Locals rejoice after reclaiming 'sleaze beach'
JUST one year ago Tyagarah Beach between Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads was the kind of beach most people avoided.
For all it's natural beauty, the beach and the nearby tea tree lake was riddled with sleaze.
"The amount of people who doing sexual acts and predatory behaviour was huge, and a lot of it went unreported," longtime local Yuti McLean said.
"The energy was so sexually orientated you wouldn't go near it.
"Some of them were even w*nking in the car park."
Despite an 800m stretch of beach designated as clothing optional by Byron Shire Council, the nudity had overflowed well beyond the legal area and into nearby bushes and the notorious lake area.
Emboldened, sleazy elements had taken to using the area as variously a sex beat, a pervert's paradise, and a justication for public masturbation.
It was so bad for so many years that it was simply off limits for most locals.
Then about 18 months ago Ms McLean decided enough was enough and started a campaign to clean up the beach.
But things got worse before they got better.
In May last year, there was a spate of sexual assualts in Tyagarah Nature Reserve and in June a 31-year-old was raped in an unrelated incident further south at Belongil.
It put the issue front and centre on the radar of police.
Then in August, a woman in her 20s was walking a bush track near Tyagarah Beach when a 54-year-old naked man came up with an erection behind her. He was later charged.
Since then, there has been a zero tolerance crackdown on illegal nude bathing and lewd acts in the area, and Ms Mclean said the results had been remarkable.
"We feel the change is enormous," she said.
"The police of course are still coming out every day and making sure people are moved on who are not appropriate, but the overall difference is incredible."
"The beach is seeing mothers and children returning. It just feels completely different."
Ms McClean said the clean up was "desperately needed" and "we could not have done it without police".
In Facebook post, celebrating the reclaiming of the beach, she wrote that "Locals who have not come here for over 10 years are rejoicing they can feel safer here and will probably start having good old picnics here again like the old days".
It hasn't been without controversy, however.
Critics say the crackdown on nude bathing has been indiscriminate, with innocent "sun worshippers" caught in the crossfire and issued with $500 fines.
Local Sea Shepherd activist Dean Jeffreys has started up a Facebook page to "stop police harassment of naked sun worshippers" which encourages those fined for innocent nude bathing to fight the matter in court.
Mr Jefferys blamed the sexual harassment issue on the council dedicating a small isolated area as a nude beach rather than declaring most areas outside of main swimming areas as clothing optional.
He said his campaign was definitely not to "support any deviant behaviour", saying "I hope the magistrate throws the book at whoever is sexually harassing people".
However, he said police were "casting a very wide net, which seems to have captured half of the community with it." Mr Jefferys recently held a meeting between local police, Tyagarah residents, and the local naturist group, which included two people who were fined swimming naked in the lake.
He encouraged police to make the distinction between lewd and offensive behaviour and innocent nude bathing, otherwise they risked being seen as "out of touch" with community standards.
In the meantime, he is encouraging people who feel inappropriately fined to fight the matter in court - as he did successfully 20 years ago.
"Hopefully the magistrate will determine what is considered offensive according to community standards when these matters come before the court," he said.
For her part, Ms McLean said going nude in non-designated areas was a bit problematic while the sleaze was being stamped out.
"The problem is it's harmless (at first), but as soon as others see it they say 'I can do that do'," she said.
"It does set a trend, and that's what we've seen happen.
"It just got overtaken by people there to do nude for the wrong reasons.
She added that the controversy over some innocent people getting fined was outside of her focus - which was cleaning up Tyagarah beach.
The amount of people coming back now and having a good time is really amazing.
"It's a really nice vibe."