It's hard to find a green ban when you need one

November 2, 1994

By Yvonne Francis

CANBERRA — Jack Mundey addressed a group of conservationists at the Pensioners' Club here on October 14. The environment is the key for the radical left, he said. It is essential that all the environmental groups learn to pull together.

The environment movement has failed to coopt the blue-collar workers, he said. Looking around, I couldn't help but agree. Not only the workers: it was a far cry from coopting the unemployed, particularly at $30 for the dinner.

I felt I was a friend of Jack Mundey, having been impressed with his inspiring words at forest conferences years ago. He was saying some of the same things: cars and roads are our enemies. I had to admit feeling guilty about frequently using cars and even planes to commute to my family down the coast in Victoria. But that is what you have to do if you want a job these days.

Jack talked about his days as a leader of the Builders' Labourers Federation and the "green bans", how he argued that the builders' labourers should be the first to complain if buildings were not in the public interest, because they are the people who need urban quality of life.

Kelly's Bush, the site of the green bans, was brought to the BLF by the women of Hunters Hill, who had lain down in the path of A.V. Jennings bulldozers. The workers were reluctant: what does a leafy middle class suburb have to do with us and our families? Jack was able to convince them that the working class and the enlightened middle class are natural allies. These days, as then, we have to build coalitions in support of the issue; that is how we build our political power.

In the two booms of the 1970s and '80s, 70% of Sydney was torn apart for redevelopment. In Sydney these days, Greiner's mob is trying to make the central business district — minus its residents — become Sydney.

I wondered how Jack would feel about plans to pull down the Rocks in Canberra, the old army huts that include the Pensioners' Club, the Peace Centre and the Environment Centre. They have become a sort of safety valve to this city of rich and poor, cultural hot spot and resource, a haven for those fleeing to the capital city for a job or a refuge.

Would a new complex offer a home to the street people sometimes found hiding away in the old Peace Centre? Would there be a place for the nerve centre of the Aidex campaign — one of the few successful campaigns ever held in Canberra?

I remembered inspecting the heap of rubble last year after the Childers Street Theatre at the Rocks. It had been bulldozed by the ACT government. Here was a fountain spurting out of the smashed cistern of the one and only toilet. It had been flowing for 12 hours, and a great pool of wasted water was accumulating in the wreckage.

Surely the ACT government would have checked that all the services were properly attended to before they bulldozed the home of the street kids? Or had they done it with undue haste? We will never know.

I believe that the Rocks, along with a few other places like Garema Place, Gorman House and maybe the Griffin Centre, have become the heart and soul of Canberra, the city with no soul. I cannot see how the new Street Theatre complex that replaces the old Childers Street Theatre offers anything to those people who lived there through winter with no heating, who created a coffee shop and an arts festival with no government funding, who were wakened regularly by cops looking for drugs.

Somehow, my sense of justice is uneasy with the concept of a new Environment Centre, and I struggle to see that we have not been coopted by the developers.

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