MUNGO MACCALLUM. Vale Comrade Jack Mundey

It is impossible to overstate the legacy of Jack Mundey.

The long life of the brilliant but humble trade unionist was one of integrity, decency and vision. He literally changed Australia forever and his influence extended around the civilised world.

He brought a new term into the vocabulary – Green Politics, which led to the formation of a revolutionary party in Germany, and then on to many other countries. And at home, he transformed the progressive parties in Australia – not only the eponymous Greens, but the now defunct Democrats and the still evolving left in the ALP.

And these were not just abstract ideas, matters for discussion over the chardonnay and lattes. The concrete result of the actions he initiated saw vast areas of Sydney saved from the wrecking balls then being wielded by ruthless developers egged on by the corrupt premier Robin Askin.

And they did not come easily: at times there was something like open warfare in the streets as the thugs paid to remove the protesters enforced their muscle. At least one brave warrior, Juanita Nielsen, was actually murdered in the conflict.

Mundey was, for much of his career, notionally a communist – in later years he joined the Greens. But he was anything but doctrinaire; his first foray into environmental activism was in 1971 on behalf of the bourgeois housewives of leafy Hunters Hill as they tried to preserve what remained of their parkland.

In an unlikely alliance, Mundey led his Builders Labourers to the barricades, and on to victory in what became known as the Green bans. The movement embraced other suburbs, most of them working class, and its concerns went far wider than heritage – the rights of women, Aboriginals and gays also benefitted from the embargos Mundey led.

In three short years the whole culture of Sydney had been renewed and much of the rest of the country followed. The political reformers of the time, notably Don Dunstan and Gough Whitlam, made the environment a mainstream issue and their successors kept much of the momentum: Malcolm Fraser ended whaling and saved Fraser Island, Bob Hawke stopped the Franklin dam, Bob Carr implemented a network of national parks.

Mundey was not directly involved in those breakthrough moments, but it was his diligence that made support for them politically possible. And even after he left the BLF hierarchy – he believed in a turnover of leadership to keep the bastards honest – he was always there when his guiding hand could be useful.

Mundey was that rare species, an honest, unselfish and unassuming politician who always knew that the outcome, not the credit, was what was important. There were many other green pioneers before and since – names like Milo Dunphy, Bob Brown, Ian Kiernan, John Sinclair to name but a handful. All have their places on the honour board.

But Mundey was the spearhead, the great achiever, the man. And it can be truly said that he left the world a far better place than he found it. Many have said, and rightly, that he deserves state funeral. But Mundey would have hated the idea of such pomp and egotism. So let us just settle for gratitude for his brilliant career. Vale, old comrade.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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7 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Vale Comrade Jack Mundey

  1. Andrew McLaughlin says:

    Yes, Jack was certainly all of the above.
    It’s not well know he saved the last grand terrace house surviving from Colonial Sydney in 1973 from demolition. It is 145 Macquarie Street, the headquarters of the Royal Australasian Collage of Physicians.
    He “…. gave teeth to the National Trust’s list of buildings worthy of preservation by refusal to demolish such buildings.” SMH 16th Feburary 1973)
    He did not discriminate on the basis of who would benefit from his heritage bans.

  2. Peter Willans says:

    RIP Jack Mundey. Jack mixed a wonderful degree of humility and vision, always towards a better environment for his wider community. Through his efforts he called upon us to set a good example as healthy, functional, fulfilled people. Vale blessed man.

  3. Richard England says:

    Back in the days when the ABC reported the activities of the BLF with horror, one of their journalists, in a typical sycophantic interview, asked Patrick White who he thought should be Australian of the Year. White’s reply, “Jack Mundey”, caused my old father to hoot with delight and bang his armrests like a disruptive schoolboy.

  4. Wouter Bruin says:

    A truly great man, a huge loss to us all.

  5. Peter Graves says:

    A very worthwhile connection of past memories beyond most today, to connect with the Sydney of today.

    And its long-term treasures that deliver current-day benefits, like The Rocks. Where I worked in the 1970s as a Customs Officer in the many warehouses of those days.

    One man who made a difference to all that. Fortunately, it’s not Goodbye to all That.

  6. stuart lawrence says:

    Yes and the daily telegraphy murdoch paper hates him

  7. Mike Yewdall says:

    Jack Mundey was truly a National Treasure, in the real meaning of that title. His saving of the Rocks from the wrecking ball would have alone been enough to earn him that.

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