Re/construction: Jack Mundey & the Green Bans

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 Heritae Collection

About

Re/construction brings together artists, two community groups and two curators to reread the legacy of Jack Mundey and the Green Bans from his papers.

Jack Mundey's whole life was one giant spatial project. Arguably he had an artist’s vision, but he didn't need art to achieve as he did. He had the context of a complex union movement based at Sydney Trades Hall. Nevertheless, artists participated in, documented (Marion Marrison’s photographs), filmed (Pat Fiske's Rocking the Foundations) and wrote about the green bans. Chips Mackinolty and comrades at the Tin Sheds glued posters and cut stencils. They created a dispersed green ban archive.

Discussing Jack Mundey's concept of green bans and public space as a 'spatial project' in an art context is implying a common link between the union movement and art, which makes us aware of the way both can offer room for alternative thinking or challenge political and economic status. Sydney’s green bans were an urban uprising over unequal planning, heritage catastrophe and housing justice. They linked as kindred spirits, urban conflicts with 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. Mundey, a former Paramatta football player, was a non-doctrinaire communist and drew on the rich thought of civil rights actions and campaigns: for First Nations people, gays and women.

Kelly’s Bush was the first of a series of important intersectional alliances with communities. Together labourers and skilled trade unionists, musicians, and artists, pensioners and the urban working class and suburban middle class made history. Mundey’s focus was always on working conditions and living conditions, particularly the need for low-cost or public housing.

Re/construction re-enacts and re-animates texts and slogans from unofficial archives that record sit-ins or peace, marches for civil rights, gay and lesbian or women’s rights and environment movements. Jack Mundey's papers donated to the Trades Hall Collection are reviewed at Sydney Trades Hall.

The Cross Art Projects has a focus is on 2020 green ban campaigns: Save Willow Glen at Parramatta and Save Kings Cross. Fiona MacDonald re-casts watercolours into wishful history paintings and re-purposes the logo. Margaret Roberts traces to scale the front door of Willow Grove house in Parramatta, at the site of the proposed  “new” Powerhouse Museum. As a true museum there is a shop with “merch”: MacDonald’s silk screened tea towels (courtesy Kandos Museum) and Chips Mackinolty’s fine commemorative poster ‘Green Bans Forever’.

In 1971 the Sydney Morning Herald was quick to call the BLs “mere builders’ labourers” and “proletarian town planners” and called conservationists "mere housewives". The green ban era lasted 4 years until they de-registered the NSW Builders Labours’ Federation. The revolutionary efforts of “mere” building labourers and housewives created a “rare sift in public thinking”, in Peter Manning’s summing up in Marion Hardman (Marrison) and Manning, Green Bans launched by the new Australian Conservation Foundation in 1975.

When protesters in The Rocks climbed down trees where they clung for 18 hours, Mundey said, the “whole world was watching”. He said to the cops removing him from “The Battle of The Rocks (December 1971) to the lockup, “careful the cameras are on us”. Later they barricaded themselves into Victoria St and, when barricade were forced, they scaled chimneys and perched on chimney tops. When the developer’s thugs lit fires below, they only succeeded in smoking themselves out.

The alliances changed Sydney’s political status quo and re-wrote its culture. The political reformers of the time, notably Don Dunstan and Gough Whitlam, made the environment a mainstream issue and their successors kept much of the momentum: Malcolm Fraser ended whaling and saved Fraser Island, Bob Hawke stopped the Franklin Dam, Bob Carr extended a network of national parks.

The year 1975 was specific to their legacy: the renewal of Wooloomoolloo Public Housing, proudly declared a "world leader" for its architecture and consultation model. Neville Wran’s NSW Labor government built on the right of communities to be consulted in the model Heritage (1977) and Environment Protection Acts (1979), both now subordinate to developers’ rights. In Germany artist Joseph Beuys (and others) founded the Green Party.

Across artists’ project spaces one chapter builds on/responds to another forming networks and layering unofficial memory. Alliances often form as ways to ‘critically curate’, critically ‘intervene’ or, whisper commentary from corners. There are other formations in regional or remote areas, from traditional artist camps, trails and homelands to blockades.

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 events of the early 1970 with a Green Bans Art Walk that introduced many to Victoria Street and Woolloomooloo and other green bans (1971 to 1974). Green Ban colours, red, acid green and black, and impromptu artworks linked pathways: for example, Mini Graff’s Juanita stencils after 1975 stencils by Peter Kennedy. The project sat within its context and site. Inspirational and significant of central figures participated, resurrecting other historical vectors and threads of correspondences. In the apocalyptic coronavirus era, the desire to build new models is more intense and urgent.

Exhibition tropes, like styles of sculpture, quietly change. Cook’s 250th anniversary has barely registered. But there are several excellent public exhibitions that critique the British colonial foundational narrative of terra nullius. Once the NSW Liberal government finally managed to evict and disperse the public housing tenants in The Rocks and Millers Point a few years ago, have the voices of protest finally been silenced, 40 and now 50 years later?

Public monuments need to speak to the present, projecting our shared values, hence they too change: sometimes dramatically. Cook’s 250th anniversary has barely registered but graffiti on his statue did in the context of Black Lives Matter. But there are several excellent public exhibitions that critique the British colonial “foundational narrative” of terra nullius.

The CFMEU and Unions NSW put a green ban on the Sirius public housing building in September 2016. In 2020 the CFMMEU placed a green ban on stately Willow Grove a Victorian house standing in the way of Town Planners and developers’ “visions” of a new Sydney — in Parramatta’s CBD.

The developers have returned, re-working old plans and consolidating sites as giant “mixed use” developments (pubs, hotels, apartments sometimes with optional entertainment centre). Kings Cross faces at least three of these near identical “improvements” with owners on Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street holding out for “more” from the same song-sheet. In the times of “climate wars”, corruption and secrecy, Mundey’s vision for a sane environmental and planning policy and the fight for a more just society is urgent.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

Fiona MacDonald, Thank you Jack, 2020. Limited edition tea-towel, silk-screen on linen.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

Fiona MacDonald, Thank you, Jack, 2020. Watercolour on Arches 300gsm paper. 53 x 71cm. Photo: Mike Oakey

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

Fiona MacDonald, Taking it to Melbourne Trades Hall, 2020. Watercolour on Arches 300gsm paper. 53 x 71cm. Photo: Mike Oakey

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Fire and Brimstone, 2020

Archival list of major Green Bans from 1971-1975. Banner graphics: Sydney Trades Hall.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Fire and Brimstone, 2020

Marion Marrison

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’. 

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

Marion Marrison, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo.

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

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".

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

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 … “

Art Exhibition at The Cross Art Projects. Thank You Jack, 2020

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: Victoria St and Woolloomooloo were the most brutal of the Sydney green bans. Next year’s 50th anniversary will remember Juanita Nielsen, journalist and publisher of NOW from 202 Victoria Street who disappeared in 4 July 1975. Murdered. We remember an Aboriginal girl who died in an intentional fire lit in a Victoria Street squat. In 1979 they closed Victoria St for seaman and musician Mick Fowler who staged a 3-year sit-in. At Mick Fowler’s Jazz Man’s funeral, they walked down Victoria Street playing his song “Green Bans Forever”.

Victoria Street heritage was saved but lost to low-income housing. (The Victoria Point Development was only 7-storeys not the proposed three 45-storey towers set on 5-storey podiums). The great victory for low-income housing was the Woolloomooloo Housing Renewal Project. In 1975 Tom Uren, Federal Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam Government said, “I’ve been training all my life.” Green bans revived the idea of civic memorials and Margel Hinder’s bronze water sculpture “Aphrodite” splashed joyfully at the dedication of Denis Winston Place.

In 2011 the Green Bans Art Walk for 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. Our feet followed the traditional walkways and it turned out that the pathways existed also in the documents, significant sites and local histories.

Photographer Michelle Blakeley presented scans from Isadore Brodsky’s book History of the Loo. Guide Jim Donovan, secretary of the Woolloomooloo RAG, whose family was the last to leave Rowena Place after Juanita Nielson “disappeared”, turned up with the same book. 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.)

Jim Donovan became secretary of the Sydney Branch of the Waterside Workers Federation, Woolloomooloo being Sydney’s major port. (Re-located in the late 1979s.) The Wharfies work gangs had black and white, left and right, respectful of the fact that Woolloomooloo is Gadigal land and a land grant given to Aborigines.

Artists

Fiona MacDonald, museum-curator and artist, layers or collages extraordinary fantastical 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.

Thank you

Conversations with Neal Towart and Bill Pirrie, Margaret Betteridge, Katie Dyer, Scott Milligen, Judy Mundey, Margaret Roberts. Hazelhurst Art Gallery for kind loan of exhibition frames.

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.