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We must resist over-development in Australian cities

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Jack Mundey, BLF leader, had much success in repelling property over-development from Sydney (image via YouTube).

Sydney still needs the courage of Jack Mundey and the Builders Labourers Federation, as the inner-city is undermined by developers and the Coalition, says Henry Johnston. 

AS I CLOSED my front door this morning I realised I miss Jack Mundey as much as I lament the loss of a city I once knew.

It struck me that there are aspects of Jack Mundey’s activism neatly overlooked in his mostly green-washed obituaries

The truth is Mundey was a tough, hard man who led the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) in many a fist and boot brawl with Sydney’s developer goon squads.

In the year my son was born, the political elite of Macquarie Street decreed the magnificent Lyndhurst at 61 Dargan Street, Glebe, would be demolished to make way for an expressway.

Lyndhurst evolved from a vision by the English architect John Verge who in 1833 built the mansion for James Bowman, son-in-law of John and Elizabeth Macarthur.

But in the early 1970s, a pitched battle between squatters, the BLF and assorted bullies, erupted on Dargan Street to save Lyndhurst and the surrounding terraced houses. And although the august estate and much of Glebe survived, so too did the hideous dream of an expressway through the heart of the Emerald City: WestConnex.

As I stepped off my front porch onto Lilyfield Road Rozelle, I pressed my padded headphones hard against my ears to deaden the worst of the jackhammering.

COVID-19-enforced isolation is over and I venture out more than I did during May’s dark days.

A traffic warden holding a stop/slow sign greets me with a shrug, and mouths the words, "why the fuckin’ ribbon on your gate, mate?"  

I enter the cacophony and scurry toward Gordon Street with its modicum of respite.

Hanging a red ribbon on gates began as a silent protest around the streets of Leichhardt a few months back. So fa,r I am the only person on my road to express my disgust at the explicit undermining of my community.

This ribbon is my way of remembering the knuckle dusters, the fence palings and the beer bottles, hurled in furious defiance in Dargan Street those years past.

Construction of the Rozelle interchange continues day and night, meters in front of and behind my house.

My neighbours host a WhatsApp group to provide mutual support and compare the intensity of the tunnelling vibration. This digital assembly kind of makes up for our lost street parties and over-the-fence chats.

Many good friends have sold up and moved on. One neighbour said her middle child fretted badly about the "orange men" – workers wearing high vis vests and hard hat helmets with neck guards. Her young son she said dreamt the workers were storm troopers about to bash their house to smithereens.  

Glossy brochures produced by New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services promise the citizens of Sydney a multi-hectare park, faster cross-city travel times and less local traffic.

The reality is water and power outages, and the stench of leaking sewer gas from cracked mains. And did I mention rats? Lots and lots of brown and black rats dodging speeding tradies and Tour de Petersham psychologists who jostle manic juggernauts for footpath space so as to get wherever the hell they are going.

Westconnex and Northconnex and the Sydney Metro are now here. No one is immune. So-called "much needed infrastructure: continues next year and the year after and so on into the mid-2020s and beyond. It is the reality of the inner West, of suburbs north of the Sydney Harbour and it’s coming to Parramatta, South-Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, much to the delight of a new generation of developers.  

Balmain, Rozelle, Lilyfield and much of the inner West will endure construction long after the Rozelle Interchange.  We’ve been promised a massive cement batching plant on Glebe Island, tunnelling for the Sydney Metro stop at the so-called Bays Precinct, the northern beaches tunnel under Sydney Harbour, which begins its dive adjacent to the old toxic White Bay Power Station.

Then there is the Sydney Fish Market redevelopment on Blackwattle Bay and the Barangarooisation of the Pyrmont Peninsula.

As I walk away from my deafening COVID-19 house of isolation, I face up to a hard fact: the days of Jack Mundey and the BLF and its remarkable efforts to save remnants of Sydney are dead and buried.

The reality is that the ruthless businesspeople and bureaucrats Jack detested have won.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book is The Last Voyage of Aratus.

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