Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson has described the police’s ‘zero tolerance’ of naturists as ‘excessive’ and called on the hierarchy to allow officers more discretion.
And a Byron Bay local, Maxine, says she will fight the $500 infringement she received at Tyagarah Tea Tree Lake just over a week ago, telling Echonetdaily that she has been off work due to ill health and cannot afford to pay the fine.
Since chief inspector Luke Arthurs announced the campaign several weeks ago, police have handed out at least 15 fines to people found naked outside the shire’s 800 metres of designated clothing optional beach, whether or not they were aware of recent changes in the rules.
Maxine, who has been a Byron Bay local for three years, said she had swum naked at the lake twice before after ‘being taken there the first time by a friend who was a school principal’.
‘Each time I had swum naked, and there were naked people there. I had no idea that it was illegal. I’m an extremely law abiding citizen,’ she told Echonetdaily.
On Saturday, January 20, Maxine and a friend were returning to Mullumbimby and decided on a whim to go to the lake for a quick dip.
‘It was a hot day; we’d just been to Mullum markets. I’ve recently had some really heaving surgery and my friend said “why don’t we go for a swim at Tyagarah lake?”
‘I had no swimmers but I thought it might be therapeutic, lolling in the lovely tea tree lake,’ she said.
‘We jumped in – he had his shorts on – and next thing he said “oh the police are coming”.
‘Because I’ve lost a lot of use of my shoulder I couldn’t even get out, so I stayed in the water and they ordered me to get out,’ she said.
‘So I had to be assisted to get out and [the police] said “oh, we’ll hold up the towel and we won’t look”.
Maxine said she hadn’t seen the police on her arrival and there was no police car on the road, ‘so they [may have been] hidden in the bushes.
She said the younger policeman didn’t speak and the older one who did all the talking ‘was tough’.
‘He said, “this is illegal”.
‘I said “are you going to fine me?” and he said “yes, it’s zero tolerance”.
‘I said, “you’ve seen I just had to be helped out of the water – I’ve just come out of hospital recently. I don’t even have $500: that’s my fortnightly welfare payment.”
‘I got really teary. It was three months since I’d worked. I was really, really ill; I could’ve died.
‘I told them that I didn’t see any signage.’
‘A man came over and said the sign was misleading [as it had been defaced] and appeared to suggest clothing was optional at the lake.
‘And the policeman dismissed him – he was a bit cross that he’d come over.
‘When I went out I saw there were two signs and only one mentioned nude bathing, with the word ‘not’ scratched out. The other is about behaviour, not about nudity,’ Maxine said.
She has elected to go to court and within 30 days will be notified of a date. Fortunately a friend has offered to pay her court costs.
‘How was my behaviour offensive?’ she queried?
‘The police were way over the other side. I didn’t think the law was about offending them. I thought it was about other people. The people next to me were lovely; they were supporting me.
‘And I was in the water: I didn’t stand out of the water naked, I wasn’t sitting on the edge, I wasn’t sunbaking,’ she said.
Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson said the police action ‘appeared to be excessive’.
‘There has been heavy enforcement,’ he told News Corp.
‘If there is an elderly couple or a young couple having a skinny dip, I’d like police to feel they have the power to ascertain whether that is an offence or not, and give them a warning,’ Cr Richardson said.
Byron Naturists spokesperson Debra Conomy is encouraging people to ‘swim between the signs’ but said sexual predators should be the police target rather than nudists.
She added that lewd behaviour had died down since police and her group started daily patrols to deal with the problems last year.
‘Everyone is looking after everyone because people just want to be able to go for a nude swim without the problems,’ Ms Conomy added.