George Taylor’s improved fibrous plaster

In 1904, visitors to a newly built suburban bungalow in Victor Street Chatswood NSW might have been surprised by the variety of decoration in fibrous plaster that adorned the ceilings and cornices: lyrebirds, flannel flowers and ferns keeping company with scantily clad classical maidens.

In early 20th century Australian homes plaster decoration featuring local flora and fauna was becoming increasingly common. One of the champions of this ‘national style’ of decoration was craftsman and journalist George Augustine Taylor (1872-1928), who invented and produced his own fibrous plaster for a new company he formed around 1900 with merchant Alexander Knox.

In 1900 George Taylor, who was also a cartoonist, inventor and publisher of several journals including Building: the magazine for the architect, builder, property owner & merchant, patented a new improved type of fibrous plaster for ornamental use on ceilings, walls, cornices and even temporary outdoor structures. It was first used to construct the ‘Citizen’s Arch’ in Sydney during Federation celebrations in 1901 but soon after installed in many commercial and domestic buildings.

Canvas reinforced plaster that could be produced in moulds became popular in Australia from the 1880s as it was cheaper and less likely to crack than normal plaster. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several Australian companies experimented with making even lighter and stronger plaster by adding new elements like wood shavings, straw, millet, grass or wool. Taylor’s improved fibrous plaster contained bagasse, a by-product of the sugarcane refining process and he subsequently named his company after this material. It proved to be inexpensive, durable, easily moulded and, according to Taylor, it could be cut or punctured without cracking, unlike most other plaster.

The Chatswood house with Taylor’s fibrous plaster was demolished in the late 1980s but not before several pieces of the plaster decorations were removed and donated to the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.

About the Author

Portrait of man in dark shirt against sandstone wall.
Michael Lech
Michael Lech is curator of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) and online collections at Sydney Living Museums.