Topless wars reignited on Australia's beaches

Christian MP wins mainstream support for his bid to tighten nudity laws

On any given day, acres of tanned flesh are on view at Bondi Beach: men wearing the briefest of briefs, women sunbathing topless. But it wasn't always so. In the 1940s, a legendary beach inspector, Aub Laidlaw, patrolled the golden sands, ruler in hand, ensuring that men's and women's bathing costumes conformed to bylaws governing public decency.

Costumes had to cover at least three inches of thigh, as well as the entire front of the body, and wobbly bits had to be kept in place by robust straps. Mr Laidlaw frogmarched 50 or more people a week off the beach, including, in 1945, the first woman to brave Bondi in a bikini, and in 1961, a group of men wearing Speedo swimming trunks.

The fanatical Mr Laidlaw retired in 1969, eight years after the bikini was legalised, but now his ghost is once again stalking Sydney's beaches. A Christian fundamentalist politician, the Rev Fred Nile, is calling for topless sunbathing to be outlawed, and he has received backing from several mainstream MPs.

While nudity is illegal in Australia except on designated beaches, local councils consider toplessness acceptable. Mr Nile wants the legislation to be tightened. "The law should be clear," he said. "It must say: 'Exposure of women's breasts on beaches will be prohibited'."

His proposal elicited howls of protest from sun-loving Sydneysiders, who have just begun their long summer holiday. Outraged callers deluged talkback radio stations, and the ACT nudist club in Canberra, the national capital, warned that Australia was in danger of appearing like a "haven for prudes".

However, Mr Nile, a veteran family values campaigner, was unrepentant, and several conservatives in the state parliament supported him, with Paul Gibson, a Labor MP, claiming that topless women made people uncomfortable. "If you're on the beach, do you want somebody with big knockers next to you when you're there with the kids?" he asked. A Liberal politician, David Clarke, agreed, telling Sydney's Daily Telegraph: "I don't think our young children should be confronted with nude bathers on these public beaches."

Mr Laidlaw, who made international headlines in 1951 after escorting a Hollywood starlet, Jean Parker, off Bondi for wearing a skimpy swimsuit, would applaud such sentiments. But many public figures poured scorn on Mr Nile, with Sally Betts, the mayor responsible for Bondi, declaring that toplessness did not equate to nudity. "Nude is when you've got no clothes on," she said.

Ms Betts added that Sydney faced far worse social problems than bare breasts. "We've got alcohol-related violence, we've got underage drinking and antisocial behaviour in the public domain: those are really important issues," she told local radio.

And – pertinently, in a country with the world's highest rate of skin cancer – a junior health minister, Jodi McKay, said that safety in the sun was more important than who exposed what.

Nude sunbathing is permitted on certain beaches in every state except Queensland. As for the Speedo trunks that so upset Mr Laidlaw: the men he arrested were charged with indecency, but the case was dismissed because no pubic hair had been exposed.

A new front: Defining decency

A decision by Facebook to censor pictures of breastfeeding mothers has caused a backlash. Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for the social networking website, said the images had been removed to protect children.

"Photos containing a fully exposed breast (as defined by showing the nipple or areola) do violate those terms (on obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit material) and may be removed," he said.

Kelli Roman, who fell foul of the breastfeeding ban, has collected 80,000 names for an online petition called "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders