These photographs were taken to show the clubs at their best and sell them as well-appointed, modern places for recreation and fitness. Globally, health clubs like Laurie Potter’s were largely designed for and promoted to the white middle class who had disposable income and were responding to social messaging about the importance of “physical capital” for competing in job and relationship markets.
Upon enrolment members were put through a ‘vigorous’ health check, which included arm, leg, and body measurements; blood pressure; oxygen uptake; joint flexibility; muscular strengths; and somatotype and stress electrocardiograph tests. Blood and urine tests were optional. The data gathered from these tests was evaluated by a computer program and from that an exercise program was designed.
Forme Divine was the initial name of the women’s health club run by Laurie Potter. It was located on the floor above the men’s club at 918 Hay street, Perth. Later, it was simply called Laurie Potter’s Health Club for women, and then within a few years the gyms were rebranded in a more gender-neutral way.
By the late 1980s, Laurie Potter had eight health clubs throughout the Perth suburbs, in addition to an administrative centre named Laurie Potter's Health Academy located in East Perth and a club in Kalgoorlie. The brand had expanded to include a health food restaurant called 'Cravings' and an orange juice factory. He purchased Lord's Health Club in Subiaco and Fletcher's Family Fitness chain. These acquisitions took Laurie Potter's memberships to over 82,000. In early 1987, the Laurie Potter Group started to make its move into the leisure and travel industry, purchasing an ailing airline company, Avior, a large Perth travel agency, and the Trade Winds Hotel in Fremantle. Potter intended for these companies to support his planned development of resorts in Shark Bay, Kalbarri, Kalgoorlie, and Mandurah.
Laurie Potter also sold home exercise equipment and merchandise. Most of the Health Clubs had a shop, which sold clothing and equipment, as well as health foods. There were also gym equipment manufacturing facilities in Perth and Melbourne, under the name 'Fizique', which were also from recent business acquisitions.
After an astronomical ascent, everything came crashing down. To fund his rapid expansion, Laurie Potter had borrowed millions of dollars from the Western Australia Teachers' Credit Society. In August 1987, due to imprudent loan practices and inadequate accounting, the Teachers' Credit Society collapsed. Later investigations revealed that the Teachers' Credit Society had $159 million worth of bad or doubtful debts and, at the sole discretion of the general manager Alex Clark, had made substantial loans to four leading Perth businessmen - including Laurie Potter. Between the four businessmen, a total of $142.5 million was owed, with an estimated bad debt element of $54 million.
In September 1987, the Laurie Potter Group went into receivership, with its assets and liabilities equal. In the weeks leading up to this, 14 Potter Group cheques had bounced and formerly flexible credit lines from the Teachers' Credit Society were frozen.
... a very angry Mr Potter ... said he was writing to the bank to complain strongly about “the irresponsibility of returning cheques without notice”. Mr Potter said he hoped that R&I Bank would acknowledge its moral and business obligations in the matter and reopen the flexible credit line the group had enjoyed at the Teachers’ Credit Society. R & I Bank Chairman, Mr David Fischer has announced that this type of commercial lending is one thing he will axe.
-The Canberra Times, 28 September 1987. Premier Brian Burke appointed R&I Bank as administrator to the Teachers' Credit Society after it collapsed. A move that was estimated to cost the state $119 million.
Since the beginning of 1987, the Laurie Potter Group's assets had more than doubled through diversification and acquisitions. This occurred without the appropriate capital to back it up. At the time, Laurie Potter acknowledged that the Group had never really recovered from the membership discounting and health club price wars of the previous two years. This was the end of Laurie Potter's Health Clubs.
By the year 2000, many people will be working only 18 to 20 hours a week. living standards won't drop, so people will need an outlet for their leisure time.
-Laurie Potter in The West Australian, 6 March 1982.
Laurie Potter was a household name. His health clubs offered fitness, alongside everyday opulence; they epitomised 1980s excess. At the time, there was confidence that it would last forever, but now the story of Laurie Potter's Health Clubs is found only in these promotional photographs, a handful of newspaper articles, government records, and people's memories.
Photographs - State Library of Western Australia Pictorial Collection