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.’

 

Jack Mundey, Sydney Morning Herald, January 1972

Where was the first green ban?

Kelly’s Bush is a site of great natural beauty and Aboriginal sandstone carvings in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill. The original people who lived there are the Guringai-speaking Wal Umedegal clan. Thomas Hussey Kelly donated this land for the public to use in 1892. But it was sold to a land-developing company, AV Jennings, in 1966. AV Jennings wanted to put luxury houses on the site. This led to the creation of an all-female residents’ committee to protect the land. The group, led by Betty James, called themselves the Battlers for Kelly’s Bush.

Kelly’s Bush was further threatened by the land changing from having ‘reserved open space’ to ‘residential’ status, meaning that houses could be built on it. The Battlers worked with the BLF to hold a public meeting to protest the change, which was attended by over 600 people. The BLF imposed the first green ban (then called a black ban) on 17 June 1971.

‘If cities are going to be for people, and not just for big business, well then of course you’ve got to have areas where you’ve got sensitive development, where you’ve got nice parklands, where you’ve got the minimum of car noise traffic and car traffic, and I think this is a prototype of what could happen in all our urban areas.’

 

Jack Mundey, 19 November 1981

What was the effect of the first green ban?

Because of the green ban AV Jennings was forced to sell the land to the Council of Hunters Hill. In 1977 New South Wales Premier Neville Wran stated that Kelly’s Bush would not be developed, and in 1983 he announced that it would permanently be for public use.

The first green ban led to the protection of many other sites around Sydney, including the Rocks. Green bans also stopped a concrete sports stadium being built in Centennial Park and blocked the building of a carpark under the Botanic Gardens (because this threatened fig trees).

Green bans are still supported by many members of the public, trade unions and organisations such as the National Trust of Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage sites are increasingly recognised as needing protection. For example, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in Victoria was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2019.

Research task

 

The Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) was one of Australia’s largest unions. What happened to this union after the green bans in 1971? Into what organisation did the BLF merge in 2014? Do some research to find out.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. How was Sydney changing in the 1960s and 1970s?

2. Who were (i) the BLF, and (ii) the ‘Battlers’?

3. What was the first green ban, and why was it a success?