A Short History of Gymnastics in Victoria
Compiled by GV CEO Jamie Parsons
Gymnastics in Victoria has a very rich history. Prior to European settlement the Indigenous Community engaged in many recreational activities including running, jumping, climbing and feats of strength. Many of these skills we still see today in Gymnastics clubs all over Victoria.
1860s – 1920s
The beginnings of Gymnastics in Victoria were heavily influenced by the system of physical training in Europe in the 1860s. Gustav Technow, a Prussian Army Officer, brought progressive views and extensive knowledge to Victoria.
Gustav was heavily influenced by Swedish Gymnastics and he had trained at Ling’s Gymnastic Institute in Sweden in 1845. He established the National Gymnasium at Jolimont in Melbourne and was Director from 1864 until 1921, when the facility was subsumed into the Jolimont railyards. In 1868 he was employed by the Board of Education as a lecturer of Gymnastics for Trainee Teachers.
In the late 1800s English women Harriett Elphinstone Dick and Alice Moon began providing classes at independent girls schools in Melbourne; at least one female-only gymnasium existed in Melbourne and gymnastics activities began to flourish throughout the early 1900s.
After the Great War (1914-1918) many community organisations such as church groups, the YMCA and youth groups began to run gymnastics including a ‘gymnastics circus’.
Ebenezer Gymnastic Club (Collingwood), 1920s (outside church hall)
Gymnastics was included as a key part of physical education and the sport curriculum at many male private schools including Geelong Grammar; Wesley College and Carey Grammar. Gymnastics for women in the 1920s was largely calisthenics and physical culture.
Ebenezer Gymnastic Club (Collingwood) -1920s
In the 1930s many gymnastics clubs operated throughout Victoria including the Fire Brigade, German Turn Verein and Try Society. Stan Davies, Australia’s first Olympic Gymnastics coach, recalls “Most churches, if you looked in their store rooms in the 1930s, you would find a set of parallel bars and vaulting box horse”.
In 1936 the first Victorian YMCA State competition was held with teams competing from the Melbourne YMCA, Geelong Grammar and Wesley College.
A gymnastic association was founded in Victoria in 1937 - the Victorian Amateur Gymnastics Association (now called Gymnastics Victoria).
This was an association of men’s gymnastics clubs, with a view to bringing more formal organisation to the sport. Alf Lorbach (Melbourne YMCA) and Bonnie Frank (Wesley Collegians) drove the development of gymnastics in Victoria over this time.
The Australian Gymnastics Federation (AGF) was formed officially in September 1949 under the name: Australian Gymnastic Union. Prior to this official formation, gymnastics was organised on a club basis in the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
The establishment of the Federation was initiated by Mr. Jack Carey (VIC) with Mr. Harry Morris (VIC) and Mr. Bill Wilson (NSW). Mr. Morris was elected as the Federation’s first President.
After the formation of the Australian Gymnastic Union, the first Australian Championships were held in 1950 in Melbourne.
Inge Frazer, Alf Lorbach, Barbara Cunningham and Wendy Grant
Australia’s first Olympic women’s team competed at the 1956 Olympic Games. The team trained in a number of different locations including Alf’s backyard – and for floor training they used the golf fairway at the back of Alf’s home.
In 1957 the first Victorian Championships for women were held at St Stephens in Richmond and in 1959 the first women’s Australian Championships were held.
1960s to Today
Gymnastics continued to grow in Victoria with many school programs through the influx of European PE teachers and other teacher training programs by Val Roberts and Alf Barabach.
In 1979 the first national coaching manual was produced by Ken Williamson and Gerges McKail and the first women’s coaching manual was produced by Val Roberts.
During the 1980s the AIS was established in Canberra and Gene Schembri was appointed as the first National Coaching Director for Gymnastics
General Gymnastics proliferated through the 1980s and 1990s and the Gymnastics Victoria High Performance Centre was established in Prahran in 2001. In 1997 Gymnastics Victoria had over 20,000 members and in 2013 had reached over 30,000 members.
In 2016 Gymnastics is the fastest growing major participation sport in Victoria with over 50,000 members, 175,000 other participants, over 1,600 judges & coaches and 125 clubs.
The future of gymnastics has never looked brighter!
Click here for a list of Victorian Gymnastic Olympians
Click here for a list of Gymnastics Victoria Life Members (after opening link scroll down page)
Click here for further history of gymnastics in Australia
Click here for international gymnastics history