Jack Mundey was born in 1932 and is a very well known Sydney identity. As leader of the NSW Builders’ Labourers’ Federation he was central to the famous Green Bans of the 1970s which defended built heritage and open space against development opposed by communities large and small. In this interview he discusses the reasons for rank and file support of the left wing leadership of the union, and alliances formed with a range of different groups with similar environmental concerns including well-heeled suburban women and the NSW National Trust. He recalls some outstanding bans, his time as a Sydney City councillor, the threat of development in Millers Point, community division, deregulation, privatisation, and commercialisation of The Rocks. In the excerpt below he discusses the key issues in the protracted Green Ban that prevented demolition of The Rocks, adjacent to Millers Point, in the early 1970s.
This interview is part of Housing NSW’s 2005 Millers Point Oral History Project. The City of Sydney acknowledges the State Library of New South Wales as the archival custodian of the project and digital preserver of the masters.
People in The Rocks were very much in support of what we were doing. From ’71 to ’73 the arguments went on and they [Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority] were out to knock The Rocks down. They then said they would use non-union labour and they attempted in Playfair Street to commence demolition. After holding them up for two and a half years they then started. We immediately stopped all the building sites in Sydney, they marched on The Rocks and occupied The Rocks and we held out and for two weeks the struggle went on.
[NSW Premier Robert] Askin had all the police at their disposal, to come down and attack the union and so it was really confrontational. Other unions came into it, some of the left-wing unions, waterside workers’ and seamen, metalworkers came in and gave assistance, some carpenters, but mainly the Builders’ Labourers’ union led the way.
The residents were there all the time and the public was pretty much on side, although of course there were divisions there because the Askin Government was spending a lot of time with spin and attacking the union for going too far and “flexing your muscles”, and all this sort of stuff, “Communist-led rabble rousers”, blah, blah, blah. But in the main the people stood firm and the idea that we should have a people’s plan for The Rocks, keep it essentially low-rise, with people having a right to live there and not be all driven out of the city and that there should be some place for working-class people to live in the inner city area. Finally it was decided that we would occupy it totally. I think there were about seventy arrests that day in October 1973.