Naked banana farming on the hillsides around Mullumbimby wasn’t a novelty for just the hippies who were living their alternative reality, it was also quite a show for the other local banana farmers who started bringing their binoculars to work.
The nude came with the first wave of hippies as they picked up properties and tried to turn their hands to organic and biodynamic farming. While some succeeded, many decided that setting up a business or reforesting their property was perhaps a little easier. But the nude has become part of the culture of the area: from the 750 naked women who spelt out NO WAR in 2003 with their bodies, and the naked bike ride, to the Nude Ain’t Rude rallies – the first of which was hosted by Mandy Nolan.
‘I MC’d the first major one around here, it was held on the beach at Belongil and called Nude Ain’t Rude. It was a protest against the crackdown on people swimming nude along that stretch of beach. It was also a call for clothes optional as opposed to Nude beaches,’ said Mandy.
‘It was one of the most fun days I think I have ever been to. Five hundred nude people just having a great time.’
With the Nude Olympics said to be celebrating their inaugural Byron event on October 7 questions around the relationship between nudity, clothes-optional beaches and sexual assault have arisen.
Byron Shire Council declared a clothes-optional section of the beach from Tyagarah’s Grays Lane walking track for approximately 1.3kms towards Byron Bay in 1998. The area does not include the Tyagarah nature reserve that starts at the high tide mark, the toe of the dune, meaning that the clothes-optional area does not include the dunes or the tea-tree lakes.
The Grays Lane end of the clothes-optional area and the tea-tree lakes have had long running issues with sexual assault, harassment and public sex acts creating problems for local residents, with some saying that it is no longer a fun place to take the kids for a dip or to hang out as a single person just wanting to soak up the sun.
‘I have been very concerned lately about the deteriorating situation at Tyagarah,’ said councillor Paul Spooner.
‘There have been a number of sexual assaults. Local residents have been making ongoing complaints about the inappropriate sexual behaviours of visitors to the area. While I am not against clothes-optional bathing on our beaches it seems blatantly clear to me that the isolated location at Tyagarah has encouraged negative social behaviour and has made the location undesirable for most people to now use as a public beach.
‘After discussing the issue with local residents, National Parks and council staff I will be moving a motion to revoke council’s clothes-optional declaration for this section of the beach at the next meeting of council.’
Naked swimming happens regularly and quietly all over the shire and many locals avoid the clothes-optional area at Tyagarah because of its reputation.
‘I went for a swim yesterday morning at the beach and I would have counted about six other people swimming naked. It is just very common,’ said one local woman who doesn’t swim at Tyagarah.
‘I will walk up the beach and find a space to myself and I usually wait for a gap between walkers. I have no problem being naked and talking to friends but I’m mindful and respectful of myself and other beach users,’ she added.
While sexual violence against anyone must be treated to the full weight of the law, should the world be banned from enjoying a naked bum in the sun experience because clothes-optional beaches have been pushed into isolated locations?
‘I think there is definitely a direct relationship between isolated nude beaches and sexual assault,’ continued Mandy.
‘I have never supported the idea of segregated places to swim naked. I think it puts people at risk. I have always supported clothing optional beaches.
‘Clothing optional beaches are very misunderstood. It basically means you don’t have to wear swimmers at any beach you are at if you so choose and it’s left to the discretion of the swimmer. Most people would not swim naked on a public beach. It’s our morality around nudity and our censorial approach that is the problem. I would hope this would mean that there wasn’t a designated ‘nude’ area for perverts and sexual predators to target.
‘I am a supporter of fun nude event days on public beaches like the Nude Olympics because it demystifies nudity. Nudity, as shown in the naked bike ride, is really a lot funnier than it is sexual.’
The police are currently ensuring that they have a high presence in the designated clothes-optional area and surrounds. They are looking to provide safety for all beach users and enforcing the law. Penalities can range from a caution or fine through to an arrest that ends in a court appearance.
‘We are working with council and National Parks and Wildlife services to make the area safer for users,’ said Brendon Cullen, detective chief inspector and crime manager for the Tweed Byron local area command.
Two reported sexual assaults were reported a few months ago, one at Tyagarah and one at Belongil.
‘The safety of our residents should be the prime concern of Council,’ continued Cr Spooner.
‘By removing the clothes optional declaration it will send a strong signal to those utilising Tyagarah as a location for inappropriate sexual activities to move on. Everyone has a right to feel safe in public places and should not have to be confronted by intimidating or sexually aggressive behaviour.
‘Clearly clothes-optional beaches should not be in isolated areas. It is for the community to express their opinion. We need to look at successful clothes-optional areas elsewhere. Let’s make our beaches safe again.’