Australian Women's Register

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    Women's class at the Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture, c. 1934, by Sam Hood, 1872-1953, courtesy of Mitchell Library.


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Bjelke-Petersen, Marie Caroline (1874 - 1969)

23 December 1874
Copenhagen, Denmark
11 October 1969
Lindisfarne, Tasmania, Australia
Physical Culturalist, Teacher and Writer


Marie Bjelke-Petersen is best known as a writer, but as a young woman she enjoyed playing sport and was, it has been argued, instrumental in introducing the sport of netball to Tasmania.

She migrated with her family to Hobart, Tasmania in 1891, where her brother, Hans Christian, established the Bjelke-Peterson Physical Culture school in 1892. Marie joined as instructor in charge of the women's section; she also taught the subject in schools. It was during that time, it is suggested, that the Bjelke-Petersens learned about a new game called basketball that was being played in the United States. Marie introduced drills designed for the game in to the Physical Culture program that she taught in the schools.

Unfortunately, injuries prevented her from continuing with her teaching career much past 1910. At this point, she picked up her career as a writer. She published her first novel The Captive Singer, in 1917 to much aclaim; it sold 100,000 copies in English and 40,000 in Danish. In 1935 she won the King's Jubilee medal for services to literature.

In recent years, Bjelke-Petersen has become a gay and lesbian icon. She lived in an intimate relationship with Silvia Mills, who she met in 1898, and who, it is argued, The Captive Singer was about, for thirty years.



King's Jubilee Medal - For Services to Literature

Sources used to compile this entry: Alexander, Alison, A Mortal Flame: Marie Bjelke-Petersen: Australian Romance Writer 1874-1969, Bubblehead Press, Hobart, 1994; Barker, Pauline, A Netball History in Tasmania: 'The First Bounce' - An Account of the History of the Sport in Tasmania, Images and Visual Solutions, Hobart, 2005, 150 pp; Lyng, J, The Scandanavians in Australia, New Zealand and the Western Pacific, Melbourne, 1939; Weidenhofer, Margaret, 'Bjelke-Petersen, Marie Caroline (1874-1969)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, Australian National University, 2006,

Archival resources

Archives Office of Tasmania

  • Photographs and Marie Bjelke-Petersen material, 1900 - 1969, NS1294; Bjelke-Petersen, Marie Caroline (1874 - 1969); Archives Office of Tasmania. Details

Digital resources

Women's class at the Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture
c. 1934
Sam Hood, 1872-1953
Mitchell Library


Nikki Henningham

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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