Artists: Fiona MacDonald, Chips Mackinolty, Marion Marrison & Margaret Roberts. Trades Hall Collection, Jack Mundey Archives, curated by Neale Towart & Bill Pirrie.
Dates: 31 October to 21 November 2020
Venues: Trades Hall Atrium and The Cross Art Projects
Conversation 1: Judy Mundey, Meredith Burgmann, Pat Fiske.
Date: Thursday 5 November at 5 for 5.30. Booking essential (limit of 40). Trades Hall Atrium, enter via 377 Sussex Street.
Tours of Trades Hall and the BLF HQ, Booking only.
Presented by The Cross Art Projects and Sydney Trades Hall Heritage Collection
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 at the Tin Sheds glued posters and cut stencils. 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”. Manning and Marion Hardman’s (Marrison) photo-book, Green Bans. The Story of an Australian Phenomenon, commissioned by the new Australian Conservation Foundation, was launched in 1975 in Darlinghurst.
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. They linked kindred spirits, urban conflicts and remote conservation battles.
In June 1971, Mundey secretary of the Builders Labourers’ Federation, led his comrades to the barricades in solidarity with a united group of “middle-class women” from Hunters Hill fighting to save a remnant of Sydney Harbour's bush. Kelly’s Bush was the first of a series of important intersectional alliances with communities that would made history. Mundey, a former Paramatta football player, was a non-doctrinaire communist and drew on the rich thought of the civil rights movement and campaigns for land rights, gays and women. Mundey’s focus was always on working conditions, living conditions and the need for low-cost public housing.
Re/construction re-enacts texts and slogans from these unofficial archives. Jack Mundey's papers, donated to the Trades Hall Heritage Collection, are reviewed at Sydney Trades Hall. At The Cross Art Projects the Re/construction focus is on 2020 green ban campaigns: Save Willow Glen at Parramatta and Save Kings Cross. Fiona MacDonald’s watercolours collage and re-purpos the green bans logo. Margaret Roberts traces to scale the front door of Willow Grove house in Parramatta, the heritage fly sitting on the site of the controversial “new” Powerhouse Museum development.
In the exhibition there is, of course, a gift shop: Fiona MacDonald’s silk-screened tea towels, ‘Thank you Jack’ (courtesy Kandos Museum) and Chips Mackinolty’s fine commemorative poster ‘Green Bans Forever’ after Mick Fowler’s green bans anthem.
Mundey said at the second Green Ban, “The Battle of The Rocks (December 1971), the “whole world was watching”. He cautioned the cops removing him from the picket to the lockup, “careful the cameras are on us”. Later they barricaded themselves into Victoria St and, when barricade were forced, they perched on chimney tops. When the developer’s thugs lit fires below, they only succeeded in smoking themselves out. After 4 years, they de-registered the NSW Builders Labours’ Federation.
The years that followed were their direct legacy: the Woolloomooloo Housing Renewal Project signed in 1975 was world leading for its consultation model and architecture. 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) founded the Green Party.
The political reformers of the time, Gough Whitlam and Don Dunstan, made the environment a mainstream issue. 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 often form as ways to ‘critically curate’, critically ‘intervene’ or whisper commentary from corners and margins. In regional or remote areas formations from traditional artist camps, trails and homelands to blockades carry the word.
In 2011, for the 40th anniversary of community and union Green Bans artists, curators and historians from The Cross Art Projects, Big Fag Press, Firstdraft Depot and Performance Space summoned the revolutionary voices with a Green Bans Art Walk. Our feet followed the traditional walkways and it turned out that the pathways existed also in the documents, significant sites and local histories. Inspirational and significant of central figures participated, resurrecting other historical vectors and correspondences.
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 outraged the Murdoch media in the context of Black Lives Matter. Meanwhile, several excellent public exhibitions powerfully critique the British colonial foundational narrative of terra nullius.
The NSW Liberal government finally managed to evict and disperse 500 public housing tenants in The Rocks and Millers Point, but were the voices of protest finally been silenced? The CFMEU (a conglomerate which includes builders labourers) and Unions NSW put a green ban on the landmark Sirius public housing building in September 2016.
In 2020 the CFMMEU supported by the National Trust placed a green ban on Willow Grove a grand Victorian house that thwarts “visions” of a new Parramatta CBD: a plan for almost 14,500 new dwellings. As they said 5 decades ago, the historic Parramatta and the history of the state must be swept aside. Developers and politicians re-work old plans and consolidate sites as giant “vision” developments (mixed uses of pubs, hotels, apartments and the optional entertainment centre). Kings Cross village faces at least three of these cloned “improvements” on Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street.
Unrelenting decades of legislative amendments have disabled and overruled consultation, heritage and environment. In Canberra politicians continue to stone-wall an independent corruption authority. Mundey’s vision for a sane environmental and planning policy and the fight against corruption is ongoing.
Fiona MacDonald, Thank you Jack, 2020. Limited edition tea-towel, silk-screen on linen.
Fiona MacDonald, Thank you, Jack, 2020. Watercolour on Arches 300gsm paper. 53 x 71cm. Photo: Mike Oakey
Fiona MacDonald, 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.
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.
Selection with focus on Victoria Street and Woolloomooloo Green Bans: 115 Victoria St was home to Mick Fowler, seaman, musician and unionist and the last tenant of Victoria St. He refused Theeman’s money to move, stayed put and legally contested the eviction. Thugs terrorised him, his property was stolen, his bathroom demolished. His courage rallied others. In 1973 squatters moved into the next-door houses but seven months later thugs, watched by several hundred police, evicted them. In early January 1974, two squatters, Keith Mullins and Con Papadatos, climbed to the top of the chimneys and stayed there while over 100 police and thirty 'controllers’ evicted squatters. They jailed forty people while hundreds demonstrated in the street. They came down after seventeen hours on the chimneys and were arrested. Mick remained as the sole tenant for 3 years. His band Mick Fowler and the Fowl House Five became famous. On 5 May 1976, the day they forced him out, his supporters held a mock funeral outside his home to mark ‘the end of the life of Victoria St’. They buried a coffin in the front yard labelled ‘The Right of Low Income Workers To Live in Victoria St’.
Marion Marrison, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo.
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".
Marion Marrison, Mick Fowler, 1975. Mick joined the movement in April 1973 and was still living in his room at 115 Victoria St in 1975 despite the harassment. Mick Fowler died in 1979.
Peter Manning, “When you are “in” Mick Fowler’s home in Victoria St you are in a room about 14 ft square. It is lined with posters, photographs, poems, blow ups, calendars, letters, newsclips, mirrors and memorabilia of any and every kind. All four walls are a living history of Mick Fowler … “
Marion Marrison, Butler Stairs, Victoria St. Victoria Street Green Ban
Butler Stairs, joins Victoria St with Brougham St, Wooloomooloo. Looking across The ‘Loo to St Mary’s Cathedral.
After Mick’s death a plaque to his memory was placed on the pillar on the right side.
Dedication & Call Out:
50th anniversary of Community and Union Action, 2021
Victoria St and Woolloomooloo were the most brutal of the Sydney green bans. We remember Juanita Nielsen, journalist and publisher of NOW from 202 Victoria Street 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 Man’s funeral, they walked down Victoria Street playing his song “Green Bans Forever”.
In 2011 for the Green Bans Art Walk and the 40th Anniversary of Union and Community action, sought important sites and the authorities respected in communities; turning fragments from an intense 4 year fight into a monument. Guide Jim Donovan, secretary of the Woolloomooloo RAG, whose 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 “Battle to Save St Kilda in Woolloomooloo”, a Georgian mansion divided into boarding house rooms, was the first urban heritage uprising. (Now Cross City Tunnel HQ.)
The developers never left, re-working old plans and consolidating sites. Kings Cross now faces several near identical “mixed use” developments (pubs, hotels, apartments) with owners on Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street holding out for “more” from the same song-sheet.
Fiona MacDonald, museum-curator and artist, layers or collages fantastical and historical images to create delicate watercolour memorials.
Marion Marison’s photographic record is a testimonial record made after the battling armies had departed with key sites and union and community leaders’ portraits captured — not in lush oil paint but in gritty fine grain documentary photographs – their triumphs and scars still visible. Green Bans, was commissioned and published by the new Australian Conservation Foundation.
Margaret Roberts is known for her resonant spatial installations that briefly re-align large public spaces, here the footprint of politically haunted Willow Grove mansion, a maternity hospital for generations of Parramatta residents, now an obstacle to the “vision” of the current NSW Minister for the Arts. …
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.
Conversations with Neal Towart and Bill Pirrie, Margaret Betteridge, Katie Dyer, Scott Milligen, Judy Mundey, Margaret Roberts. To generous speakers Judy Mundey, Meredith Burgmann and Pat Fiske. Hazelhurst Art Gallery for kind loan of exhibition frames. To Fiona MacDonald and Chips Mackinolty for creating the Green Bans Museum Shop.
Call Out: 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.