Green bans saved Sydney
The Rocks, Centennial Park and Victoria Street in Kings Cross are some of Sydney’s most famous historical landmarks. However, many people are unaware how close these sites once came to destruction.
In the early 1970s parts of these sites were all scheduled for demolition by property developers. They were only saved after the NSW branch of the Builders and Labourers Federation (BLF) introduced ‘green bans’ at these sites.
The 40th anniversary of the green bans was commemorated by the Green Bans art walk and exhibition.
Although green bans took place several decades ago, public interest in them proved very much alive, with guided walks booked out.
Meredith Burgmann, former politician and author of the book Green Bans, Red Union, isn’t surprised by the current interest.
‘People are still interested in the green bans is because really, they saved Sydney,’ she said.
The exhibitions are a collaborative project between The Cross Art Projects and Big Fag Press, an artist-run printing collective. Art exhibitions and film screenings were held at The Cross Art Projects, Kings Cross and Firstdraft Art Depot, Woolloomooloo. There were also guided walks between the two venues.
Jo Holder, director of The Cross Art Projects, describes the exhibition as a ‘call and response process’ between two generations of artists. It consisted of art from the early 1970s as well as contemporary responses to the green bans by artists today.
‘It’s a very defined and distinct period,’ said Ms. Holder.
‘What the exhibition and the walks are doing is commemorating not just how remarkable this was, but a lot of people died in this. A lot of these developers, because there were millions of dollars at stake, employed thugs and goons.’
One of the more notable deaths was that of Juanita Nielsen, the then editor of NOW magazine. Although a coroner’s inquest determined she had been murdered, her body has never been found and the case never officially solved. It is widely believed that she was killed by agents of property developers.
NOW magazine was an ardent supporter of the BLF.
‘The magazine changed into a vehicle against the developers at a very sophisticated level…Juanita’s writing was very good,’ said Ms. Holder.
‘There were quite a number of writers, but Juanita wrote most of the copy for NOW.’
Ms Holder said that although Nielsen was commemorated officially through the artworks, several unofficial tributes appeared around Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo in the form of graffiti stencils featuring the name ‘Juanita’ and a sword overlapping an S to create a dollar sign.
The exhibition opening was attended by several people involved in the movement, including Jack Mundey, the former Secretary of the BLF, who played an important role in the organisation of the green bans.
Mr. Mundey said that the BLF at the time aimed to address social and political issues as well as economic ones, improving conditions for migrants and indigenous workers as well as boycotting the South African rugby team during their Australian tour.
‘The green ban phenomenon came about by way of a very progressive union going beyond economic consideration and for the first time being involved in ecological and environmental issues,’ said Mr. Mundey. ‘I think that’s the cornerstone of the historical significance.’
Mr. Mundey explained that the green bans started as a result of the building boom in Sydney in the early 1970s. ‘There hadn’t been much building in Sydney since the 20s…we were one of the hardest countries hit by the international crisis.’
One contributing factor to the boom was the NSW Premier at the time, Robert Askin, lifting the height restriction on buildings.
‘The sky became the limit, and so there was this enormous amount of building taking place,’ said Mr. Mundey.
‘There was a tendency to look upon all development as good, but many of us in the heritage area felt differently. What’s the good of winning higher wages and better conditions if you live in a city that’s devoid of parks and trees?’
Mr. Mundey believes that the environment is ‘the most important and pressing issue of our time.’
He said that there is a ‘need for society…to relate to nature instead of conquering nature, particularly now with ecological questions being on the international agenda.’
While the BLF was eventually deregistered as a union, the legacy of the green ban raised environmental awareness among the general public and led to the implementation of legislation by Askin’s successor, Neville Wran.
‘What they did was hold things up for a few years until the Labor government got in and was able to pass environmental legislation,’ said Ms. Burgmann. ‘Once those safeguards came in, they actually ended up finishing what the green bans started.’
As for lessons that can be learnt from the green bans movement, Ms. Burgmann said the main one was ‘That protest activity can still work out. It will succeed if you have a plan rather than just wanting a headline.’
The Cross Art Projects and Big Fag Press are currently considering turning the walks into an annual event.
Sci fi a reality for some
Hover boards, invisibility cloaks, time travel. It’s always fun to watch movies and fantasise about whether sci-fi technologies could exist in reality.
But some may not be as far-fetched as you might expect.
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) new show, Fact or Fiction aims to encourage the public to think about the technology they see in classic films such as Star Wars, Terminator, The Day After Tomorrow and Back to The Future.
Visitors were shown short clips from a number of sci-fi films and asked to vote on keypads whether or not they thought the technology was fact or fiction. Following the audience’s votes, the correct answer was discussed by ANSTO scientists.
The event, which consisted of four sessions, hosted by comedian Peter Berner and Wilson da Silva, editor of COSMOS magazine, was part of National Science Week.
According to its creator, ANSTO scientist Rod Dowler, the focus was ‘to educate and entertain the general public…and give a good update on new technology.’
The event also sought to explain where science fiction ends and begins.
‘There is some confusion between what fact is and what fiction is,’ said Mr. Dowler, who added that reactions to the event had been positive.
‘I think choosing popular sci fi films was a way of engaging the community and creating a new audience. Science can be fun and interesting,’ he said.
Da Silva, who hosted two of the four sessions, agreed that the show had been a hit with a wide range of people.
‘It was mostly parents with kids and they seemed to love it,’ said Mr Da Silva, who dressed up as Doctor Who (Tom Baker’s version) for the event. ‘Kids [who are] at an age before their teens, they’re fascinated by the world and want to understand stuff… I got the impression some adults used their kids as an excuse to come!’ Mr Da Silva said.
Before the event, ANSTO conducted a survey of 1200 Australians to get an idea of how much people know about new technology.
While there were many discrepancies between what people believed was real and what was fact, Wilson da Silva said that he was ‘surprised at how much people knew.’
The survey did, however, reveal a few misconceptions. For example, over 75% of people believed that aliens have already been discovered, which, according to Mr. da Silva, is ‘absolutely not true.’
The show also revealed more than a few other unexpected facts.
After being shown a clip from Star Wars of Yoda using telekinesis to lift a space station out of a swamp, the majority of voters believed that telekinesis was fiction.
Although it may not resemble ‘the force’, Mr. Da Silva said that ‘there are things that have been developed that interpret your brain waves things that range from headsets for video games to prosthetic limbs connected to the brain for soldiers who lost limbs in the Iraq war.’
Scientists in Germany have also been experimenting with ‘metamaterials’, materials that play with light and make it bend around objects to make them invisible- creating a microscopic version of Harry Potter’s famous invisibility cloak.
UTS scientist Professor Michael Cortie believes that when it comes to science education, enthusiasm and open-mindedness are more important than having all the facts, provided you’re willing to learn.
‘A lot of people get interested in science because of crazy stuff they see in sci-fi so that must be good,’ said Professor Cortie. ‘Some movies propagate misconceptions that get stuck in people’s minds. But I think people should be open minded…it’s better than if they ignored science altogether.’
Professor Cortie did observe that some of the confusion may be caused by the blurring together of different genres of speculative fiction, fantasy in particular.
‘The sci fi genre and fantasy fiction are completely blurred, a lot of people cannot separate the two in their mind,’ said Professor Cortie.
‘In science fiction, the author has to pretend there is a rational explanation even if there isn’t. In fantasy fiction there’s no rules really.’
However, believers in aliens and time travel (both of which were classified as ‘fiction’ by ANSTO scientists) need not despair.
Professor Cortie said that there were many examples in science fiction from decades ago that seemed implausible at the time that went on to become reality, citing Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye as an example.
‘They all had these iPad like computers that connected to the internet,’ said Professor Cortie. ‘When I read that thirty years ago I thought it was bizarre but today, it’s a reality.’