Artists: Merilyn Fairskye, Michiel Dolk
Date Installed
Installed 1982
Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo (between Bourke Street and Forbes Street)
Project: Woolloomooloo Murals
Tag: Wall work

Woolloomooloo NSW 2011, Australia

Artwork Description

We tried to remain true to the history and consulted a lot with residents. Once the community felt we had the right narrative they left us to work out the compositions.

– Michiel Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye

BLF Green Bans is one of eight murals painted on the railway pylons at Woolloomooloo, showing the history and people of this suburb.

This mural commemorates the role played by the NSW Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (BLF) in helping the people of Woolloomooloo save their homes. Without the union’s ‘green bans’, which meant that no union member would work within the suburb, residents may never have won their battle against rampant development.

At that time, the BLF was led by Jack Mundey, Joe Owens and Bob Pringle – strong communist party activists who believed in ‘ethical labour’ and who knew how much impact their work could have on society and the environment.

When the people of Woolloomooloo reached out to them for help, the BLF came to their defence. At the residents’ request, the BLF placed a green ban over the entire suburb in February 1973. Because of their actions, the State government was eventually forced to shelve its plans for large-scale high-rise redevelopment in Woolloomooloo. 65% of the existing buildings were saved for public housing.

The top of this mural shows the politicians, developers and bankers behind the scheme to redevelop Woolloomooloo. But it’s the power and determination of the union men that dominate this scene.

BLF Green Bans is a powerful record of union action that was the first of its kind in the world. It was painted using details drawn from historical records, newspapers, archives, photographs and the personal memories of the local community.


The Woolloomooloo murals were designed and painted by local artists Michiel Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye.

Wanting to preserve and celebrate the suburb’s unique history, the artists approached the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group with the idea in 1979.

Before putting paint to panel, Fairskye and Dolk spent a full year piecing together the real story of Woolloomooloo from archives – and the memories and photos of the families who lived it.

Hundreds of donors and community groups raised funds for the materials, but the artists worked for free. The murals took three years to create.

Woolloomooloo Murals

Woolloomooloo was traditionally a suburb for waterside workers and their families. In the 1970s, the area was under threat from developers, who wanted to construct high-rise developments.

Residents refused to leave and, with the support of their unions, managed to save many homes.

The Woolloomooloo Mural Project was conceived by activist artists Merilyn Fairskye and Michiel Dolk in 1982 to celebrate the suburb’s people and history.

There were a total of 16 murals commissioned by the Woolloomooloo Residents Action Group.

The murals were originally intended to last 10 years and have now been on display for over 25 years.

With extensive consultations, eight of the sixteen murals were identified as being of high historical significance and aim to become an active link to people’s memories of the area.

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