Kelly’s Bush: 'The First Green Ban'

Kelly's Bush on 18 June 1971 was the first Green Ban. Jack Mundey described it as "A unique alliance of enlightened middle class and workers". The BL union said, “if one blade of grass is touched at Kelly's Bush” developments elsewhere will not proceed.
"Sometimes the good guys wear the black hats'' ... Col James in Redfern in 2008.

Protestors support saving Kelly’s Bush from development, 1971. Battlers for Kellys Bush. (source, NMA, originally Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, call no. FM2/2100)

The green bans movement was kickstarted in June 1971 when a resident action group from the harbour-side suburb of Hunters Hill enlisted the help of the Builders Labourers Federation to save Kelly’s Bush; a remnant piece of bushland on Sydney Harbour’s foreshore. Thirteen women, including Betty James, Kath Lehany, Monica Sheehan, and Christine Lawson, battled against the Melbourne firm A. V. Jennings and the proposed development of a luxury housing estate, earning themselves the title the “Battler’s for Kelly’s Bush”.

After lobbying the mayor, the local council, the local State member, and the premier with no success, the Battlers called a local meeting. Over 600 locals and residents turned up to show support for the fight to save Kelly’s Bush and on June 17th 1971 a telegram was sent to the Trades and Labour Council requesting their assistance in the prevention of the Jennings development. The Battlers allied themselves with unions (FEDFA and Firemen's Association, the Building Workers Industrial Association) and the communist leaders of the BLF (Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle, and Joe Owens) and the first “Green Ban” was officially applied.

Following the union’s ban on the destruction of Kelly’s Bush, Jennings declared their intention to use non-union labour. However, builders working on another Jennings site in North Sydney sent a message declaring they would leave this building half-finished, as a monument to Kelly’s Bush, if there was any attempt to build on the land. The firm backed down and was forced to sell the land to Hunter’s Hill council and in 1977 Premier Neville Wran announced that there would be no development at Kelly’s Bush. The Battle for Kelly’s Bush waged for nearly thirteen years and in 1983 state government purchased the land, finally dedicating it to conservation. It remains today an open public reserve. See: National Museum of Australia, First Green Bans at

The success at Kelly’s Bush saw resident action groups from across the state flood the BLF with requests to impose similar bans. It did not matter that Hunters Hill was a solidly middle-class suburb, Green Bans would be instituted on behalf of a range of communities so long as widespread local support was evident. From saving historical buildings in the Rocks and Wollahra, to preventing sports stadiums and carparks that threatened local environment, efforts to protect sites in and around Sydney ensued.
Margaret Shaw, The history of the battle to save Kelly's bush and the Green Ban Movement in the early 1970's, (Includes bibliographical references), 1996; Pip Kalajzich, ed., The Battlers for Kelly's Bush. Thirteen women and the world's first green ban, (Includes bibliographical references), 1996; The Green Bans Movement: Workers' Power and Ecological Radicalism in Australia in the 1970s by Verity Burgmann, 2008.

Jack Mundey Exhibitions: Sydney Trades Hall Archive, Jack Mundey exhibit at Trades Hall (by historians Neil Towart and Bill PIrrie), 2021. 

Research provided by Isabella Maher and Jo Holder
From left to right: Miriam Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Betty James, Jo Bell, Judy Taplin, Jack Mundey, Kath Lehany, Monica Sheehan, Joan Croll – eight of the original 13 ‘Battlers’ celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world’s first Green Ban. Not present: Mary Farrell, Trude Kallir; Kathleen Chubb, Margaret Stobo, Marjorie Fitzgerald. (Sydney Morning Herald 15 June 1996)
Kelly’s Bush 25th Anniversary celebration.


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