Sydney park to be named after Green Ban-era community leader Nita McCrae

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Still from the film <i>Rocking the Foundations: a history of the NSW Builders Laborers’ Federation and the Green Bans</i> by Pat Fiske.

Still from the film Rocking the Foundations: a history of the NSW Builders Laborers’ Federation and the Green Bans by Pat Fiske. Image: Pat Fiske

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The Sirius housing complex by Tao Gofers.

The Sirius housing complex by Tao Gofers. Image: Katherine Lu

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The City of Sydney voted on 11 September to name a pocket park in Sydney’s The Rocks after the late community leader Nita McCrae.

McCrae was the founder of the Rocks Resident Action Group, which mobilized in opposition to the NSW Government’s plans to redevelop the suburb as a high-rise commercial precinct in the 1970s.

McCrae, who was a resident of George Street in The Rocks until 1986, enlisted the aid of the Builders Labourers Federation in 1970. Under the leadership of secretary Jack Mundey, the union was instrumental in the preservation of the neighbourhood through the development of green bans.

An extract from James Colman’s book detailing Mundey and the fight for The Rocks during this period – The House That Jack Built – can be read here.

In 2016, the council gave in-principle approval to the name “Argyle Street Playground” for the pocket park. Of the 27 submissions made during the public exhibition period, 20 suggested naming the park after McCrae instead.

Speaking to the council on behalf of the Save Our Sirius Foundation, John Dunn said, “It was Nita McCrae who contacted unions and anyone she thought might lend support to save The Rocks, but no-one responded until she wrote to the secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation. Jack Mundey replied and together the unions and the community placed a green ban on The Rocks and changed forever the way urban design occurs in our city.”

“There is little written about Nita McCrae and few images of her. She is omitted from most histories of the green ban movement, but still she is celebrated within the Millers Point community, and people continue to speak highly of her.”

The park is being built on top of a section of a former tram terminus on Argyle Street that was used for trams to turn around at the end of a route. It will contain playground equipment and “natural adventure” features for small children.

The Sirius housing complex by Tao Gofers. Image:  Katherine Lu

One result of the Green Bans movement was the construction of the Sirius social housing complex in The Rocks designed by architect Tao Gofers. The current NSW Government’s plans to sell Sirius stalled when a court found that it had failed to adequately consider whether or not the building should receive heritage protection.  The government has since announced it will take the case back to court.

In his speech to the council Dunn noted the relocation of public housing tenants away from The Rocks and Millers Point was having a fracturing effect on the community.

“Recent arrivals and future residents of Millers Point know those being displaced only slightly,” said Dunn.

“Most of the maritime community and the public housing tenants will have been displaced by the time they arrive.  However, many of these future residents have expressed interest in embracing the history of this heritage precinct, and this includes the green ban era and the efforts of Nita McCrae.” 

“Nita’s story is an important one for understanding our community and its history and we commend the proposal to name this park in her honour.”

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore will open Nita McCrae Park in October.

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