“Hey Tim, are there any ocean beaches near Canberra where I can legally swim naked?” audaciously asked an email from ‘‘Celeste’’ that lobbed into my inbox a few weeks ago.
As someone who prefers a ‘togs-on’ patch of sand on which to spread my towel, I was somewhat taken aback by the next line of Celeste’s request which read, “Someone told me, you’d be just the man to know!”
After a flurry of subsequent email exchanges, it turns out my curious correspondent confused your Akubra-clad columnist’s vocation of a naturalist (one who studies nature) with that of a naturist (basically, another term for a nudist).
What’s more, after a bit of digging, due to similar spelling of the two terms, apparently Celeste isn’t the first to make the error. In fact, some nature-based businesses have felt compelled to inform their potential customers of the crucial difference.
Take for example Aurora Expeditions who entice nature-lovers on adventure cruises to showcase the natural wonders of Antarctica and beyond.
In the FAQ section of their website they carefully point out: “While we’re not in the business of judging what people do at home, it’s a fair assumption that we will never have an active naturist on board the Polar Pioneer. It’s probably a little cold if you know what we mean … however, you’ll always find a naturalist on board our small ship expeditions.”
Having absolved Celeste of her inadvertent indiscretion, I was left intrigued by her question. Sure, I recall as a hormone-charged teenager gawking at topless sun-bathers at that little cove to the south of Mollymook, but is there anywhere you can legally sun bathe and swim in your birthday suit?
After a series of calls to councils, it turns out that along the entire length of coastline between Nowra and the Victorian border — the stretch of coast we Canberrans like to refer to as the south coast — there’s only one official nude beach. Yes, just one: Armands Beach, just south of Bermagui.
Not that it’s easy to find. First it’s hidden off the main road and secondly, the beach’s official sign has been stolen several times in the last few years. Rumours abound that the sign-pilfering fiend is a local who opposes the clothing-optional status of the beach.
According to a leaflet in the Bermagui Visitor Centre, this secluded surf beach has a long history of attracting naturists and is named after Frenchman Armand Lemmeric, a migrant who established a farm aptly named ‘‘The Nook’’ in the bushland behind the beach in 1903.
The leaflet reveals that Lemmeric was a farmer with a penchant for swimming au naturale at the beach. Although they were initially private swims, once word spread, apparently he was soon “joined by other locals who did not own swimming costumes”.
Nudity continued to be commonplace at the beach, peaking in the 1930s when “nude cricket matches were held”. I guess it’s safe to assume there wasn’t any ball tampering, for the players wouldn’t have had anywhere to hide the sandpaper. Jokes aside, during the late1960s and early1970s, Armands Beach was also the love-in camp site for the first Flower Power commune at a beach location in NSW.
However, there are no sign of bats ‘n’ balls, nor hippies with hibiscus flowers protruding from their dreadlocks on the day I recently visited the beach, just an athletic-looking 20-something local lass rocking the latest neck to ankle gym gear, energetically leading her pet poodle up the bush path from the beach. She couldn’t have more clothes on if she tried.
Feeling a need to explain why I’m wielding a camera (frowned upon at most nude beaches), I explain that I’m checking out the beach first-hand for my column, and ask her thoughts on its clothing-optional status.
A recent arrival to the area, my friendly dog walker reveals she “is fine with naturists using the beach”.
“At first I was worried that my puppy would jump up and bite someone’s bits,” she laughs, “but usually there isn’t anyone else at the beach, unless it’s a hot weekend.”
And today is no different, down on the sand there’s no one else within cooee. All I find baking in the sun are clumps of seaweed strewn across the high-tide mark.
Keen to find out more of the beach’s colourful past, I perch myself on a rock at the northern end of the beach and call Errol Masterson – he’s been swimming here in the raw since 1952.
Masterson reveals he is especially enamoured by the beach’s beauty –“its sapphire-coloured shore break, its rockpools and its lagoon which hold back a fresh-water creek”.
“According to local legend, during World War II Japanese submarines would surface in Armands Bay and come ashore for freshwater,” reveals Masterson. No word on whether they were clothed or not.
Masterson even remembers the day in the 1970s when the beach was completely stripped (no pun intended) entirely of sand following big storms. “There wasn’t a grain of sand left,” he recalls. “You could hardly recognise it as beach.”
After attracting naturists for the best part of a century, when the Bega Valley Shire Council legalised the beach’s clothing-optional status on November 17, 1993, Masterton promptly set-up the Armanda Beach Leisure Group.
“We’re not a club or anything, just a bunch of people who regularly meet at the beach,” he explains. “Oh, and we also organise fun in the sun days to showcase our patch of sand to the wider community.”
For those nervous about visiting Armands for the first-time, Masterson has some advice. “It’s a clothing-optional beach, not a nude-only beach, so you can still come in your togs just like any normal beach.”
With no one around, I’m tempted to get my gear off to see if bathing in the buff really is all it’s made out to be, but I quickly chicken out after noticing the length of the pincers on the crabs frolicking in the rock pools at my feet.
While clambering back up the stairs from the beach to my car, a white-bellied sea eagle swooping low over the rainforest canopy sends a goanna slithering through the underbrush. This really is a nature-lover’s paradise.
Maybe a naturist and naturalist go hand-in-hand after all.
Armands Beach: This clothing-optional family-friendly beach is located near the end of Kullaroo Road, about 10km south of Bermagui. Please note nudity is limited to the extent of the sands of the beach. The Armands Beach Leisure Group’s next ‘Fun in the Sand Day’ is on March 10, 2019. There’s no cricket planned but there will be volleyball and other games. All welcome. www.armands.org.au
Window into the past: To discover more about Armand Lemmeric and other colourful characters from Bermagui’s past, including Zane Grey (prolific American adventure author who holidayed often on the south coast), pop into the Bermagui Museum (behind the Visitor Information Centre on Bunga St) Thursday to Saturday, 10am–2pm.
Naturist nooks: There are several ‘unofficial’ clothing-optional beaches on the south coast, including Moon Bay (yes, that’s it’s real name) in Mimosa Rocks National Park and Keef’s Pinch, Eden (although if you are after privacy, beware, as the salmon fishers drone over this bay quite frequently).
Further north, at Myrtle Beach in Murramarang National Park, the Batemans Bay District &Visitors Nudist Group is hosting a ‘Natural Day in the Sun’ on Sunday, December 9 from 11.30am. Meanwhile at Jervis Bay, the small un-named beach between Nelsons and Blenheim on the White Sands Walk near Vincentia is a regular haunt for those seeking that all-over tan.
Closer to home: If fresh water is more your style, a section of Kambah Pool on the Murrumbidgee River was designated as a nude bathing area under the Nudity Act 1976, prior to self-government.
Just when you thought there couldn’t be more stairs in Canberra that lead to nowhere (More Stairs to Nowhere, July 31), Craig Collins of Coombs has submitted this photo of stairs near the off ramp from Adelaide Ave onto State Circle, heading east.
Collins believes the stairs which “are just a hop skip and jump from the heart of the nation, once would have serviced a security booth”.
“Long since removed, these stairs are a reminder of how things come and go, often without us noticing.”
Meanwhile, Ian Burke of Campbell thinks he may have solved the mystery of the stairs ‘‘leading to nowhere’’ at Duntroon House.
“Steps going up a slight slope in the middle of a grassy expanse are not unusual in grand Victorian gardens, in England and in Australia (and probably elsewhere),” reports Burke. “There would originally have been two urns on the square flat bits on either side at the top.
“I used to think they were a fashionable landscape focus feature in those types of gardens, but a long time ago a very old lady told me that they are actually originally from the days when ladies wore crinolines.
“Apparently if you are wearing a crinoline, it is easier to walk down steps than it is to walk down a grassy slope.
“Judging by old photos of Duntroon – which show even the maids wearing voluminous skirts – there would have been quite a few strolling crinoline-clad ladies. ”
This column’s recent feature on the orchid rediscovered in a Canberra laboratory (Back from the Brink, October 27) prompted a number of readers to highlight other rare orchids found in our region, most located in tiny pockets of bush cemeteries.
Graham Moss reports that “the Prasophyllum petilum or Tarengo Leek Orchid is known to exist only at the Hall Cemetery and near Boorowa”, while several readers report that Majors Creek Cemetery is home to the aptly-named Majors Creek Leek Orchid that is found nowhere else on the planet.
It must be hard to find, for one miffed local laments, “Despite visiting the cemetery often, I’ve never seen one.”
The main reason that cemeteries are a hot spot for orchid biodiversity is that they haven’t been grazed nor planted with exotic pastures.
Daisy aficionados beware, at least in our region, perhaps the popular saying ought to be changed to “pushing up orchids”?
Contact Tim: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.
Where in Canberra?
Cryptic Clue: South American sunshine.
Degree of difficulty: Medium - Hard.
Congratulations to Phil Johnston of O’Connor who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo as the pedestrian underpass beneath Parkes Way that provides a safe pedestrian link between Anzac Park West and Commonwealth Park.
Phil reports he used to take his kids through the tunnel regularly “when they were young to play in the castle playground” and most recently dropped his youngest (now 18) to attend the ‘Spilt Milk’ [hence last week’s milk-related clue] festival held in the park last month.
Phil beat a number of other eagle-eyed readers, including Jordan Gannaway of Kingston, Dan Leslie of Curtin and Anne Levy of Aranda to the prize. Like Anne, many readers report they often “walk through the tunnel yelling out coo-ee!”
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday December 1, 2018 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.