||Issue No. 214||26 March 2004|
The Security Shift
Interview: Baby Bust
Safety: Dust To Dust
Bad Boss: Shaming in Print
National Focus: Work's Cripplin' Us
International: Bulk Bullies
History: The Battle for Kelly's Bush
Economics: Aid, Trade And Oil
Review: The Art Of Work
Poetry: Sew His Lips Together
But Will He Get the Trains To Run On Time?
Uniting For Peace
Letters to the Editor
More On Green Bans
The Battle for Kellys Bush by Neale Towart
Neale Towart has written a fine account of the battle to save Kellys Bush especially given the limits of space. I write not to contest his factual presentation. My concern is the absence from the story of the more general credit owed the Labor Movement for their efforts to save the Bush. Extending the credit more widely does not discount the perceived wisdom of the centrality of the Builders' Labourers Federation in the wider struggle for a better Sydney, it does challenge their relative importance to the saving of the Bush.
In early 1971, following the re-election of the Askin Government, the bulldozers were fair poised to knock over a bushland that predated European settlement. The Battlers, the housewives of Hunters Hill and Woolwich depicted by Mr Towart, had learned no end of a lesson about the perfidy of their elected leaders. Most of them would not have questioned voting Liberal before the struggle for Kellys Busg. Bob Askin had played them off the breaks before the election with a succession of sweet-nothings, wanting them neutralised in the marginal seat of Fuller. The election over, his Government made it clear the Bush was going to be developed.
Only then did the Hunters Hill Branch of the ALP enter the picture. We had a change of leadership immediately after the NSW Election. Working with community groups was what we hoped we stood for. I contacted Betty James and soon after met with her and Kath Lehany. These details have been recorded many times. Short of a black ban by the unions, I explained, you're gone for all money. I offered to make that contact. At or about the same time Bob Pringle, President of the BLF, was making his own important contacts directly with the Battlers.
At this time the BLF was expelled from the Labor Council of NSW. They could not send a delegation to its meetings. To me the immediate, practical problem was stopping bulldozers from clearing the bush, stopping houses being built on a cleared site was a qualitatively different debate to one about preserving a pristine stand of trees and scrub. Here is where the credit deserves to be shared more widely.
The union which represented bulldozer drivers (and all the other heavy equipment employed in clearing a site) was the FEDFA (Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemens' Association). Its Secretary was Jack Cambourn. Jack Cambourn listened to the case I presented, he took his time, he offered the support of the Union. At the time Australian benefited from not one Communist Party, not two, but three - and many of the finest trade union officials, proud to call themselves communists, belonged to none of them. Jack Cambourn was such an independent.
Keith Blackwell, State Secretary of the Miscellaneous Workers' Union, wrote the letter to Labor Council which placed the matter of a black ban formally on the Council agenda. Jack Cambourn spoke to the members of the Building Trades Group which was, at the time, minus the expelled BLF. He enlisted their support.
When the letter formally came before the Labor Council at its Thursday night meeting, John Ducker moved endorsement of a black ban and spoke to the motion. He was the only speaker in a motion which passed unanimously.
At or about the same time Ralph Marsh led a Labor Council deputation to the Minister for Planning, Harry Jago. The others in the delegation were Keith Blackwell and myself. "You're going to have to do the talking at this thing," Mr Marsh told me before we went in. "You got us into this." To say I was terrified does not begin to touch my feelings. After the pleasantries, I did all the talking.
Beyond the formality of meetings, in the way of politics, the leadership of Ralph Marsh and John Ducker made it clear by back-channels to the Government this ban was the real thing and the union movement expected it to be respected. Jack Cambourn made it clear to A.V.Jennings, the development company which owned the freehold of Kellys Bush, that all worksite relations depended on respecting the ban on Kellys Bush.
The communications one suspected were every bit as important as the formal resolutions and the correspondence. They certainly were as important as the pyrotechnics which were written up in the newspapers of the time and are now the accepted version for History.
In any fair assessment of the credit for saving Kellys Bush, every possible due is owed Ralph Marsh, John Ducker and Jack Cambourn - especially Jack Cambourn. Without Jack and the FEDFA the BLF would have been fighting to stop houses on acres of red earth.
The phrase "green ban" came into the language at this time. Its etymology was a spontaneous evolution from the stock speech of one at the time who was always stating that "in order to keep the bush green we had to declare it black".
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