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Kelly's Bush covers 4.8 hectares on the southern foreshore of the Woolwich Peninsula in the municipality of Hunters Hill. It is the only substantial area of natural bushland on the western reaches of the lower Parramatta River. The original inhabitants were the Guringai-speaking Wallumedegal clan, and several rock waterholes, engravings and middens remain within the area.
In 1892, a landowner named TH Kelly set up the Smelting Company on two acres (less than one hectare) of waterfront land in modern-day Woolwich. Public access to the foreshore was permitted through a buffer zone of 17 acres (seven hectares) of adjacent bush. In 1956, nearly seven acres (three hectares) of this land was purchased by Hunters Hill Council and Cumberland County Council, to form Weil Park.
Threatened by development
When the smelting works relocated in 1967, the prime 12-acre (five-hectare) site was seized by the developer AV Jennings Australia who planned to build 147 units, including three eight-storey buildings. Hunters Hill Council rejected the development application because they hoped to purchase the land to enlarge Weil Park. However, the State Planning Authority (which replaced the Cumberland County Council in 1963) refused their request to acquire the land for open space because medium density housing was planned for the suburb.
AV Jennings Australia submitted a series of modified applications and, by November 1969, the municipal council controversially agreed to suspend the existing zoning for the development of 56 townhouses. Several historic homes in Hunters Hill had already been lost, and on 7 February 1968 the Hunters Hill Trust had been formed to preserve the suburb's unique character. It was largely due to the trust's efforts that the number of proposed dwellings in the development was further reduced to 25.
Alarmed at losing five hectares of bush to a developer, on 27 September 1970 13 local women formed a committee called Battlers for Kelly's Bush. They quickly learnt how to become activists, publicising their cause state-wide and organising meetings with AV Jennings and the Premier Robin (later Sir Robert) Askin. They were supported by the Hunters Hill Trust, the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) and other conservation organisations. But with the Premier about to sign a document rezoning the land from open space to residential on 3 June 1971, they sought support from the Labor Council of New South Wales.
The first Green Ban
On 17 June 1971, the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) imposed a Black (later called Green) Ban on any clearance or development on the site. The middle-class women had allied themselves with the avowed communist leaders of the BLF – Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens – which shocked the conservative Hunters Hill Trust. The Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association, the Building Workers Industrial Union and a meeting of over 600 residents supported the move.
When AV Jennings warned they would proceed without union labour, the BLF threatened an immediate stop-work order on an office block then under construction by AV Jennings at North Sydney, leaving it as a half-finished monument to Kelly's Bush. The developers backed down.
In 1973, Hunters Hill Council unsuccessfully sought funding to buy the whole of Kelly's Bush, but by 1976 a newly elected council again voted for residential zoning. In 1977, the incoming Premier Neville Wran announced that no development would take place at Kelly's Bush, and a long period of inactivity followed. Doubts about prospective home sites were raised in 1978 when low-risk radioactive waste material from the old tin smelting furnace was found on the land.
Kelly's Bush is saved
The Battlers for Kelly's Bush and the unions continued their resolute fight until 4 September 1983 when Premier Wran announced that the government had purchased Kelly's Bush for open space, saying this 'represents a victory for environmentalists generally'. Control of the bush was handed over to Hunters Hill Council on 30 December 1993, and a plaque unveiled to commemorate the conservation victory.
Kelly's Bush set a precedent for later Green Bans and established the connection between union and urban resident action. Similar campaigns by unions and local communities saved large areas of The Rocks, Woolloomooloo and Centennial Park. By its deregulation in June 1974 and long before the Kelly's Bush issue was settled, the Builders Labourers Federation had imposed 42 Green Bans to save housing, buildings and bushland. Later, Petra Kelly cited the Sydney Green Bans as her inspiration for launching the world's most successful Green Party in Germany.
'Battlers for Kelly's Bush', 3 boxes of records 1969–85, State Library of NSW, Mitchell Library manuscripts 5549/3
Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 'Kellys Bush, Alfred St, Hunters Hill, NSW, Australia', Register of the National Estate, the department, Canberra, http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl, viewed 23 November 2008
Pip Kalajzich (ed), The Battlers for Kelly's Bush, Battlers for Kelly's Bush, Sydney, 1996
Professional Historians Association New South Wales, 'Kellys Bush Park', Register of Historic Places and Objects, the association, Sydney, http://www.phansw.org.au/ROPHO/kellysbush.pdf, viewed 23 November 2008
Margaret Shaw, The History of the Battle to save Kelly's Bush and the Green Ban Movement in the early 1970s, Buckleys Publications, Sydney, 1996
Neal Towart, 'The Battle for Kelly's Bush', Workers Online: The Official Organ of Labornet, Labor Council of New South Wales, Sydney, http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200403/c_historicalfeature_kellys.html, viewed 23 November 2008
Travis Partners, 'Kelly's Bush Landscape and Management Plan final report to the NSW Department of Environment and Planning', the author, Sydney, 1986