Darlinghurst & Surry Hills

Looking east along William Street in Darlinghurst, 1973.
Looking east along William Street from the corner of Yurong Street, Darlinghurst. Photograph by Len Stone, 1973. (Image source: City of Sydney Archives)
Terrace houses on Riley Street, Surry Hills in 1973
A view of Riley Street, Surry Hills showcasing some of the suburb's terrace houses. Residents had concerns about the demolition of such homes to make way for high-rises and other developments. 10 September 1973. (Image source: City of Sydney Archives)

In 1973, Darlinghurst and East Sydney were under a green ban from Boundary Street to College Street. There were several major interests in the area and battles were fought against several developers, including Syd King and Gary Bogard (Home Units), Ian Kiernan (IBK). Darlinghurst residents demanded a ban on all commercial construction to ensure that all housing remain high density low-rise with adequate provision for low and middle-income families to live in the area. The fight was led by the Darlinghurst Resident Action Group (DRAG) which was co-founded by sculptor and philosopher Margaret Grafton, architect Colin James, and city councillor Robert Tickner.

Darlinghurst residents, along with those of Woolloomooloo and Kings Cross spent 1973-74 devising a community plan. Guidelines suggested the area remain low-rise and that rent structures be imposed to ensure people of all classes could live there. It was integral that residential use be retained in favour of any further commercial development and that residents maintained control of the future development of the area. The construction of expressways and the increasing domination of private vehicular traffic was also a concern which needed to be curtailed. By imposing a green ban, the BLF afforded residents the opportunity to fight and the time to prepare this community plan.

In August 1973, the Surry Hills resident action group, Planning for People requested the BLF place a green ban on the entire area as it was under threat from countless developers; including Home Units, George Street East, Ian Kiernan, and Gordon Stuart. Residents had concerns about the demolition of terrace houses, the conversion of historic factories, and the construction of high-rise buildings for high-end accommodation and office spaces. The Planning for People campaign was formed to protect the rights of tenants and to give them a voice in planning for the area; to improve parks, playgrounds, and other amenities; to control traffic and reduce pollution; and to keep high-rise buildings out of the area.

The green ban was imposed over Surry Hills to prevent any demolition or development which was not acceptable to residents. In particular, they wished to avert any plan that did not keep within the guidelines of the Surry Hills Action Plan prepared by a consultant for the Sydney City Council. This plan ensured the rezoning of West Surry Hills back to residential and the retention of the entire area as a residential one for mixed income earners. It also guaranteed a stop to the intrusion of commercial interests. Planning for People argued that the City Council had frequently failed to protect the rights and interests of Surry Hills residents and the green ban gave them a voice by ensuring any new development must gain the approval of residents before proceeding.

The Planning for People campaign also received invaluable support from the union on a ban in February 1974 when they refused to demolish a kindergarten in Surry Hills until alternative facilities were established for the mothers and children. Though the building was considered old and inadequate, its closure prior to the opening of a new centre would only add hardship to the lives of many working mothers. Joe Owens reportedly called for the State and Federal governments to provide the City Council with financial assistance to build a new kindergarten.

Verity and Meredith Burgmann, Green bans, red union: the saving of a city, 1998; Lee Rhiannon, Green bans: inspirational activism, 2016; Anne Summers (et al.), The little green book: facts on the green bans, 1973.

Research provided by Isabella Maher 


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