MILESAGO - Features
Kelly's Bush

In 1971, a group of thirteen women from Hunters Hill (dubbed the 'Battlers for Kelly's Bush') requested the assistance of the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) to prevent construction work by A.V. Jennings on the last remaining area of native bushland on the foreshore of the Parramatta River. The BLF applied a Green Ban to the area. The Green Ban at Kelly's Bush demonstrated that concern for the preservation of the environment affected all classes in society.

The Greenbans Movement began in 1971 with action to save Kelly’s Bush. Six hundred people attended a public meeting where they voiced opposition to AV Jennings building homes on native bushland on the foreshore of the Parramatta River. The action was spearheaded by a group of thirteen women – known as the ‘Battlers for Kelly’s Bush’ – and the Builders Labourers’ Federation.

On 4 September 1983, the Premier of New South Wales announced that Kelly’s Bush would be set aside for full public access on a permanent basis.


The green-ban period was a time when community groups mobilised to save parts of Sydney's built and natural environment. Verity Burgmann describes the background to the struggles:

[It] is the story of the destruction of Australia’s major cities in the 1960s and early 1970s, when vast amounts of money were poured into property development: giant glass and concrete buildings changed the face of our cities and valuable old buildings were razed in the process. The interests of homebuyers and architectural heritage lost out before often purely speculative construction. At one stage there were ten million square feet of office space in Sydney’s business district, while people looking for their first homes or flats could find nothing.

Against this backdrop, 42 greenbans were imposed in Sydney by 1974, holding up well over $3000 million worth of development. The Rocks area and Kelly’s Bush are places where community members acted to save Australia’s heritage from redevelopment.

chronology of the campaign to save Kelly’s Bush

Pip Kalajzich

1967 The Sydney Smelting Co.Pty.Ltd., moved from Woolwich and A. V. Jennings Aust. Ltd., took a two year option to buy the land. They submitted a development plan to the Hunter's Hill Council.
1968 24th June – Ordinary Meeting of Hunter's Hill Council. Extract from Minutes…
(a) Council is unanimously and emphatically opposed to any alteration in the zoning of that part of land at Woolwich owned by the Sydney Smelting Co. Pty. Ltd., which has been zoned under the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme as 'open space' since 1951.
(b) Council firmly believes that land zoned as 'open space' under the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme should be acquired and maintained for that purpose.
1969 But following the Hunter's Hill Council elections, the new aldermen in Council, approved Jennings' plan for development of KELLY'S BUSH voting 5 to 4 in favour. Resistance came from the Hunter's Hill Trust, which succeeded in reducing the proposed plans from three tower blocks of home units, to 60-70 town houses, then finally to 25 suburban houses.
September – Following a well-attended meeting of concerned local residents at All Saints Parish Hall, the "BATTLERS FOR KELLY'S BUSH" was formed–a committee of thirteen women. They worked with the Hunter's Hill Trust, and gradually received the support of many organisations including:
National Trust of Aust. (N.S.W.)

Australian Conservation Foundation

National Parks & Wildlife Service

Civic Design Society of N.S.W.

Royal Institute of Architects

Citizens Resident Action Group

Youth Groups and Student Bodies.

Statement by the President, Civic Design Society, University of N.S.W.

"Why fight for KELLY'S BUSH? Firstly – because a strong and vigorous stand has been taken by local people. Secondly– because its location on the harbour foreshores makes this more than a local issue – it affects thousands of people who use the harbour every day. The number of places where there is substantial bush on the harbour is limited, particularly in the western reaches, and should not be reduced. Thirdly – because, as the Battlers have stated, this is a test case. If a successful stand can be made here, then great hope and help is given to other cases elsewhere in the future. This is a skirmish in a greater battle."

Statement by Kylie Tennant "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."

1970 Deputation to the Premier, Sir Robert Askin and in an attempt to prevent the re-zoning of the land, the development of KELLY'S BUSH. Sir Robert Askin indicated support for the "Battlers" petition, BUT on 3rd June 1971, his Minister for Local Government, signed the document re-zoning this 'open space' land, in favour of residential development.


Increased support now came from many places. The Trades and Labour Council of N.S.W. spoke out against the alienation of 'open space'. KELLY'S BUSH became the subject of the first green bans and so a temporary stay of proceedings was brought about.

1973 The Hunter's Hill Council applied to the Federal Government Grants Commission for money to buy the whole of KELLY'S BUSH. This was unsuccessful.
1974 Commissioner Dale appointed by the Hunter's Hill Council to hear objections to the proposed Town Plan, recommended that KELLY'S BUSH should be retained as 'open space'. A Consultant Town Planner called in by the Council, examined the case and agreed with Commissioner Dale's findings.
1976 In spite of these expert opinions, the Hunter's Hill Council, by a narrow majority, voted that the zoning of KELLY'S BUSH be residential.
1977 January – Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Wran, stated that the Government would ensure that no development occurred at KELLY'S BUSH; and that if the Council would agree to purchase KELLY'S BUSH for 'open space' recreation, the Government would contribute half the purchase price.
1977 February – The National Trust of Australia (N.S.W.) sponsored the "National Trust– KELLY'S BUSH Appeal".
1977-1978 The Problem of Radio-active waste in Hunter's Hill. The discovery of some radio-active waste material on KELLY'S BUSH has raised doubts about the appropriateness of this land for residential development.
1981 The Town Clerk, Municipality of Hunter's Hill, stated in an open Council Meeting that the matter of the zoning of Kelly's Bush was now in obeyance, pending the release of the Hunter's Hill Town Plan.

Reproduced with permission of the author, Pip Kalajzich.

Kath Lehany’s perspective on Kelly’s Bush

Lehany, K. in The Hunter’s Hill Trust Journal November 1992

I can think of no better way to emphasise the importance of Kelly's Bush than to quote my friend, the late Kylie Tennant. "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 wrote this in support of thirteen local women who formed, in 1970, a group to save waterfront bushland on the Parramatta River in Woolwich. The women, from various backgrounds had one thing in common – outrage that 5 hectares (14.5 acres), waterfront and mainly bush 'reserve open space' should be threatened with rezoning in favour of interstate developers making a foray into New South Wales. The women became the "Battlers for Kelly's Bush" and the area the subject of the first of the Green Bans which were to save so much of Sydney including The Rocks, Centennial Park and Woolloomooloo.

Since 1892, when Mr Kelly purchased 20 acres to establish the tin smelting works, the Sydney Smelting Company, the bush was used and enjoyed without interference from the owners. Ferry commuters maintained a good path to get to the Margaret Street wharf, fishermen and small boys had their favourite tracks and frog pools, and the area now Weil Park had a scout hall and local cricketpitch. Weil Park was like a village paddock for kite flying, picnics, cricket matches, bonfires etc.

Large trees had originally been cut to fire the smelters but the rapidly re-generating bush was a useful buffer between industry and residences. There were aboriginal middens and shelters, birds and small creatures and lots of wild flowers.

Under the County of Cumberland that part of the area not zoned industrial or residential (the Manager's house) was designed "Reserve Open Space".

In the 1950s, Hunter's Hill Council purchased the 3 hectares (7.25 acres) which is now Weil Park and constructed an oval, extending into the bushland.

In 1967, the Sydney Smelting Company moved to Alexandria and an option to purchase was taken by A. V. Jennings – their first plans being for three eight storey blocks of flats, streets of town houses and local shops. With strenuous opposition from the Hunter's Hill Council and the Hunter's Hill Trust, the plans were whittled down to fifty-seven town houses, with the State Planning Authority agreeing to purchase the 2.25 hectares (5.6 acres) of steep waterfront and industrial site for a waterfront reserve. Concentrated effort from the Trust and the Battlers resulted in the Government and developers agreeing to only twenty-five building blocks for houses between Weil Park and the proposed foreshore reserve.

The Battlers, by this time, had found many supporters Australia wide from organisations such as the Conservation Foundation, the National Trust, Wilderness Society and Civic Design Society.

Massive media publicity about a handful of women opposing a powerful developer, who had the support of the State government, resulted in the issue becoming a symbol and a test case for those who opposed the spread of concrete into open space.

In 1971, the Minister for Local Government signed the document rezoning the 'Reserve Open Space' as residential.

It was then that the Battlers, in desperation, approached the Unions and received their full support. Thus was born the Green Bans movement. I have no doubt at all that this was the most important factor in saving Kelly's Bush.

In 1983, the eleven surviving Battlers and their many supporters realised their ambition – the area was purchased by the New South Wales Government as a State Recreation Area.

A committee of management was formed by the Minister and work was undertaken by contractors including expert bush regeneration teams. Fishermen and picnickers now enjoy the beautifully landscaped area which was once the smelting works and hundreds of walkers on the first stage of the Great North Walk, now use the ferry commuters' track.

The bush itself is regenerating in some parts and deteriorating badly in others. Because of its small area it is vulnerable to overuse – to the depredation of motor bikes, pushbikes, of new tracks being made and used, of disastrous run off channels from the oval, which gouge out tracks and bring in alien plants, and of the infiltration of exotics – camphor laurel, privet, ochnea, blackberry, bitou bush etc. The body charged with the future care and preservation, the Hunter's Hill Council, has a challenging problem indeed. It will need all the professional advice available, as well as the enthusiastic support of the local community to maintain this valuable and historic area.

Reproduced with the permission of the author, Kath Lehany.

Hunter's Hill Council’s perspective on actions surrounding Kelly’s Bush

the Mayor and Town Clerk on behalf of Hunters Hill Council, 12.7.71

For some time, the Council has been concerned about the extent of inaccurate and misleading publicity and rumour surrounding the development of the land at Woolwich known as Kelly's Bush. Because of this and because of the political controversy which has resulted, the Council has authorised the publication of this brochure to give a factual account of its position and actions in the matter.

Kelly's Bush, part of an early grant to John Clarke, derives its name from T. H. Kelly who owned the land (about 19 acres) between Woolwich Road and the Parramatta River in 1892 when the Smelting Works was first established on the foreshore. Apart from some slag deposits, now overgrown, the bush was allowed to remain in its natural state as a buffer between the industrial site and the residential area on top of the hill.

When the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme was introduced in 1951, the land was zoned Waterfront Industrial (about 4 acres) and Living Area (about 1 acre) with the remainder (about 14 acres) reserved for Open Space purposes. In 1956, the Council, assisted by the then Cumberland County Council, purchased from the Sydney Smelting Company almost 7 acres of the 'reserved' land and named it Weil Park. In 1966, the Council unsuccessfully asked the State Planning Authority to acquire the remainder of the 'reserved' land as open space.

The Smelting Company moved its industrial activity to another suburb and in May 1968, A. V. Jennings Industries (Australia) Limited, which held a conditional contract, made application to Council seeking action to suspend the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme Ordinance. This was to enable the development, on 6.5 acres of the 12.1 acres still held in private ownership, of some 147 home units including three buildings each 8 storeys high. The Council opposed the development and renewed its representations for acquisition by the State of the whole of the area reserved for open space. This did not include the industrial land. Indicating that the whole of the land was not of county significance, the State Planning Authority made it clear that it was only interested in purchasing the waterfront area. The Council was not prepared to negotiate the purchase of the land proposed for development on account of the cost, which valuation later confirmed could have been almost $500,000 and then set about obtaining a development on the best possible terms.

A series of modified applications were subsequently submitted by the Jennings Group and disapproved, before Council, in November 1969, agreed in principle that it would favour suspension of the zoning to enable a strictly controlled town house type of development. The Minister for Local Government, who bears the ultimate responsibility in such matters, decided that he would not suspend the County Ordinance except to allow single-dwelling development. After negotiation of several subdivision proposals, agreement was finally reached and on 3rd June 1971, a comprehensive legal document completed by the State Planning Authority of New South Wales, the Council and the Company was produced:

the purchase of 5.6 acres by the State as a public reserve to be placed under the care, control and management of the Council.
the landscaping of the old smelting works site by the developer as part of the foreshore reserve.
the subdivision of 6.5 acres into 25 single-dwelling allotments each of approximately 9 000 square feet in area.
the construction of subdivision roads, drainage and paths and the provision of all public utility services underground.
the location, height, design and materials of the dwellings to be erected under a stringent series of restrictive covenants.
The Council believes that it has acted in the best interests of the Municipality and sees the result of the development as the provision of sewerage to a significant portion of the peninsula which remains unsewered, the elimination of waterfront industry from the land, and the provision of over 5 acres of natural waterfront reserve not previously available to the public because it was privately owned.



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