Exhibition celebrates 50th anniversary of protest movement that saved Blackbutt Reserve

02 Mar 2022

A union-backed community protest movement that helped stop Blackbutt Reserve being cut in two by a new highway in the 1970s is being celebrated in an exhibition at Newcastle Library.

Power to the People, 50+ Years of Union and Community Green Ban Action celebrates the 50th anniversary of the "green ban" movement, which effectively saw union members refuse to work on construction projects that were deemed environmentally or socially undesirable.

Green bans were conceived by Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) NSW secretary Jack Mundey and were instigated at the request of, and in support of, residents' groups.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the exhibition showcases an important time in history through the story of Jack Mundey and the green ban movement, and local Newcastle strike action to save Blackbutt Reserve and protect historic houses in the East End.

"Historical green bans demonstrate the value and impact that Newcastle's communities can have when their passion and drive to protect our city's rich natural and build environment is mobilised," Cr Nelmes said.

"Power to the People 50+ years of Union and Community Green Ban Action explores green bans to save Blackbutt Reserve and Newcastle's East End, both initiated by the BLF, Newcastle Trades Hall Council and over 25 community groups in the 1970s, which protected two extremely important features of Newcastle.

"Newcastle green bans were born in parallel with the Sydney bans from 1971 onwards, and the legacy of the movement cannot be underestimated as it led a shift towards ensuring heritage and conservation were central to planning and policy."

While many of the green bans in the early 1970s were focussed on Sydney, the protest movement also made its way to Newcastle through the Newcastle Trades Hall Council.

In one of the most significant instances locally, a green ban was enforced to help community groups stop a NSW Government plan to bulldoze more than 15 acres of Blackbutt Reserve for a 1.2 km section of Highway 23.

The road, which was being built to link the Sydney-Newcastle Expressway near Windale to the Pacific Highway at Sandgate, would have also effectively separated an additional 40 hectares of land from the main Blackbutt Reserve site.

Power to the People, 50+ years of Union and Community Green Ban Action has been curated by Newcastle Libraries in partnership with Cross Arts Projects, University of Newcastle and Newcastle Trades Hall Council.

The exhibition draws on archival material preserved in collections held by Newcastle Libraries, the University of Newcastle, the Hunter Living Histories, and Newcastle Trades Hall and presents an eclectic mix of stories that depict community uprising over unequal planning, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island heritage, social housing justice, heritage buildings, land rights and conservation.

It will be on display at Newcastle Libraries’ Lovett Gallery in Laman Street, Newcastle until Thursday, 14 April.