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Jack Mundey lives on

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Who would have thought back in the '70s that Builders Labourers' unionist, Jack Mundey, would be honoured after his death by thousands of people who'd gathered for a State Memorial in the Sydney Town Hall?

But his persistence and bravery have at last been acknowledged by the state.

Jack Mundey, nemesis of the Liberal Premier Askin at the time, was at the forefront of activist conservation which has preserved natural open space and forest against encroachment by developers that we can still enjoy today.

Kelly's Bush in Hunters Hill was the site for the first 'green ban' in NSW by the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), a union that became synonymous with direct action to conserve the environment, with over fifty development site green bans over a period of about a decade. Afterwards, Mundey continued with his life-long mission of conservation.

In 1971 Kelly's Bush, which had been zoned as reserve open space, was under threat from a development proposed by AV Jennings to build 8-storey apartments and townhouses. So a group of local women, including the group's secretary, Kath Lehany, banded together to protest and, backed by the BLF, were able to save their parkland.

Jack Mundey described the group as 'upper middle-class morning tea matrons' but extended the power of the trade union to them on the grounds that it was the union's obligation to be concerned about environmental and social issues.

And so support for the group grew to include major unions, the FED&FA, the Building Workers Union, the Miscellaneous Workers Union and the State Labour Council. And the local women environmentalists won the day.

They kept their community open space after the election of the Wran Labor Government which bought the Parramatta River waterfront land to ensure it would be saved for the people of NSW into the future.

This battle over 'development' was only the first win for Jack Mundey who continued to fight for decades for the environment and heritage, and workers' and citizens' rights, including campaigns in The Rocks, Woolloomooloo and Glebe. In 1988 he was made an honorary Doctor of Letters and of Science by the University of Western Sydney in recognition of his service to the environment over the previous thirty years. He was made a life member of the Australian Conservation Foundation in the 1990s and held the position of Chair of the Historic Houses Trust from 1995 to 2001.

Born in 1929 at Malanda on the Atherton Tablelands, Dr Jack Mundey died in May 2020 at the age of 90 in Sydney, where he had lived most of his life, .

His state memorial service was delayed until today due to COVID restrictions on gatherings last year.

Copyright Christine Williams

Research: 'Green Power - Environmentalists who have changed the face of Australia' Christine Williams Lothian Melbourne 2006, & 'The Hummer' Vol. 14, No. 2, 2020.

Photos: top:; centre: Honi Soit; bottom with Lord Mayor Clover Moore:

Our writers' blog is produced with financial assistance from the City of Sydney.



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