Re/construction: Jack Mundey & the Green Bans — 31 October to 28 November 2020
Artists: Fiona MacDonald, Chips Mackinolty, Marion Marrison & Margaret Roberts.
Trades Hall Collection, Jack Mundey Archives, curated by Neale Towart & Bill Pirrie.
Exhibition dates: 31 October to 28 November 2020
Venues: Trades Hall Atrium and The Cross Art Projects.
Presented by: The Cross Art Projects and Sydney Trades Hall Heritage Collection.
Conversation: Judy Mundey, Meredith Burgmann, Pat Fiske. Hosted by Peter Manning.
Date: Thursday 5 November at 5 for 5.30. Booking essential (limit of 40). Trades Hall Atrium, enter via 377 Sussex Street. Sorry booked out!
Tours: Exhibition, Trades Hall and Banner Collection, Wednesdays 11, 18, 25 November at 5pm.
Re/construction brings together artists, unions, two community groups and two curators to reread the legacy of Jack Mundey and the Green Bans.
Jack Mundey’s whole life was one giant spatial project. Arguably he had an artist’s vision, yet he didn’t need art to achieve as he did. He had the context of the Builders Labourers’ Federation and a complex union movement based at Sydney Trades Hall. Nevertheless, artists documented (Marion Marrison’s photographs), filmed (Pat Fiske’s Rocking the Foundations) and Chips Mackinolty and comrades (such as Jan Mackay, Peter Kennedy, Ian Millis) glued posters, cut stencils or pasted up small books. They created a dispersed green ban archive.
The Sydney Morning Herald called them “mere builders’ labourers” and “proletarian town planners” and conservationists were “mere housewives”. Others saw a revolution. Patrick White wrote ‘Civilisation, Money and Concrete’ for The Builders’ Labourer (September 1973), concluding, “Civilisation is not a matter of money and concrete. Civilisation, as I see it, depends on human spirit, — human beings — human values.” In Peter Manning’s summing up, “mere” labourers and housewives created a “rare shift in public thinking”. A photo-book with Peter Manning responding to Marion Hardman’s (Marrison) photographs, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon (commissioned by new Australian Conservation Foundation and launched in 1975), is the gritty fellow traveler to acclaimed Tasmanian wilderness photography.
Discussing Jack Mundey’s concept of green bans as a ‘spatial project’ in an art context implies a link between the union movement and art, making us aware that both can offer room for alternative thinking or challenge political and economic status. Green bans were an uprising over unequal planning, heritage catastrophe and a plea for housing justice and a right to a voice. They linked kindred spirits, urban conflicts and remote conservation and land rights battles.
In June 1971, Mundey secretary of the Builders Labourers’ Federation, led his comrades to the barricades in solidarity with a united group of women from Hunters Hill fighting the ‘Battle to Save Kelly’s Bush’, a remnant on Sydney Harbour. The intersectional alliance with The Battlers was the first of a series that would made history. In a flamboyant stroke of genius, Mundey turned a traditional black ban, a form of political strike, into a green ban, reflecting environmental or social significance.
Mundey, a former football player and coach was a non-doctrinaire communist and drew on the rich thought of the civil rights movement and campaigns for land rights, women and gay and lesbian rights. Mundey’s focus was always on working and living conditions in Sydney’s brutal and sometimes corrupt construction industry: he termed it “civilising the industry”. By the time of the second green ban, ‘The Battle of The Rocks’ (December 1971), Mundey correctly said, “the whole world is watching”. He cautioned the cops removing him from the picket to the lockup, “careful the cameras are on us”.
After 4 years and almost 50 green bans and a collaboration with the National Trust that saved 120 historic buildings, they de-registered the NSW Builders Labours’ Federation. Marion Marrison’s photographs identify key sites and captures union and community leaders — not in lush oil paint but in fine grain documentary photographs – their triumphs and scars still visible.
Re/construction traces some of the complex network of economic and social campaigns that forged the Australian New Left through texts, slogans and songs from unofficial archives and papers donated by Mundey and other ephemera collectors to the Trades Hall Collection. At The Cross Art Projects Re/construction arcs from Marion Marrison’s 1975 photographs to current green ban campaigns: Save Willow Grove at Parramatta and Save Kings Cross.
In her watercolour painting ‘Practical Democracy – Thank you Jack’, Fiona MacDonald maps green bans sites across Mundey’s face to suggest, simultaneously, a city triumphantly re-claimed or a city being lost. In Margaret Roberts’s floor work, ‘Re-construction: Willow Grove’, white tape traces to scale the mansion’s front door, opening a portal to the site of the controversial “new” Powerhouse Museum development in Parramatta. In the exhibition there is, of course, a gift shop: Fiona MacDonald’s silk-screened tea towels, ‘’Practical Democracy – Thank you Jack’ (courtesy Kandos Museum) and Chips Mackinolty’s fine commemorative poster ‘Green Bans Forever’ after Mick Fowler’s green bans anthem. (A fundraiser for a memorial banner for Jack.) All artists share an interest in what is hidden in places, memory and erasure.
The years that followed were their direct legacy. Many, following US scholar Richard Roddewig, identify their actions as “the birth of Australian environmental politics” (Roddewig, Green Bans, 1978). They signed the Woolloomooloo Housing Renewal Project in 1975, still innovative for its consultation model where residents had their own expert advisor (Col James, seen in Marrison’s photo of the Tea House). They appointed a team of the brightest young architects whose schemes were exhibited and critiqued on site. Their actions forced Neville Wran’s Labor state government to introduce a Heritage Act 1977 and Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
In Germany artist Joseph Beuys (and others such as Petra Kelly a witness to the Green Bans) were inspired to set-up the Green Party. The political reformers of the time, Gough Whitlam and Don Dunstan, made the environment, conservation and urban planning mainstream issues. Their successors kept up the momentum: Malcolm Fraser ended whaling and saved Fraser Island, Bob Hawke stopped the Franklin Dam, Bob Carr extended a network of state national parks and John Howard created the Sydney Harbour Trust to rehabilitate former Commonwealth lands.
In artists’ project spaces one chapter builds on/responds to another and layers unofficial memory. Alliances form as ways to critically curate or whisper commentary from corners and margins. In regional or remote areas where resources are even scarcer, formations from traditional artist camps and restricted homelands, to art trails and blockades carry significant meaning. Exhibitions and monuments must speak to the present, projecting our shared values and sometimes dramatic changes. In 2020 Captain Cook’s 250th anniversary barely registered, but graffiti on his statue in Hyde Park predictably outraged the Murdoch media in the context of Black Lives Matter. Meanwhile, several excellent public exhibitions powerfully critiqued the British colonial foundational narrative of terra nullius.
For the 40th anniversary of community and union Green Bans in 2011, artists, curators and historians from The Cross Art Projects, Big Fag Press, Firstdraft Depot and Performance Space summoned the revolutionary voices with the Green Bans Art Walk. Our feet followed the traditional walkways and we found rich pathways in significant sites and local voices as much as we did in documents. Inspirational figures participated, resurrecting other historical vectors and correspondences, notably with art and architectural history.
The Green Bans Art Walk was prescient. In 2014 Mike Baird’s NSW Liberal government announced the eviction and dispersal of almost 500 public housing tenants living in The Rocks and Millers Point. Did the enforced diaspora finally silence the voices of protest? Not long after this decree, they said the Powerhouse Museum would move to Parramatta leaving the future of the valuable inner-city Ultimo powerhouse site in doubt. The CFMEU (the builders labourers are a division) and Unions NSW put a green ban on the landmark Sirius public housing building in September 2016.
As the 50th anniversary approaches the CFMMEU supported by the National Trust, placed a green ban on Willow Grove the grand Victorian house that thwarts “visions” of a new Parramatta CBD. Will historic Parramatta continue to be sidelined and the history of the state and its regions marginalised? Faced with local dissent they claimed that Willow Grove will be “reconstructed”. Kings Cross village now faces at least three of these cloned “improvements” on Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street as developers re-work old plans and consolidate sites as giant developments behind facades (mixed uses of pubs, hotels, apartments and the optional entertainment centre).
Unrelenting decades of legislative amendments have disabled and overruled transparent consultation, heritage and environment. The right to be heard is remote. Secondary boycott legislation has gagged unions. In Canberra politicians propose a secret commission and stone-wall an independent corruption body. Mundey’s vision for a sane environmental and planning policy, the fight against corruption and the right of the little people to be heard is ongoing.
Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy – Thank you Jack, 2020. Limited edition tea-towel, silk-screen on linen.
Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy -Thank you, Jack, 2020. Watercolour on Arches 300gsm paper. 53 x 71cm. Photo: Mike Oakey
Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy, (Taking it to Melbourne Trades Hall) , 2020. Watercolour on Arches 300gsm paper. 53 x 71cm. Photo: Mike Oakey
Archival list of major Green Bans from 1971-1975. Banner graphics: Sydney Trades Hall.
Archival list of major Green Bans from 1971-1975. Banner graphics: Sydney Trades Hall.
Marion Marrison, Jack Mundey, 1975, silver gelatin print, 40.6 x 56.2 cm (mounted size) (detail)
Re/construction—Jack Mundey and the Green Bans, The Cross Art Projects 2020. (Background) Photographs by Marion Marrison
Installation view, Re/construction. Jack Mundey & the Green Bans, The Cross Art Projects, 2020. From left to right: Photographs from Marion Hardman (Marrison) and Peter Manning, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon, Australian Conservation Foundation, 1975; Margaret Roberts, Re/construction: Willow Grove, Parramatta, 2020. Floorwork: detail to scale of Willow Grove house (front door and bay window). (White Tape); Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy – Thank you, Jack, 2020. Tea towel: Two colour screen print on linen. 50 x 70cm. Image sources: ‘Where the green bans were’ (The Sun, 8.11.1973) and Jack Mundey (from Tribune, 30.11.1972). Silk-screen on linen.
Marion Marrison, selected photographs
Marion Marrison, selected photographs
Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy – Thank you Jack, 2020, limited edition teatowel, silk-screen on linen
Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy – Thank you Jack, 2020, limited edition teatowel, silk-screen on linen (detail)
(L) Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy-Thank you Jack, 2020 (R) Fiona MacDonald, Practical Democracy-Taking it to Melbourne Trades Hall, 2020. Both watercolour on Arches 300 gsm paper, 53 x 71 cm
(L) Chips Mackinolty, Green Bands Forever (after Mick Fowler), 2020, digital print on Ilford Galerie Prestige Cotton Rag 300 gsm (R) Willow Grove heritage action material recreations
Images: Willow Grove heritage action material re-creation. Images: (left) courtesy Willow Grove Conservation Management Plan for Parramatta Council (MWS&DB plan for site including Willow Grove and Terraces) and (right) adapted from North Parramatta Resident Action Group.
Photographs from Marion Hardman (Marrison) and Peter Manning, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon, Australian Conservation Foundation, 1975. Silver gelatin prints taken in late 1974 and 1975; printed in 1975 otherwise printed in 2011. All are archival mounted on ragboard. Mounted size 406 x 562 mm. The commentary in quotes is from Peter Manning’s 1975 text.
Marion Marrison Artist Statement, October 2020:
In late 1973 I was the first photography graduate from the Tasmanian School of Art in Hobart just as the Publications Committee of the Australian Conservation Foundation decided to publish a book documenting Sydney’s Green Bans. I had just started exploring and photographing local bushland and was initially reluctant to put that aside for the months it would take to see the Green Bans project completed. Tasmanian environmental campaigners Dr. Richard Jones and Geoff Parr were members of that committee and offered a return plane ticket and the contact of Leigh Holloway at the Sydney branch of the Wilderness Society. It was my second trip to Sydney and the first on my own. Looking at the maps provided, the Green Bans covered an extensive area including green spaces in outer suburbs but it seemed to me that the crux of the bans was a crucial, historical belt of inner Sydney comprising The Rocks, Glebe, Ultimo, Waterloo, Centennial Park, Victoria St and Wolloomooloo. On the northern side of the harbour, was the one that started it all, Kelly’s Bush. The book was conceived around the visual and Peter Manning’s text followed from the photographs. The photographs were undertaken in two trips, the first before Christmas 1973 and the follow up in late January 1974. On both occasions, I had only one opportunity to visit an area or person and had to work with whatever conditions were presented. I had never photographed buildings or streetscapes and often had to make the best of overcast conditions or building facades in heavy shade. Editing after the first trip, I realised the project lacked people and most of the second visit was for the portraits. Jack Mundey agreed to be photographed over lunch at Diethnes, I took one roll of twelve exposures. He looked directly at the camera only twice and moved in two of the others. Unsurprisingly, he was talking and never really still. I prefer this photograph to the one in the book, it seems ‘more’ Jack. The book was launched in 1975 by Dr. Jim Cairns in an exhibition of the photographs at the Arts Council of NSW Gallery in Darlinghurst. The experience of making this work and meeting the remarkable and courageous people of the Greens Bans remains a unique and cherished opportunity.
Marion Marrison, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. Photographs from Marion Hardman (Marrison) and Peter Manning, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon, Australian Conservation Foundation, 1975.
Marion Marrison, Rear of Victoria St from Rowena Place, Woolloomooloo.1975. Peter Manning, “Suspicious circumstances surrounded the death of a young Aboriginal woman in a fire that burnt out the house second on the right on the escarpment”.
National Times, ‘The Green Ban People’, August, 1975, p. 32. Photographs from Marion Hardman (Marrison) and Peter Manning, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon, Australian Conservation Foundation, 1975.
Victoria Street and Woolloomooloo were the most brutal of the Sydney Green Bans. We remember Juanita Nielsen, journalist who published NOW from her home at 202 Victoria Street and murdered on 4 July 1975; an Aboriginal girl who died in an intentional fire lit in a Victoria Street squat and seaman and musician Mick Fowler who staged a 3-year sit-in on Victoria Street. At Mick Fowler’s Jazz funeral, they walked down Victoria Street playing his song “Green Bans Forever”.
Call Out: 50th anniversary of Community and Union Action, 2021
June 16, 2011, marked the 40th anniversary of the first green ban at Hunters Hill, placed by the then BLF secretary Jack Mundey. In July 2011 the Green Bans Art Walk and the 40th Anniversary of Union and Community action, we researched key sites and sought guidance from respected community authorities respected who turned fragments from an intense 4 year fight into a monument. For example, guide Jim Donovan was a secretary of the Woolloomooloo RAG and his family was the last to leave Rowena Place after Juanita Nielson “disappeared”. Jim showed art walkers the site where his mother organised a tenants’ resistance in the mid-1950s. The called the “Battle to Save St Kilda in Woolloomooloo”, a Georgian mansion converted to a boarding house, the first urban heritage uprising. (Now Cross City Tunnel Office.)
In mid-2021 The Cross Art Projects and Trades Hall Collection will collaborate on the 50th Anniversary of the Union and Community Green Bans with a touring exhibition.
The struggle of collective action to make the rich, the greedy and the powerful accountable for a better society, has been a great victory for building workers and something we should be proud of.
Fiona MacDonald, museum curator and artist, who works with neglected archives layering in watercolour, collage or print items and texts into fantastical and historical memorial works.
Marion Marison’s photographic record Green Bans is a rare testimonial made after the battling armies had departed. She was the first photography graduate from the Tasmanian School of Art in Hobart, now a highly respected documentary photographer and former photography lecturer at Illawarra TAFE. She is completing a PhD at University of Tasmania in Hobart on “Mutable Terrains: a photographic exploration of bushland close to home”.
Margaret Roberts is known for her resonant spatial installations that momentarily re-align public spaces. She is co-ordinator of Articulate project space and lectures in drawing at National Art School. She maps in white tape of the footprint of politically haunted Willow Grove. Here as in other recent works, Roberts refers to Glenn Albrecht’s term solastalgia or ‘the chronic distress caused by negatively perceived changes to a home and its landscape’. Albrecht was talking about the impact of drought, fire and coal mining in the Upper Hunter but the term has been adopted by other writers such as Richard Flanagan.
Dr Jack Mundey AO, was secretary of the Builders Labourers’ Federation NSW, where he invented the concept of ‘green bans’ as unions working with communities in distinction to traditional industrial ‘black bans’. After he left the BLF in mid-1975, he was briefly a Sydney City Councillor (1984–87), then a guiding hand on many conservation organisations: Life Member of the Australian Conservation Foundation and chair NSW Historic Houses Trust (from 1995 to 2001), Patron of the Historic Houses Association of Australia and a ‘National Living Treasure’ of the National Trust. He was awarded several Doctorates. He campaigned to the end to save Millers Point, the Sirius building, Bondi Pavilion and, in the heart of Parramatta, Windsor Bridge and Willow Grove house as well as the Parramatta arts, culture and heritage precinct.
Neale Towart & Bill Pirrie, heritage officers at Sydney Trades Hall. Curators statement: to produce printed fabrics across the time of Jack Mundey entering the BLF, recreating the union, the apartheid, gay, Vietnam, Aboriginal rights support, the bans, and the end with Gallagher. Neale: “My aim is to emphasise the fact that he always first and foremost said he was a unionist.”
Speakers: Judy Mundey, Wendy Bacon, Meredith Burgmann, Pat Fiske, Neil Towart, Bill Pirrie and more.
Organisations: Special thanks to Trades Hall Association and Unions NSW, CFMEU (Construction), Mitchell Library SLNSW (Tribune photographs), Hazelhurst Art Gallery for kind loan of frames.
Printers: Inkwell (banners); Darkstar Fine Art Prints (Chips Mackinolty), Kandos Museum, Kandos NSW. Resident Groups: North Parramatta Resident Action Group (Suzette Meade) and Save Kings Cross Village.
The Cross Art Projects: Belle Blau, Simon Blau, Phillip Boulten and Susan Gilligan. Project intern Izzy Maher, Sydney University. Curators: Neale Towart & Bill Pirrie with Jo Holder
Thanks To Fiona MacDonald and Chips Mackinolty for creating the Green Bans Museum Shop.
Green Bans website at www.greenbans.net.au — Green Ban Archives 1971-1974 & Woolloomooloo Renewal Project 1975-80.
Green Bans Audios and Films
Rocking the Foundations: A History of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation 1947-1974, 1986. 92 minutes, DVD and 16mm. Produced and directed by Pat Fiske. http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/rocking-the-foundations/clip1/?nojs
Interviews with Jack Mundey
Jack Mundey, ABC 702, 5 February 2010: Podcast of radio interview at: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2010/02/05/2811471.htm
Mick Fowler and the Fowlhouse Five: recorded fifteen tracks including “Hindustan” and the “Victoria Street Parade”. For the latter song, Mick changed the lyrics and the title of the classic “Bourbon Street Parade”. In 1979 for Mick Fowler’s funeral jazz musicians walked down Victoria St playing ‘Green Bans Forever’. See specialist Jazz sites for deleted or out of copyright recordings.
Victoria Street Soundwalk by Sydney Sidetracks (Sarah Barns), Reflects on Victoria St Green Ban and Mick Fowler’s Jazz Funeral.
Green Bans: Powerhouse / Parramatta
Lessons from the ongoing fight for the Powerhouse.
1. Arts and cultural policy cannot be made by developers, boards stacked with political cronies, financial consultants and servile planning departments. It requires the input of professionals.
2. Arts and cultural organisations, their boards and directors need a greater degree of independence from ministerial interference.
3. Parliamentary select committees have an important role to play in holding governments to account.
4. Communities, people of knowledge and key trades and professional organisations must be involved.
5. End sham or “nudge” consultations.
6. Reality check: only the Powerhouse building has been saved. The other buildings at Ultimo are up for grabs (including Tram Depot). Only 3 objects are confirmed as remaining at the Powerhouse Ultimo: Locomotive No 1, the Catalina plane, the Bolton and Watt steam engine. Without context, they are reduced to décor.
The Powerhouse Museum Alliance is a group of concerned citizens working to save the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. The Alliance includes longstanding benefactors of the museum, former trustees, design and heritage experts and senior museum professionals. https://powerhousemuseumalliance.com/
Save the Powerhouse: Ultimo-based state-wide community campaign: https://www.facebook.com/savethepowerhouse/
North Parramatta Residents Action Group: http://nprag.org/
1917: The Great Strike, was a grand exhibition at Carriageworks, 2017. The exhibition commemorated the centenary of one of Australia’s largest industrial conflicts.
Lucy Taksa wrote a short history of the Strike as part of the Unions NSW 100th Anniversary commemorations. Download it here
The exhibition brought together historical objects such as union banners, badges and certificates, archival photographs, film and oral testimonies, alongside commissioned artworks by contemporary artists Raquel Ormella, Tom Nicholson and Andrew Byrne, Will French, Franck Gohier and Sarah Contos.