For four years the Builders Labourers Federation inspired Sydney, a nation and the world. They led a revolution in ideas about people's right to participate in decisions about public art, architecture and urban planning. “We are builders labourers”, said secretary Jack Mundey “not mere builders labourers”. From 1971, they voted on over 50 requests for bans from resident groups and many hundreds from the National Trust and/or the Institute of Architects. They voted for a big picture: to keep urban low cost housing and to protect the environment and heritage. The most dramatic and creative of these battles took place in the old inner-city working class residential suburbs of The Rocks, Woolloomooloo and in Victoria Street in Kings Cross. The government and developers hoped to transform these areas with high rise commercial towers.
1. Home to Mick Fowler, seaman, musician and unionist at 115 Victoria Street, Kings Cross. His courage rallied others. In 1973 squatters moved into the next-door houses but seven months later thugs evicted them. Mick remained as the sole tenant and his band Mick Fowler and the Fowl House Five became famous. On 5 May 1976, the day they forced him out, his supporters buried a coffin in the front yard labelled ‘The Right of Low Income Workers To Live in Victoria St’. 2. Map detail by Pat Armstrong, ‘Green Bans Art Walk Civic Survey, Woolloomooloo and Victoria St’, 2011. Big Fag Press. 3. Jack Mundey, secretary NSW Builders Labourer’s Federation, arrested during ‘The Battle for the Rocks’, 23 October 1973. 4. Juanita Nielsen, publisher of local newspaper, NOW carried on a highly effective battle with developers until 4 July 1975, when she disappeared. This was a week after they signed the agreement to restore Woolloomooloo as a model for medium density residential housing. Her inquest concluded she was murdered but no charges were ever laid. 5. Sir Herman Black, vice-chancellor of Sydney University, opens Denis Winston Place and Margel Hinder ‘Aphrodite’ sculpture marking the Woolloomooloo renewal in 1981. (Image left) Chips Mackinolty, Jack Mundey, 2020. Commemorative digital poster.