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Image An exhibition home made of fibrolite, c1930s

TLF ID R3048

This is a black-and-white photograph of the exterior of an exhibition home made of fibrolite (fibro-cement) that was constructed by James Hardie and Co Ltd (now known as James Hardie Industries). The street outside the home is crowded with people, some of whom have come to view the fibrolite home. The photograph measures 16.4 cm x 21.4 cm.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows that fibrolite was used as cladding for houses in this period - fibrolite was the name used by James Hardie and Co Ltd to market its fibro-asbestos (fibro) sheeting; touted by the company as 'the miracle fibre of the 20th century', fibro-asbestos was cheap and light as well as being resistant to fire, water and termites.
  • It indicates that there was considerable consumer interest in the fibrolite home in this period - in the mid-1930s timber-framed houses with external fibro-asbestos cladding became a popular and inexpensive alternative to brick or weatherboard; by the 1950s a quarter of all the houses built in Australia were clad with fibro; fibro was also used for internal walls and ceilings.
  • It is an example of the type of home that was affordable for low income earners in this period - in 1938 James Hardie claimed that fibrolite was stimulating home building 'by helping to bring the purchase of homes within the reach of people of moderate means'; the relative ease of working with fibro meant that people could even build their own home.
  • It indicates that James Hardie produced fibrolite in this period - the company had factories in every state and manufactured fibrolite and other asbestos products such as brake linings for cars and trains, water pipes and building insulation; the company ceased manufacturing asbestos products in 1987.
  • It suggests that there was little awareness in this period of the dangers associated with asbestos - inhalation of asbestos fibres, most of which are invisible to the human eye, can cause asbestosis (a form of lung fibrosis) and cancers such as mesothelioma (cancer of the lungs and abdomen); concerns about asbestos were raised as early as the 1890s.
  • It shows a building material that is now banned in Australia - in 2004 the Federal Government banned the production and export of asbestos; James Hardie Industries has had to compensate hundreds of its factory workers who have contracted asbestosis and related diseases; today home renovators working on fibro houses are regarded as a new risk group.
  • It shows a Sydney street in this period - the number of pedestrians on the street and visiting the exhibition home suggests that this photograph may have been taken on a weekend; the absence of cars is also indicative of the low rate of car ownership in this period; the fibrolite home is flanked by what may be a car showroom and a kerbside petrol station.
  • It provides examples of clothing worn in this period - women's dresses were modest in style, usually knee length with a semi-fitted bodice and a natural waistline; dresses were often teamed with a coat of a contrasting fabric and colour; men wore single- or double-breasted suits; suit trousers were straight but with wide hems and turned-up cuffs.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • science;
  • studies of society and environment
Strand
  • Science/Science as a human endeavour

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: National Library of Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
    • Author
    • Name: Arthur G Foster
    • Remarks: photographer
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 30 Aug 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
    Access profile
    • Device independence
    • Hearing independence
    Learning resource type
    • Image
    Browsers
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
    • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
    Operating systems
    • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
    • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
    Rights
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements