The State Library’s new exhibition Physie: Photographs by Lyndal Irons, goes on display from 27 June. The display combines contemporary photographs by Sydney-based photographer Lyndal Irons (who has just won the 2015 Pool Grant) with Sam Hood’s images from the 1930s.


Elite Ladies section at the Opera House National Finals. An overjoyed Jenny leaps towards the prize table to receive her prize. (Image by Lyndal Irons)

The new exhibition offers a glimpse into the intriguing and dramatic world of Physical Culture, which has been popular with Australian women for 120 years, through a series of contemporary and vintage prints from the Library’s collection.

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. Physie competitions began in the late 1920s and junior classes kicked off in the early 1940s.

Irons’ colourful photographs bring the modern version of Physie into focus where  competition is fierce, and dance steps are performed to a modern soundtrack  blending moves from styles such as jazz, ballet, hip-hop and aerobics. In contrast, Sam Hood’s images capture teams of women in action with stomachs pulled in and heads held high.


Entry to the exhibition is free and it will run from 27 June 2015 to 4 October 2015 at the State Library of NSW. For details, visit