The Battle for Kelly’s Bush

A 50th Anniversary Celebration

Hunter's Hill Council

Created by the Hunters Hill Historical Society

Kelly's BushOriginal Source: The Hunters Hill Trust

Kelly's Bush, Hunters Hill

Kelly’s Bush is an area of heritage-listed bushland located on the southern foreshore of Woolwich Peninsula, along the Parramatta River. It is part of the ancestral lands of the Wallumedegal clan of the Eora nation, the Indigenous people of this area of Sydney. It is located in Hunters Hill, a harbour-side suburb on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. 

Kelly's BushOriginal Source: The Hunters Hill Trust

"Kelly’s Bush is a symbol of our lost land. Take away Kelly’s Bush and you take away one more assurance that, in man, is left a possibility for the future. The unborn Australian will ask for his birthright and be handed a piece of concrete.”  - Kylie Tennant, Hunters Hill resident, author, historian and social justice advocate, 1970

Thomas Hussey KellyOriginal Source: Alamy Australia

The history of Kelly’s Bush

In 1892 Thomas Hussey Kelly set up a smelter on two acres (0.8 hectares) of foreshore land and kept the remaining bushland as a buffer between the smelter and the residents.When the works closed in 1966, the land was sold to developer AV Jennings, which proposed a high-rise housing development for the site.

Mrs. Kath LehanyOriginal Source: Steve Christo/The Sydney Morning Herald

The threat of development prompted local resident Betty James to write a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald  newspaper in July 1970. She expressed her profound connection with the area, describing its natural beauty – its deep gullies of bracken fern, lilly pilly and banksias and the site’s significant Aboriginal cultural heritage, including known sandstone carvings.

Pictured: Mrs. Kath Lehany, a resident of Hunters Hill who fought to save Kelly's Bush.

Kelly's Bush Banner (2021-06-17)Hunter's Hill Council

Kelly's Bush Battlers

In September 1970 a committee of local residents formed out of concern that they would lose the land. The all-female group, led by Betty James, called themselves the 'Battlers for Kelly’s Bush'.

The battle for Kelly’s Bush is well known as are the ‘Battlers’ who spearheaded the protest to save the bush for their children and the community. With the help of the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF), the world’s first green ban was applied in Sydney at Hunters Hill in 1971.

Pictured here are 8 of the original 13 Battlers celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world’s first green ban. From left to right: Miriam Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Betty James, Jo Bell, Judy Taplin...

... Jack Mundey, Kath Lehany, Monica Sheehan and Joan Croll.

Not present: Mary Farrell, Trude Kallir; Kathleen Chubb, Margaret Stobo, Marjorie Fitzgerald (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 1996)

Committee members of the BattlersOriginal Source: The Hunters Hill Trust

Some of the Battlers for Kelly's Bush, seen beside one of the Aboriginal rock pools.

Kelly's Bush mapHunter's Hill Council

Kelly's Bush historical map, from the collection of Hunter's Hill Council.

Watch the last Battler, Joan Croll, share her memories from her fight to save Kelly's Bush, almost 50 years on.

Kelly's Bush Stand (2021-06-17)Original Source: Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Gift of Kath Lehany, 2010. Photographer Sotha Bourn.

The Bush Stand

Created by local resident Mac Taplin in 1971, the Bush Stand was used by the Battlers in the fight to save Kelly’s Bush.

Watch this ABC report that explores the controversy surrounding the planned development of Kelly's Bush and the campaign to save it.

Rodney CavalierHunter's Hill Council

The first Green Ban

A motion to support the Battlers was moved by ‘Bruvver’ John Ducker and seconded by Rodney Cavalier. It led to the BLF placing a ban on Jennings developing the site on 17 June 1971 and notifying the Battlers by telegram the same day. 

Pictured: Rodney Cavalier, a Hunters Hill resident and state Labor politician who helped galvanise the union movement to save Kelly’s Bush.

Telegram (1971-06-17)Hunter's Hill Council

The BLF Telegram, 17 June 1971

Jack MundeyHunter's Hill Council

While the Trades and Labor Council pledged support for the Battlers for Kelly’s Bush, it was Bob Pringle’s and Jack Mundey’s BLF which imposed the world’s first green ban. Mundey (pictured) went on to advocate for open space, heritage buildings and affordable housing. 

"Yes, we want to build. However, we prefer to build urgently required hospitals, schools, other public utilities, high-quality flats, units and houses, provided they are designed with adequate concern for the environment.” 

Jack Mundey, a letter to Sydney Morning Herald (January 1972)

Jack Mundey (1971-11-19)Original Source: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy SEARCH Foundation

“If cities are going to be for people, and not just for big business, well then of course you’ve got to have areas where you’ve got sensitive development, where you’ve got nice parklands, where you’ve got the minimum of car noise traffic and car traffic, and I think this is a prototype of what could happen in all our urban areas.”

Jack Mundey (19 November 1971)

Jack Mundey AO and Joan Croll AO (2019-06-29)Hunter's Hill Council

The late Jack Mundey AO and the last Battler for Kelly’s Bush, Joan Croll AO, taken at the funeral of Christena Dawson who was the second last Battler, 29 June 2019.

Anonymous letter to Jack Mundey (2020-05-15)Hunter's Hill Council

An anonymous letter to Jack Mundey left at Kelly's Bush, 15 May 2020, following his death. 

Significance of Kelly's BushHunter's Hill Council

A site of significance

While Kelly’s Bush is most commonly remembered as the site of the world’s first Green Ban, there are many reasons for its significance as urban remnant bushland. It was the last surviving area of such bushland along the Parramatta River.

Battlers for Kelly's Bush (1996)Hunter's Hill Council

In a letter to the president of the Battlers Mrs Betty James dated June 19, 1971, well known environmentalist Dom Serventy spoke of what was so special to him about Kelly’s Bush. He had visited the bush with Mrs James the previous weekend. 

“I found the walk through Kelly’s Bush that Sunday a delight. This little primitive area was surprisingly little affected by the deteriorating effects of nearby “progress”. The Banksias, Sheoaks, Geebungs, Grevilleas, Kunzeas were growing splendidly and it was a pleasure to see again… things I knew in the past, such as the Native Fuschia...

... No wonder the native animals such as the Ringtail Possums, continue to find a haven here, as well as the birds. I was especially pleased to see the Aboriginal rock-hold, with the carvings, and the intact midden nearby. What a splendid relic of past social history we have in your midst. This is a place for local children to have forever as a quiet playground where they can have contact with the bush and let their imaginations run riot.” 

(The Battlers for Kelly's Bush, Pip Kalajzich, 1 January 1996)

Judy Mundey in the Exhibition (2021-06-17)Hunter's Hill Council

50 years after the world’s first Green Ban

Jack Mundey’s widow, Judy, speaking at the opening of the Kelly's Bush anniversary exhibition at Hunters Hill Museum, Town Hall, 17 June 2021 

Kelly's Bush Exhibition (2021-06-17)Hunter's Hill Council

The Kelly's Bush Exhibition, 17 June 2021

Judy Mundey (2021-06-17)Hunter's Hill Council

Jack Mundey’s widow, Judy with Phil Jenkyn OAM, visiting Kelly's Bush on 17 June 2021. 

Volunteers at Kelly's BushHunter's Hill Council

Bushland volunteers at Kelly's Bush.

Commemorative PlaqueHunter's Hill Council

The commemorative plaque dedicated to those 13 local women who battled for 13 years to prevent Kelly's Bush from developers.

Keep exploring Kelly's Bush

In this episode of Summer Night Walks, join Tim Ross as he explores his favourite place - Kelly's Bush.

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