April 19th 2002
The Architect who found MI not so natural.
She was Australia's first woman to qualify as an architect and in 1909, fly a glider. A dominating and it seems domineering figure who personally investigated Japan's pre-WWII military and industrial capacity, formed a publishing company and had strong opinions on most things often strangely at odds with those who shared her humble origins. She also visited Magnetic Island.
Australia's first female architect, Florence Mary Taylor, strode ashore at Arcadia in 1934 and cast a critical eye about her. She noticed steps made of coral and garden walls of concrete which were whitewashed and orderly. But she and others travelling with her, wondered why this was so when the granite island was so capable of providing a rugged and artistic finish in keeping with natural beauty.
Also a town planner and a civil engineer, Taylor was on a trip from Sydney to Japan aboard the Nestore when the ship pulled in to Townsville. The passengers went ashore to see the sights including Magnetic Island, which she described as one of the holiday-making resorts of surpassing beauty.
As a result of that overseas voyage Taylor wrote a book, A Pot-pouri of Eastern Asia with Comparisons and Reflections, which included vignettes, small drawings of Arcadia , Townsville and one of Palm Island Aborigines. It also included photographs of Townsville and interesting comments about the city.
In my library I have a presentation copy of the book with an inscription by the author to Sir Hugh and Lady Denison in 1936; Denison was a leading Sydney businessman.
A towering statuesque figure who made a point of always being modishly garbed, Taylor was brilliant, opinionated and years ahead of her time. Another claim to fame was that in 1909 she made the first glider flight by a woman in Australia; and she also held a pilot's license.
With her husband, an engineer and cartoonist who provided freelance work for the Bulletin and Punch, they formed a building publishing company, she writing much material for the journals they produced which included The Australian Engineer, Building, The Commonwealth Home and the Radio Journal of Australia.
She and her husband backed and mustered support for Walter Burley Griffin's design for the new national capital, Canberra. Not only did she say Sydney needed a second airport, she designed one!
Taylor's husband George was also a pioneer aviator and technician. His enthusiasm for flight was so great that he established his own factory where he built planes and gliders. It was he who encouraged Florence to overcome her own fear of flying and take to the air herself.
Tragically, George, an epileptic, drowned in his bath in 1928.
Dealing with Townsville in her book , she said Captain Towns, after whom the city is named, had found it profitable in 1863 to bring passengers out on his ship Jolly Brothers at a cost of 18 pound for adults and five pound for children. She commented "Fancing keeping people five or six months on corned junk for 18 pound!" Venting her antipathy to unions and working conditions in Australia, Taylor said back in the captain's time he had not been burdened by political interference with industry which made it "a crime for anyone - except mother - to work 12 hours a day".
While enjoying the Townsville Botanical Gardens and the Strand she said tree-lined streets spoke of the vision of the pioneers and their eye for beauty and comfort. However she and others in her group wondered why succeeding generations had not continued to plant more roadside trees. It was not comfortable, she wrote, to walk about in the tropical clime without the shade of trees and palms. This situation, she said, was an example of the lack of public spirit and national pride throughout Australia which was appalling. One exception was Flinders Street with its rows of young palms down the middle to lift and enhance Townsville's business centre.
Taylor indicated a Townsville guide may have misled the ship party when he said "Edinburgh Rock", overlooking the city, was six feet, nearly two metres, short of being a mountain.
Townsville, Taylor reported, was a busy port and the populace, engaged in hard and strenuous work, had not reached the stage where it sought relief among higher arts.
The town's war memorials did not impress the party. Taylor said the Town Clerk proudly showed them the Honor Roll in the Town Hall which was far from beautiful and contained the names of 1500 soldiers, 876 of which 'went the way whence no traveller returns'. Fault was found with the designs of the memorial in The Strand park consisting of square column of rough stone with a clock on top. Why the clock? The tourists were told it was to remind people that it was time to go home. An American on the ship said the memorial was the sort of thing which made him want to stay at home.
The ship sailed on to New Guinea where Taylor renewed contact in Rabaul with architect E.S. Garton to whom she had been an articled pupil 35 years previously in Sydney.
While being driven about by Garton and his wife, she was shown avenues of raintrees and mangoes planted by German colonists who also had a high regard for town planning.
When the question was asked what was the evidence of Australian occupation in the new territory, the answer was "The cutting down of trees". Interestingly, Mrs Garton showed Taylor a cedar tree she had planted five years previously and it was then 40 feet (13 metres) high with a diameter of 15 inches. She intended to have it cut down and made into a chest as a reminder of her days in Rabaul.
Strangely, as indicated earlier, Taylor was scathing in her comments about unions and said unions fostered hatred. She even had praise for the Bank of England's Sir Otto Niemeyer who came out to Australia in the depression and put the screws into the Federal Government not to repudiate World War I loans.
Being held to those loans worsened the impact of the Depression on Australians. Shedding the blood of Australian youth in World War I accounted for little when it came to paying bond holders in "the Mother Country".
In each country she visited during her trip she amassed many statistics, made comparisons with Australia and inquired into the status and life of women, she being a feminist.
Writing about Japan, she covered many aspects of the way of life there, especially that country's military build up and its knowledge of the defence forces of other countries.
She asked so many questions of Japanese whose job it was to collect information about the defence capabilities of Western nations that eventually they started to say she was after secret information. According to her, the Japanese had a spy phobia.
Her book included a table of international armaments and warned that Australia should spend more on defence. The slump in ship building in Australia as against the boom in this industry in Japan was, to her, mainly attributed to union bloody mindedness.
The Japanese, she said, thought Australians "quite lunatic" to pay people dole for being out of work. She suggested it would be "a greater kindness" if the unemployed in Australia were given "an opportunity" to fend for themselves, saying it would develop "greater pride"and sterner character than they could ever achieve whilst they "mooch around" looking for "something for nothing".
For a person whose mother had struggled to bring up children after the sudden death of her father during the 1890s Australian Depression, Taylor's own early battles, and having lived through the brutal 1930s global Depression, it is hard to understand her vehemence of expression in respect of unions and unemployed.
There is a sneaking suspicion that as she struggled to rise above the masses she also thought herself above the common herd.
The last chapter contained conclusions drawn from her travels and recommendations for Australia. Apart from urging the massive planting of trees and colourful shrubs along roadways, she even advocated a campaign to eradicate flies and mossies by issuing everybody with a swat. As part of this campaign she felt it desirable that local government be embodied to compel the installation of flyscreens on windows and doors.
Taylor also urged the women of Australia not to leave most of the thinking to the men, but to use their brains to solve the nation's problems, thus applying 100 per cent of the brainpower resource to solving issues, rather than the 50per cent provided by men.
So there you are Magnetic women: engage your brains in top gear, get out your fly swats and start decimating mossies and flies and make this a better nation. Feel free to swat your husband/partner/boyfriend/postman/local MP or nearest redneck if you so wish.