Dr Jack Mundey AO (1929-2020)

 

Painting of man with silver hair and glasses, in white shirt with sleeves rolled up, looking directly at painter.

Jack Mundey by Robert Hannaford, 2001. Sydney Living Museums. © Robert Hannaford

Everyone should be interested when Sydney’s history and beauty is going to be torn down, and when people in the way of this so-called progress are regarded as minor inconveniences.1

Queensland-born dedicated environmentalist and unionist Jack Mundey arrived in Sydney at 19 to play rugby league, but was soon working as a builders’ labourer.

As secretary of the NSW Builders’ Labourers Federation (BLF) from 1968 to 1973 he oversaw the imposition of the first of a series of Green Bans – trade union bans on environmentally or socially destructive projects. The site was Kelly’s Bush at Hunters Hill, and the ban was imposed at the behest of a group of women known as ‘The Battlers for Kelly’s Bush’. (One of the ‘Battlers’ was Miriam Hamilton, nee Terry, one of the last co-owners of Rouse Hill House and its collection.) Driven by a sense of social responsibility, the BLF strove to defend open spaces, existing housing stock and historic buildings. The BLF only imposed bans after being approached by community groups and carefully weighing up public support for an issue – ‘[at] the heart of the Green Ban movement was a desire to empower people to have a greater say in society’.2

Its success at Kelly’s Bush aroused great interest and saw the union inundated with similar requests for help. In the face of bitter political and media criticism, the union ‘Green Banned’ 43 large and small projects between 1971 and 1975, and appealed to the state government for legislation to prevent the destruction of heritage buildings. Green Bans were placed on work in Centennial Park, Woolloomooloo, Victoria Street in Darlinghurst, Redfern, and most famously, The Rocks, home to Susannah Place. Plans to bulldoze this essentially working class area for high-rise development were thwarted after spirited protests and hundreds of arrests (including that of Jack, who ended up in a cell at the Phillip Street Police Station, now part of the Justice & Police Museum) culminated in ‘The Battle for The Rocks’ in October 1973. Jack Mundey Place on Argyle Street is named in his honour.

The former headquarters of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Lyndhurst in Glebe, was to be demolished along with thousands of homes in the inner west for a freeway. In 1972 the BLF placed a Green Ban on the work at the request of the ‘Save Lyndhurst Committee’. The freeway plans were largely abandoned, and the house and Glebe itself were saved. The Australian Green Ban movement went on to inspire similar movements internationally.

A former Sydney City Councillor (1984–87), Jack was awarded honorary doctorates from two universities, and was a Life Member of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Patron of the Historic Houses Association of Australia and a ‘National Living Treasure’. He served as the Chair of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW (Sydney Living Museums) from 1995 to 2001, and was subsequently the Patron of Friends of the Historic Houses Trust Inc (Members). He was as committed to ‘the workers’ as he was to our historic sites, and is fondly remembered by all who knew him. He remained dedicated to equality for all, and was an environmental activist until the day he died, campaigning to save Millers Point, the Sirius building, Bondi Pavilion and Windsor Bridge.

Jack is survived by his second wife, Judy. His only son, Michael, died in a car accident aged 22.

1. Jack Mundey, quoted in Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann, Green bans, red union: environmental activism and the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1998, p197.
2. Jack Mundey, ‘Green Bans and urban environmentalism’, Protest!: Environmental Activism in NSW 1968-1998, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Glebe, 1998, p39.

About the Author

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Jane Kelso
Historian
Interpretation and Exhibitions
Jane developed a love of old buildings and the past growing up in a landscape of old country homesteads and Horbury Hunt woolsheds and churches near a country town whose glory days were ‘history’.

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