Town Planning Review

Book Reviews

Town Planning Review (2018), 89, (1), 89–96.


TPR, 89 (1) 2018 Book Reviews Book Reviews The House that Jack Built: Jack Mundey, Green Bans Hero, James Colman, Sydney, New South Publishing, 2016, 376 pp., AU$49.99, ISBN: 978174223 5011 Jack Mundey is arguably one of the most influential Australians that few people outside Australia have ever heard of. His fame – or notoriety – dates from the early 1970s, when as secretary of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation in Sydney he instigated a series of ‘green bans’ that were instrumental in halting projects that threatened areas of historic townscape, social housing and urban bushland. As post-war Australia got into its stride, modernisation became the priority. There was a perception that a modern nation needed modern cities, and that modern cities meant modern buildings. The Opera House – the ultimate symbol of Sydney’s metropolitan status – was nearing completion, and the rest of the city needed to catch up. Redevelopment would sweep away insanitary slums and obsolete (i.e. historic) buildings, enhancing both political reputations and property values. Everyone would be a winner – except, of course, for the local people who called those slums home, that sandstone-andlacework pub the centre of the universe, and that scruffy bit of bushland a green lung. The planning system was in its infancy, public consultation was virtually unknown, and historic buildings enjoyed little legal protection. The conservative state government had in 1967 dismissed the Sydney City Council, long controlled by the Labor Party (ALP). The city boundaries were then changed, with the aim of keeping the ALP out of office, whilst planning powers over the historic waterfront were given to a new state-controlled body. As government and developers found themselves swimming side by side, the novelist Patrick White observed that Sydney had become ‘shark-infested’ – and he wasn’t talking about the harbour. For disenfranchised local communities, the only remaining options were protest and direct action. And that’s where Jack Mundey came in. Mundey and the BLF exemplified Australia’s proud history of bloody-minded labour relations, using ‘black-ban’ tactics to gain improvements in working conditions. There was also a rumble of class warfare, for Mundey was a member of the Communist Party; even in the Lucky Country, luck seemed to be spread unevenly, and the limitless horizons encouraged a radical perspective. The axis between big business and bad government fed into this equation, creating an unlikely alliance between conservationists and communists. Mundey’s switch from black bans to green was more than mere semantics, for in making it he had created something new. Placards and petitions can only achieve so much. But when protest is backed by withdrawal of labour, words begin to acquire teeth. As projects are delayed, the pressure to find a solution grows. The green bans had come at a critical moment, buying time for the political sails to be reset in response to the election of a reforming ALP government in Canberra and the globalisation of environmental concern. The campaign to protect the Franklin river in Tasmania, which helped to bring the Hawke Labor government to power in 1983, signalled how closely aligned the conservation and political agendas had become. Mundey’s own career reflected this process, taking him to the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Historic Houses Trust, and bringing him several honorary degrees and the National Trust’s accolade as a National Living Treasure. Had the communist firebrand finally gone

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