Australia loses another naked beach

The country appears to be becoming increasingly prudish.

Australia loses another naked beach

Byron Bay is one of the iconic bits of coast that define the relaxed beach-loving image that many people have of Australia.

Since 1998, an 800-metre stretch of the beach at Byron Bay has been designated as clothing optional. Known as Tyagarah, this is the only officially clothing-optional bit of beach in the region.

Well, at least it was. On 30 June, the beach was stripped of its clothing-optional status. Nudity is no longer permitted at Tyagarah.

The decision comes from the state-level National Parks and Wildlife Service, that has responsibility for the beach.

Local residents have been lobbying for Tyagarah to no longer be designated as clothing-optional - claiming that it encouraged "lewd" behaviour among visitors to the beach.

The debate surrounding Tyagarah has highlighted assumptions that equate nudity with sex - a perception that many naturists are keen to dispel. However, it's also illustrative of the socially-conservative outlook in Australia which attaches shame to all aspects of sexuality and sexual experience.

Tom's Touch

For some first-hand reporting on naked beach life in Australia, there's no better man for the job than Tom.

Based in Sydney, Tom is a nature lover who specialises in naked massages.

He was recently a guest on the Naked Men Talking podcast where he bared all and took us behind-the-scenes of his online life.

Tom, welcome.

Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Now I want to start at the beginning, I guess. How did you discover and start to explore your passion for naturism?

It's a bit of a long story.

I think, like most things, it probably goes back to my childhood - childhood trauma.

Growing up as a kid, I had some family issues - some domestic sort of issues. What I found as I was going through my teens was that I became a very guarded person.

Sort of closed?

Yeah, sort of emotionally and physically cut off from other people.

I think it was a defence mechanism, because I'd been through certain things in my life - I became a bit of a shutdown, disassociated type of person.

As I was getting later into my teens, I was sort of becoming aware that I was distancing myself from people and sort of rejecting people before they could reject me - as a type of defence.

My friends would say to me: “Tom doesn't like being touched - he's not a touchy-feely type of person. That's when I became aware of that about myself.

Then, I finished school and I went off to university, and I studied for a number of years. Probably in my early 20s, after I finished uni - after doing quite a stressful sort of degree - I decided that instead of launching into my career afterwards like everybody else and going overseas and travelling and that type of thing, I decided to take a year off and just stay in Sydney - just to take time for myself to sort of address things that were going on with with me because I wasn't really coping emotionally. I was pretty stressed out and really just burnt out.

That's a pretty mature decision to have that self-awareness to say, I need to take some time out to figure this out?

It wasn’t much of a choice, really - it was more like, I just can’t continue like this.

I just decided to take a year off.

One of the first things I did was I decided to do a massage course - just for fun.

Had you had any experience of massage before then? What made you think that massage was a good thing to do?

Because it was relaxing, because it was so different to anything I had done before, and because it wasn't stressful.

The opposite of stress.

Exactly. It was the complete antithesis.

I think in the back of my mind I was aware that, you know, I didn't like being touched by people and so I'm a person who likes to challenge myself.

You didn't like being touched yourself, but massage requires you to get fairly tactile - did you like touching other people?

It was a bit of a challenge but being in a sort of therapeutic or clinical setting was kind of a stepping stone for me.

I had had one relationship up until that point, but I was pretty distant - physically and emotionally. I was isolating myself.

How did that play out then? You're having this year off, you're taking a massage course. Is that when you started getting your clothes off?

Yeah - I can't recall exactly why, but I remember during that time it was a year of really challenging myself and discovering who I was - I decided to go do a naked yoga class.

I'd done lots of yoga before, so I was confident in the class, but doing it naked was challenging myself. And again, the touching thing - I knew that in this class they also did a little bit of tandem, a bit of partner work.

I did that a couple of times and then they handed out a pamphlet for a one day workshop that included a nude massage course. I was like, well, this feels like fate - I'll just challenge myself again.

When you actually went and did that naked massage erotic workshop, how did you cope with that?

I think I'm generally quite an embodied person. I've always been sort of able to get out of my head in the moment and these sorts of workshops and things - particularly this one - you're in quite a held space, you're in a container and it really comes down to the facilitation and the people who are running it.

It was set up in a way that it was a safe space. Also, getting naked in front of people is a challenge for most people. So, you know, I didn't feel alone. It was challenging, but I managed to do it.

I remember that was an eye-opening moment for me. It was one of the most erotic experiences I've had and it was just so new for me.

That whole experience sort of sparked my interest in nudity and community.

Tapping into that communal sexual energy that you get in those spaces?

One hundred percent, yeah.

And also, you know, overlaying that with healing and therapy. It's not just pure sex - there’s a whole lot more going on.

And was that sort of the moment where it all crystallised for you? This is what I'm into. This is what I'm doing. Or was it still a progression in terms of embracing a bit of a naturist identity?

Yeah, I think it was just more stepping stones - just me sort of having those experiences and seeing the benefits and what I got from it and what it meant to me. It's just about self-discovery.

So yeah, all these things just played into where I sort of am now.

I suppose another step in that journey after that was that I discovered Body Electric.

Talk a little bit about that - people sort of hear about Body Electric but it would be useful just to give us the basics on what Body Electric is.

Well, I'll do my best - I don't know if I’m the best-placed person to do it.

Body Electric is a global organisation that has chapters all around the world - there's certainly one here, in Australia.

My understanding is that it originated in the States during the HIV epidemic - it was a way for people - or for men at that time, gay men - to learn about eroticism and to be able to connect with each other and sort of expand their knowledge around that at a time when, you know, people were scared of touching each other.

When I got involved with them, it was, I suppose, around building intimacy and connection and being vulnerable with other people through nudity and through eroticism and through touch.

How does that translate through into the massage work you do? I saw on your social media that you'd taken a bit of a break from massage and that you've just recently come back to it?

So again, going back to that year that I was talking about, it was really a year of self-discovery.

I was raised to be a very corporate, career-driven person. I did this impressive university degree and then my life-path just took a 90-degree turn.

I ended up doing a whole bunch of Body Electric workshops - that was really transformational for me. I took so much away from it and, you know, it really helped me work through everything and sort of understand myself a lot more.

It felt like my calling. I just connected with it in such a profound way and I was like, well, this is what I want to do with my time on this earth and this is what I want to help other people with.

And so I just started doing it. I just started doing erotic massage.

Combining your training in massage and the Body Electric work?

Yeah, 100 percent.

I mean, what I did wasn't exactly like what happens at Body Electric, but it was certainly inspired.

I wanted to create a space where people could be erotic and explore that.

But you took a break from erotic massage?

I did that for three years, full-time. It was great - it was an incredible period in my life. It was a wild experience, wild lifestyle, but it felt right. I had amazing experiences. I met amazing people.

But, over time, I felt like I wanted to try the career that I had studied for and to just experience that sort of more conventional lifestyle.

How did that work out?

Well, that's still going. For the past eight years or whatever, I've been working in the career that I trained for.

I’ve always had in the back of my mind that massage will come back at some point, in some capacity.

Other guys that do similar things to me, you know, they had spoken about ebbs and flows with it.

Just in the past six months, I've sort of brought it back by initially starting up this Twitter account that I have. Now, just in the last month or so, I've been reconnecting with old clients and bringing it back in some capacity.

Are there any challenges with combining the massage work with the corporate work or is that going okay so far?

I've decided to drop back in my full-time job to go to a part-time role and to pick this up instead.

I've been lucky that I've been able to be flexible like that in my career.

You're based in Sydney - is Sydney a good place to be a naturist?

I think so. There's so much space, there's not too many people.

The weather's amazing. There's lots of national parks, lots of beaches - you can go out and just be naked.

Are there many official naked beaches in Sydney? I think people are often surprised at how socially conservative Australia is generally.

It's very conservative and I think it's becoming more conservative.

In Sydney, there's three clothing-optional beaches - they're not great beaches.

What about beyond beaches - is there much of a social naturism community in Sydney?

I haven’t connected with that - my main experience is just from being nude in nature, with my friends and by myself.

I’m still connected with Body Electric, so that’s something that's still ongoing.

There's also a great organisation here called Naked Man.

I interviewed him - I’ve forgotten his name.

Curt Mason. He started Naked Man years ago. He hosts an annual festival in Sydney. It's basically a whole bunch of guys getting naked in nature.

I looked at that - it sells out super-quickly.

Yeah, that's the thing - people are hungry for this stuff, especially the gay community.

Gay men are hungry for connection - connecting beyond just hook-ups and sex.

You're regularly posting naked photos on Twitter. I was wondering, is that leaning into a bit of an exhibitionist kink that you've got?

For me, it's just a form of self-expression. It's a creative outlet.

It's also just, you know, I feel like it's sort of my mark - just putting something out there that people enjoy and hopefully are inspired by.

And yeah, absolutely, it's exhibitionism as well - I've got no shame around that. I like putting my body out there. I'm proud of my body and I think everybody should be proud of their body.

It's kind of all these things just mixed together.

I guess my final question is, if someone was a bit curious about naturism and wanting to explore getting naked, what advice or guidance would you give them?

Just do what I did. Naked yoga is a great step. Going to a nude beach is a great step. Just jump in and realise that it's okay to be naked.

There’s nothing wrong with being naked, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying being naked.

Follow Tom on Twitter

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