NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has backflipped over the move of the Ultimo Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta, announcing plans for a museum on both sites. After ongoing community opposition, the last straw was a NSW CFMEU construction union green ban against the demolition of heritage buildings in Parramatta to make way for the Powerhouse.

This means the historic Willow Grove, a former maternity hospital, and St Georges Terrace, a row of housing terraces, will be protected. Darren Greenfield, the union’s secretary, said, “This is the first Green Ban the CFMEU has put in place since the recent passing of Jack Mundey who inspired a generation of unionists and community activists to fight for our shared built, cultural, and environmental heritage.”

In recent years union green bans have helped save the Bondi Beach Pavilion, and boosted the fight to preserve The Rocks’ iconic brutalist Sirius building.

The first greens bans were launched in the 1970s by the NSW Builders and Labourers Federation under Jack Mundey. They fought for historic areas and support local communities fighting to save the local area from yet another skyscraper or car park. The union much preferred to build community-needed items, like hospitals and schools, not “ugly unimaginative architecturally-bankrupt blocks of concrete and glass offices”, Mundey argued.

Eventually, 40 green bans were implemented in that short time period, with the best known being in The Rocks. Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens fought for such spaces to be saved, as many highrises and “get-rich-quick” buildings were the focus for the government at the time. They fought to save green spaces and historical sites not only in Sydney, but wider NSW, opposed by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, chaired by one Owen Magee, who described unionists as “thugs”, “drunkards” and “conspirators”. 

Union action and powerful green bans make saving our historic and green spaces possible. Parramatta’s sites are irreplaceable. As Suzette Meade of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group put it, “Parramatta deserves a genuine museum and continued cultural funding from the State Government – but it does not need to be at the expense of more of Australia’s heritage being destroyed.”

By Emily Thompson

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