Twenty years of nude bathing at Tyagarah beach is set to continue after Byron Shire Council voted to retain its clothing optional status despite a staff recommendation to end it.
The hotly contested issue went down to the wire, with a group of residents flanking the entrance to the Council Chambers ahead of Thursday’s (October 19) meeting carrying signs calling for the beach’s status to be revoked.
Seven people spoke at public access supporting the call for closure with Mayor Simon Richardson doubling their allocated speaking time.
Cases of predatory sexual behaviour in the area both recent and historic were recounted, with elderly resident Gwen Gould adding she had been persistently followed on the beach by a naked man as recently as July.
Speaking in support of retaining the beach, Byron Naturists group member David Dixon said that there had been a ‘discernible reduction of activity’ during the previous 12-month trial period, while admitting there was scope for further improvement.
‘We’ve had 20 years of stories but only one year of proactive management,’ he said.
Cr Basil Cameron moved a motion, seconded by Cr Cate Coorey, calling for the clothing optional beach to be retained, backed by a more robust Safe Beaches committee process that will consider the safety of beaches across the Shire and make six-monthly recommendations to council.
Cr Cameron said the prime focus of sex predators had historically been around Grays Lane and the Tea Tree Lakes, and this had spilled over onto the beach as police began to clean up the lakes.
He said no beaches in the Shire were without their problems and sex predators were not restricted to Tyagarah.
‘But it’s clear that in the trial period there has been a dramatic decrease in offences,’ he said.
Cr Hunter advocated the introduction of CCTV cameras at the Grays Lane car park to help identify offenders and proposed that $10,000 be earmarked for that purpose. The mover and seconder agreed.
‘Tyagarah beach has an advantage as the car park is uniquely for beach patrons, so it’s very easy to record,’ he said.
‘We have an opportunity to take a stand and make it work rather than push it down the road,’ he added.
Alternative beach mooted
The mayor announced a foreshadowed motion that would have seen the clothing optional beach moved closer to town near The Wreck.
Speaking against Cr Cameron’s motion, he admitted ‘things have improved and have swung a lot’ adding ‘I believe all beaches should be clothes optional’.
But, he said Byron was suffering from the ‘Amsterdam effect’, adding that city ‘didn’t want to become drug capital of the world’ but was ‘paying a price for being progressive’.
‘We need to acknowledge that and look after the locals,’ he said.
Cr Hackett said she would ‘love to think we could clean it up – and we did for a while – but the same sort of behaviour is returning.
‘I think the lewd behaviour is inextricably linked [with the naturist beach], even with nudists trying to police the beach,’ she said.
Reclaim don’t vacate
Cr Coorey said ‘we haven’t gone as far as we can go’ in improving the beach culture, adding ‘I’m not convinced that the Grays Lane behaviour will stop if we close the beach’.
‘I used to march every year in Reclaim the Night rallies but I don’t think vacating the beach is the same as reclaiming it.’
Cr Lyon said that the mayor’s proposed alternative site at Belongil was ‘larger than the current 800m’.
‘Grays Lane is not a road that we want non-locals on in its current state – especially because of the lack of wildlife protection,’ he added.
Cr Ndiyae said that the beach’s ‘virtue of being very remote in terms of privacy and freedom is also what makes it tricky’.
‘But I don’t think we have a lot of social licence to move it.
‘You have a very proactive bunch of naturists helping to patrol the area.
‘Without them there will only be the people who don’t obey the signs – and the police can’t be there all the time,’ she said.
In his right of reply, Cr Cameron concurred, saying ‘naturists are just as much the victims of sex pests as anyone else and let’s acknowledge the hard work they’ve done to help get the beach safe.’
The motion was carried 5-3 with councillors Cameron, Hunter, Coorey, Martin and Ndiaye in support, and councillors Richardson, Lyon and Hackett against. Cr Spooner was absent.
The mayor’s foreshadowed motion lapsed.