If I tell you I am sitting on a balcony typing these words in the glorious Queensland sun, you will possibly be envious. If I tell you I am nude, you will probably think me deviant. I wonder why? The difference is a few grams of cotton or, worse, polyester. As I am, I must ensure that I am hidden.
Since its inception in 1920s Europe, the naturist movement has had to hide. The first nudist communities were built on islands or secreted behind converted chateau walls. Medical doctors Gaston and André Durville established the original French naturist camp, Physiopolis, on an un-bridged island in the Seine an hour upriver from Paris. The Durvilles went on to start their first permanently nude residential colony, Heliopolis, on Le Levant island in the Mediterranean, a one-hour boat ride off the French Riviera. It flourishes still, seventy-seven years later, an entire town with hotels, bakery, supermarket, post office and local police station. I've been there twice.
Isolation allowed early naked communities to survive. In the 1930s, Kienne de Mongeot's popular Sparta Club relocated from its founding Paris gymnasium and hid behind the walls of a Medieval castle in Normandy. The Berlin movement started by Adolph Koch, Freikörperkultur (Naked Body Culture), hired a Berlin suburban swimming pool (the biggest in the world at the time) one night a week to the exclusion of costumed users. The Nazis eventually shut Koch down, but attendances on naked night reached a thousand. In Europe now, the largest naturist community is Cap d'Agde on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier – a gated nude resort city of fourteen thousand permanents and vacationers.
These thriving clubs and communities form the background to the naturist movement in Queensland. Today there are twenty-five resorts with permanent sites and ten further clubs which hold sudden events in a variety of sunny places. You drive past these resorts and don't know they exist (there are two at Caboolture and several on the Sunshine Coast). You can be engaged in a quiet family boating trip on Moreton Bay when a chartered ferry full of naked merrymakers zooms by. They too are on a family-oriented outing.
In selected newsagents you can rummage through the magazine stand to find copies of Tan – a sixty-eight-page glossy naturist lifestyle journal published quarterly from the Gold Coast – hidden among the less wholesome magazines, but classified ‘Unrestricted'. You can Google ‘Nude Queensland' to find a list of unofficial naked beaches along the Queensland coast (but remember, nude bathing is still illegal on all beaches in this state). You can Google ‘Naturist resorts Queensland' to discover a place to live permanently nude or just holiday. These resorts and clubs are also in the phone book. What is hidden takes only a short time to find.
Nude Queensland sites are dotted the length of the coast and inland as far as Toowoomba. Let me take you by the ungloved hand to one of them, on the outskirts of Brisbane, the resort closest to the CBD. I'll call it Sun Worshippers. People commute to work in Brisbane from here.
SUN WORSHIPPERS IS A BIG PLACE. There are fifteen hectares of picturesque lawns, shady palms, orchard trees, natural bushland, tennis and golf facilities and creek swimming. All accommodation is in caravans; the park could take four hundred people at a time but council laws don't permit it. There are thirty-five permanent vans on the site paying cheap rents. This beautiful parkland is one of the old-style resorts in Queensland, established thirty years ago. The newer resorts are B&B-style, typically set on a hectare of well-screened land with rooms in the main house or cabins with the social focus being the in-ground swimming pool or the undercover activities/chat/bar area. The newer places lack the ‘plenty of space for bushwalking' which used to be a must for old-style naturism.
The owners of the Sun Worshippers park are a couple, Jill and Ken. They built it from nothing back in the hippie drop-out era of the late 1970s. They are respected regulars at the local RSL club now, and say they've never had trouble from the local textiles. Their resort is close to a sleepy bayside town of working-class retirees and young low-income families – a backwater about to explode because the
outreach of Brisbane suburban expansion is almost upon them. A local-area Save our Lifestyle campaign is
trying to fight off rezoning and big development. Naked protests, however, won't help this cause in the
Unlike some hippies who wasted the 1970s self-absorbed under trees and sunlight and high on grass, Jill and Ken built a lifestyle and pleasure haven for others. They erected the main house, along with the recreational and toilet facilities, with help from volunteers. They did not link to the government grid: the Sun Worshippers community has its own solar heating and electricity system and a water system fed by a windmill. A recent storm knocked down the solar array and the nudists rebuilt it.
Everything at Sun Worshippers is beautifully maintained. Toilets, showers and vans are spotless, better than you will find in places where people stay with their clothes on. Naturists think of others when they sit on a public surface: the ‘bum towel' and ‘lap-lap' are ubiquitous. (Take a closer look at the bus, train or cinema seat you are about to use to discover how clean the textile world is.)
The sense of space and open air at Sun Worshippers is delightful. Fruit trees to eat from, eucalypts and exotic plants to arouse the nostrils, vistas to excite the eye and relax the brain. This is truly a paradise – no wonder volunteers arrive happily to help the proprietors mow the vast lawns, clean the toilet facilities and fix the equipment.
But Jill and Ken need to retire. They created this place back when Nimbin-style dreams gripped many in the nation, especially younger people. With the number of naturists falling in Australia, there is a crisis in membership. No new-generation representatives want to take over. Jill and Ken have a contract with an Asian buyer who says he will keep the resort going but he is drilling test-holes searching for extractable sand ten metres below the surface.
Why aren't young people interested? Is naturism too simple? Is fresh air out of fashion? Is it a problem that there is no modish dress statement involved? No technology hanging off the concept? No pockets for the mobile phone? When the young want health now, they get it indoors and clothed in a gym.
Has prudishness rubbed off too successfully on the young generation? Even previously topless public beaches have reverted to far stricter practices in Queensland (the Gold Coast provides several examples) but in Western and Eastern Europe the funky, up-market nudist beaches and resorts are pulsing with new membership and are full of young people.
Jill and Ken say they have always catered to oldies. And nearly all the people I see here now, as I type away, are the big, old, fleshy variety of sun-lovers identifiable from the Tan magazine pictures and advertisements. Good salt-of-the-earth types. Good, solid, naked Queenslanders. For relief, a young woman rides by nude on a bicycle. Ah, beautiful. More typically, an old woman and man struggle by nude at their walking frames. Ah, beautiful too.
Eventually, this park will be swallowed up by suburban advance. How can you have, in the middle of a suburb, a sprawling nude domain? The naked in their walking frames will be thrown off. As will the
Naturism is about nature itself. This is the movement's central tenet. It's about healthy activity (exercise, food, social interaction, friendship) in an open-air, natural environment. Sadly, in Queensland nature is being pushed back rapidly, forced into fewer and fewer corners. And as nature is subsumed and eradicated by development, so too is naturism. Soon nude Queensland may not be hidden. It may not exist at all.
But I hear there's a public pond beside the council chambers in a major Queensland city where a group of naturists skinny-dip late at night. Sometimes they look in naked, through the windows, at the council meeting in progress, but the councillors can't see them because of the tinted glass.
Watch out for the white towel hanging over a tree bough at this municipal pond at night. It's the sign that the naturists are present. It's not the white towel of surrender – it's an indication that the nude revolution in Queensland is still on. ♦