Published by NewSouth Books
This publication was supported by the City of Sydney’s History Publication Sponsorship Program
This publication was supported by the City of Sydney’s History Publication Sponsorship Program
Additional support was provided by the SEARCH Foundation, Sydney.
Additional support was provided by the SEARCH Foundation, Sydney.

The House That Jack Built

Jack Mundey: Green Bans Hero

by James Colman

This is the story of how an ordinary bloke from the bush became a key figure in the infant heritage movement in Australia during the 1960s and 70s – a movement that that led to lasting political and legal reform across the nation. This is the story of the house that Jack built.

Without the green bans of the 1970s and after, the face of Sydney and many other Australian cities would be very different today. Jack Mundey forged an unlikely alliance of environmentalists, residents and trade unionists – earning him a reputation as the ‘best-known unionist and best-known conservationist’ in the country (as well as ‘Public Enemy Number 1’ within the property development industry).

With the support of community-based heritage and environmental organisations, Mundey led the fight against the slash-and-burn philosophy which almost saw the historic Rocks area in Sydney redeveloped with high-rise buildings, a freeway through the centre of Glebe, and an Olympic stadium in Centennial Park.

Mundey’s efforts saw the 1960s and 1970s bulldozer mentality slowly replaced by growing community-based policies and legal reforms in urban planning, heritage and environmental conservation.

James Colman reflects on Jack’s remarkable life and enduring legacy spanning half a century of dedicated activism.

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2017 Gerd Albers Award for Best Book on Planning

ISOCARP, The Hague


“Very relevant to current planning debates on heritage and green protection … appealing to a broad audience beyond planning circles.”


Planning Institute Of Australia – NSW Division

2017 Awards For Excellence


“Innovative … the first time an in-depth link is made between Mundey’s career and planning … easy to read.”


NSW Premier’s History Awards 2017

Community and Regional History Prize


“A beautifully contextualised history of the urban environmental movement in Sydney from the late 1960s … A raft of historical evidence … provides a balanced picture”.

What they say about The House That Jack Built

Bob Carr former Australian Foreign Minister, NSW Premier

 Professor BOB CARR

Former Foreign Minister and Premier of NSW

Jack Mundey is a special person. Coming from a working class background and communist politics, he made a large and risky commitment to saving the built and natural environment. To put it simply, we all owe him a lot, and his work deserves to be commemorated.

It’s a life that warrants being examined, as it has been splendidly in these pages.

Dr Meredith Burgmann President of the NSW Legislative Council


Former green bans activist and
President of the NSW Legislative Council

Great and important characters inhabit the pages, past histories are revealed and long-forgotten organisations live again. Much of our history of community struggle is recorded.

It is wonderful to read James’ book more than 40 years after the events that propelled Jack Mundey onto the Australian and world stage.

Shirley Fitzgerald urban historian


Urban historian who writes about the history of Sydney

James Colman provides an engrossing account of a time when visionary trade unionists, enlightened professionals and committed citizens combined forces to defeat a venal political system committed to profit for the few.

Jack Mundey’s story is a story for today.

Architect, urban designer, environmental planner, part-time academic and author, James’ professional work has taken him to many parts Australia and worldwide.

After several decades of practice he knows the urban planning business – and from first hand experience he has come to understand the importance of working at the grass-roots level to protect our built heritage and natural environment for the benefit of future generations.

More about the author →

Reader reviews

The House that Jack Built is a fascinating and intriguing account of an unlikely hero and his fearless determination to achieve social justice – and especially the conservation and saving of our precious heritage from destruction.

Peter Webber


James Colman tells us about both Mundey the activist, and the socio-economic context of his inspiring achievements in environmental conservation.  He celebrates Jack Mundey as an effective communicator and bridge-builder in this field nationwide and internationally. He also highlights the alarming relevance today of past environmental issues – when we are confronted yet again with the need for shared solutions as firm and humane as Jack’s were in the green bans era.

Joan Domicelj

Slider photos: Fairfax Syndication. Photographers – Robert Pearce, George Lipman.

  • The Rocks, Sydney today
  • The Rocks' building heights - Planned & today
  • Molnar on the National Trust
  • Front Page - Socialist Tribune
  • School kids march for Kelly's Bush
  • Burdekin House 1841 - Demolished

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is available in bookshops around Australia

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