Physie: Photographs by Lyndal Irons

This latest exhibition by Lyndal Irons offers a unique glimpse into the intriguing and dramatic world of Physical Culture through a striking series of images. Physie, Australia's oldest fitness craze centre stage at NSW State Library

© Lyndal Irons.
© Lyndal Irons.

Thousands of women do it but Physical Culture remains a sport difficult to define. It is a bit like a military drill. A bit like dance. A bit like gymnastics. A bit like synchronised swimming without water. And it’s been around for 120 years.
“I wanted to shed light on the little-known world of Physie. I’d been to classes when I was young but couldn’t recall much about it apart from the marching,” says Sydney-based photographer Lyndal Irons, who has recently won the 2015 Pool Grant. “I found a world populated by thousands of Australian girls and women from all walks of life," she says. "It was very maternal, almost like a tribal extended family with many girls participating alongside their mothers, aunts and grandmothers.”

The ‘physie movement’ dates back to 1892 when Denmark-born Hans Christian Bjelke-Petersen started the Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture (BJP), a medical gymnasium in Tasmania to promote health, fitness and posture for both sexes. In 1923 the company moved to Sydney and women’s Physical Culture classes sprung up in business houses like David Jones.

The exhibitition will also include vintage image by Sam Hood. His images from the 1930s capture teams of women in action with stomachs pulled in and heads held high. Physie competitions began in the late 1920s and junior classes kicked off in the early 1940s.

  • Organised by: State Library of NSW

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