The Kelly's Bush green ban, 1971

women demonstrate to save Kelly's Bush
Women demonstrate to save Kelly's Bush

A short account of how construction workers saved the Kelly's Bush area of park land in Australia from development by refusing to work, and kick-started a movement of environmentally-minded industrial action.

Submitted by Steven. on September 10, 2006

In 1971 a group of women from the fashionable suburb of Hunter's Hill in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, were trying to save Kelly's Bush, the last remaining open space in that area. Construction firm AV Jennings planned to build luxury houses over the bush land.

They approached the local council, the mayor, the local state member and the Premier, all to no avail. The women then sought the help of the NSW branch of the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF), a trade union of construction workers.

The union branch believed that the labour movement should involve itself in all struggles of the working class, not just struggles over wages and working conditions. The BLF asked the Hunter's Hill women to call a public meeting at Hunter's Hill and show that there was community support for the request for a union ban on the destruction of Kelly's Bush. Over 600 people attended the meeting, which formally requested a ban. This ban was called a green ban, to distinguish it from a black ban - a union action to protect the economic interests of its own members. In this case the union was going against the immediate economic interests of its members for the sake of a wider community and environmental interest.

AV Jennings declared it would build on Kelly's Bush using non-union scab labour, but building workers on an office project of AV Jennings in North Sydney sent a message to their bosses:

'If you attempt to build on Kelly's Bush, even if there is the loss of one tree, this half-completed building will remain so forever, as a monument to Kelly's Bush.'

This influenced AV Jennings, and alarmed property developers generally.

The first green ban was a complete success - and Kelly's Bush is still there as an open public reserve, complete with a monument to the world's first green ban. The building workers' direct action with the support of resident which defeated the developers was then imitated. A wave of green bans began which lasted four years and stopped billions of dollars of development harmful to local communities and the environment.


Compiled by from information taken from "A perspective on Sydney's Green ban Campaign, 1970-74" by Burgmann, V. Power and Protest 1993, and Wikipedia.