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Taylor, George Augustine (1872–1928)

by Michael Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

George Augustine Taylor (1872-1928), by unknown photographer, 1920s

George Augustine Taylor (1872-1928), by unknown photographer, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24152004

George Augustine Taylor (1872-1928), craftsman and journalist, was born on 1 August 1872 in Sydney, second son of George Faulty Taylor, native-born fruiterer, and his Irish wife Annie Maria, née McFadden. Educated at the Marist Brothers' St Mary's High School and Sydney Technical College, he learned a trade in building. Through the 1890s Taylor lived chiefly by cartooning, especially for the Bulletin and Punch (London); he mixed with various artistic-literary sets, belonged to the Dawn and Dusk Club and was a council-member of the (Royal) Art Society of New South Wales. Around 1900 Taylor's interests shifted. Fascinated by technology, he saw in wireless and telephony evidence for his deepening faith in spiritualism. As a businessman, he manufactured 'bagasse', a cement-plaster which he used to present motifs of Australian fauna and flora. Nationalism suffused all his doing.

On 3 April 1907 Taylor married Florence Mary Parsons. He published the Construction and Local Government Journal, Australasian Engineer and Radio Journal of Australia. Pre-eminent among his publications was Building which upheld 'The New Journalism'—not only to 'write' things, but to 'do' things—and fostered modernism in architecture and town planning. The journal greeted the building of a national capital in Canberra with enthusiasm, welcoming Walter Burley Griffin and publishing important articles by him (1912-14). Taylor helped to found the Institute of Local Government Engineers of Australasia in 1909 and the Town Planning Association of New South Wales in 1913.

He became a disciple of martial technology. From at least 1908 he showed interest in aviation: he established a factory to make light craft, flew gliders and extolled Lawrence Hargrave. In 1909 Taylor promoted the Aerial League of Australia and urged the Federal government to establish an airforce. As an inventor, he applied himself to machine flight and, more successfully, to military uses of radio and telephony. He founded the Wireless Institute of New South Wales (1910), and was elected to the Royal Geographical Society of London for his military maps and to the Royal Astronomical Society for his theory of moon-life. His pen produced weird science fictions which presented technology as alone capable of saving Australia from Germany and Japan.

In 1914 George and Florence travelled abroad, notably to the United States of America; he had long admired Theodore Roosevelt's progressivism. An honorary lieutenant in the Australian Intelligence Corps from December 1909, he was commissioned in January 1912. With World War I, he joined the 7th Light Horse in October 1914, was seconded to the Intelligence Section General Staff for the duration and became an ardent patriot. His next science fiction depicted a Europe torn between 'scientific militants' and humanistic pacifists who were sympathetic to Germany: Taylor's advocacy of the former bespoke a fascist strain in his thinking.

On 30 May 1916 Taylor issued a new weekly, Soldier, dedicated 'to preserve and extend the spirit of National Devotion and the faith of Imperial Duty'. Soldier argued for effective repatriation of Australian troops, urging them to organize in civil politics under some war-tested hero like Ambrose Carmichael, (Sir) John Monash or (Sir) Charles Rosenthal. In 1918 Taylor published Those Were the Days, an account of Sydney's cultural world of the 1890s. With the Armistice, he urged the building of war memorials to honour and inspire. His town planning advocacy now gave greater emphasis to preserving historic buildings.

Yet, technology remained Taylor's passion. In 1919 he helped to found the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and in 1922 the Australian Inventions Encouragement Board; the Association for Developing Wireless in Australia (1923) was his own creation. He insisted that broadcasting should serve community ends and not those of such vested interests as the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. Still an experimenter, he continued his pre-war work on proto-television, reportedly achieving colour transmission in the mid-1920s.

He had meanwhile become an advocate of pacificism and domesticity. Going overseas in 1922, he proclaimed Australia as the ideal site for a city dedicated to peace; he also upheld the League of Nations. Keen to improve the ordinary home, particularly through labour-saving devices, the Taylors attended the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 as Australian experts in this field. Soldier ceased publication and Australian Home began in January 1925.

Intensifying his broadcasting crusade, Taylor did much to prompt the 1927 Federal royal commission into wireless. His propaganda urged the establishment of a 'Communications Commission' and exhorted government to pursue radio research; his side comments forecast the development of atomic energy and reaffirmed his spiritualism.

An epileptic, Taylor drowned in the bath in his Sydney home on 20 January 1928. He was cremated with Anglican rites. His nature had been sweet, generous and upright. A committee intending to honour his memory included Charles Bean, Mary Booth, Lister Lister, John Smith Purdy, David Stead and Rosenthal. Taylor had bridged arts and science, craft and technology, war and peace, radicalism and fascism, earth and infinity.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Giles, Some Chapters in the Life of George Augustine Taylor (Syd, 1957)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Citizen General Staff (Canb, 1976)
  • M. Roe, Nine Australian Progressives (Brisb, 1984)
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Transactions, 9, 1928, p 279
  • Taylor papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Taylor, George Augustine (1872–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-george-augustine-8756/text15343, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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