The movement was established in 1971 when a group of women from the fashionable suburb of Hunter's Hill required help from the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (NSWBLF) to save Kelly's Bush, the last remaining open space in that particular area, where AV Jennings sought to build lavish houses. Over 600 people attended a meeting which requested a ban called the ‘green ban’, to prevent any development on the site. This was the first ever green ban issued and as a result, the open space of Kelly’s Bush was saved.
During the period of 1971-1974, the movement was primarily involved in emphasising the struggles that existed between capital, labour and the state. The New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (NSWBLF) led the fight for the workers, who insisted that the rapid growth of the city should portray the needs and interests of the different social classes, particularly the working class. “Essentially the green ban movement was a classic confrontation between wage labour and capital and brought their struggles into urban politics and planning” (Thomas, 12)
The movement was fuelled by an array of theoretical perspectives during its lifespan which contributed significantly to its function and aims. Castell argued that cities were dominated by services provided by the state and its institutions (Thomas). This was characterised by the Marxist perspective, whereby there was a potential for conflict among the classes due to uneven supply of services to different areas, the challenge of town planning decisions and the uprising and power of the labour movement during the 1970’s.
Another theory that guided the movement was the Social Movement Theory which represented a united class struggle through means of conflicts, protests and defying state authorities. “During the green ban period of the 1970’s unemployment levels were low and building activity was at a high point and as a result the argument between protecting the environment at the expense of providing jobs was not a significant issue at the time”. (Thomas, 33) Between 1970 and 1974, the NSWBLF had approximately 11,000 members and between 1969 and 1971 the membership rose nationally by 136%. (Burgmann and Burgmann, 1998)
In 1972 there was a proposal to build a sports stadium in Centennial Park, although after fierce opposition and a protest of about 12,000 people, the green ban was successful in defending the conservation of the historic parkland. By 1974, 42 green bans had been imposed, holding up well over 3 billion dollars worth of development. (Burgmann and Burgmann, 1998)
Jack Mundey, one of the three pioneers of the movement wrote: ‘’what would we have said to the next generation? That we destroyed Sydney in the name of full employment? No, we wanted to construct buildings that were socially useful.'’ (Burgmann 1993)