It stunned me that summery afternoon. I kept turning to look, then turning away to try and read my book or stare at Table Cape in the distance….and then, repeatedly turning back for short bursts. I was trying my best not to be a perv, but she was seemingly oblivious to me. It was difficult fighting back the urge, to fasten my eyes on her and not let go. But I erred on the side of caution. I liked, really liked what I saw – that was obvious, so much so that I still remember it to this day. There was the initial incredulous shock then, with my peeks, I lapped her up. It couldn’t last forever and I had to leave her, the sole blessing of that was that the path back up to the road would take me even closer to the figure supine on the beach that afternoon. It must have been back in the late seventies or early eighties that this occurred. And I do link it to the Hef- Hugh Hefner – that it did actually happen – that she had the chutzpah to enliven my day. Not directly, of course, was there this linkage, but I don’t think it’s too long a bow to draw. She was there, quite brazen and unfettered, seemingly not caring who saw her. She must of known I was looking, but she remained on her back, eyes closed and what I was fixated on pointing up to the blue sky. Would she had had the confidence to do it in broad daylight had Hef not thrown back the shackles on womanhood a couple of decades previously. Some might say he just replaced them with another set, but I, along with Clem following, do not wholly agree.
Things were already on the turn, thanks to those red-blooded European types, by the mid-fifties, but until Hef came along the strictures were still to be unpicked, at least from where we in the antipodes took our cues from – the UK and the US. There was the Hays Code, you know, with all that hung off it, like the banning of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by the beige censorship men. But Hef, with a blond bombshell as his centrepiece, changed all that with the first issue of his magazine. Marilyn, short of a crust before she really struck pay-dirt in the movies, agreed to pose unburdened by clothing. Hef got hold of the prints and the rest is history. Didn’t pay her a cent, of course, nor ever apologised for using her body to bring him fortune and fame. But, to my way of thinking, HH had gone a long way towards placing another comparable golden vision before me that holiday afternoon.
I suppose the first time I did it it was akin to buying condoms at a pharmacy. It took a while to get up the courage. It was the Sandy Bay Newsagency where the monthly periodical waited for me. I’d been on a few scouting forays before I’d actually summoned the pluck to do the deed. I didn’t want to be seen hanging around the girlie section for too long. I didn’t want to be classed as a perv, you realise, for I wasn’t. Definitely not. I remember the issue was a big, thick one; the day I overcame my demons and went for it. I was at uni, of course. I was acutely interested in the freedoms that being on campus entailed, relatively speaking. After all, Tassie was so hicksville back then, even if Hobart had started to emerge a smidge. ‘Hair’ had come and we’d seen nudity on stage, as well as on the silver screen when I made trips to the Elwick Drive-in or the cinema now where Centrepoint is. They did, occasionally, show some pretty racy European product there. And then there was Alvin Purple. But at uni, especially in the degree I was doing (Arts), there was a cornucopia of delights to be had when casting an eye over the female student cohort, especially in the few summer months we were there before one and all rugged up for the long winter. Remember this was the time of cheesecloth and it was hip to not wear a bra. Those young ladies, all being at least reasonably intelligent, knew the power, hard won, they possessed in their futures, thanks to Greer, Friedan, Steinem et al. And they certainly knew the power they had over us poor dribbling males in the way they dressed. You’d be laughed at if Hef was included in that list of feminists – but the notion isn’t as silly as it may first appear. But, yep, he also did much to blot his copy-book as well – just in case you think I’ve completely gone off my trolley. But, at that marvellous time, being quite a shy boy from the sticks, I certainly wasn’t getting much action in my first few years as a boarder at an all male residential hall. I needed an outlet – and, once I found my way to the counter at that newsagency, his mag, hidden amongst various newspapers and a couple of worthy journals in the pile I took to the counter – perhaps a Time or a Rolling Stone – to pass over as well. I wouldn’t want to be outed as a total perv, Hef provided that outlet too.
Hand on my heart, I did read the articles. Everybody knows that Playboy had great writers contributing, as well as great bodies. But for me the mag’s main game was obvious. But I generally couldn’t see much attraction in the centrefolds though. To me those Playmates of the Month weren’t real – in little way did they resemble the girls that attracted me around the lecture theatres and tutorial rooms of uni. Even clothed they were far more alluring. But pictorial collections headed ‘Girls Next Door’ or ‘The Girls of France’ – well, now we’re talking. To me their states of uncladedness were the complete enticement to my imagination. Occasionally there were celebrities of repute – Ursula Andress, Joan Collins, Madonna and so on – but again, for me they were no match for ‘The Girls of UCLA’ or ‘Girls on Spring Break’, back in the day. Perhaps it was because they seemed far more attainable.
Almost as clearly as that captivating vision on Cooee Beach that arvo long, long ago, I vividly recall that purchase of my first Playboy. After that it became easier, but I bet it wasn’t the only item I passed across the counter each time, particularly if it was a lady on duty. And I stuck to Playboy down through the following years. There was a brief flirtation with Penthouse, but that publication’s articles weren’t up to scratch. I’m serious, really. I had little interest in the raunchier breed that followed – Hustler, Mayfair, Club International and so on. Beautiful breasts were what had my blood running – the lasses who appeared in these more revealing spin-offs were far too forward for my liking. No tease at all.
Yep, it was a lovely time to be around, from the early seventies into the eighties until the fun police, ‘slip, slop, slap’ and the digital age took it all away. These eventually combined to end my beach-going days, at least as far as sun-bathing was concerned. But from my earliest years, until well into my fifties, any beach was a magnet for me. I loved getting a tan, reading a book on a beach towel and breaking it up a little by watching the passing parade. With trips to places such as Noosa, Byron and Surfers during this period, my beach-watching included a fair amount of toplessness. At these meccas of brown bodies I’d frequently amble up and down the strands and dip my toes in the Pacific. Actually going for a swim never appealed in the slightest. I can’t deny that seeing half-naked women didn’t tantalise when I came upon them. But I tried to be discreet, in my ogling, by keeping a fair distance from them; giving them a wide berth. I wouldn’t want to be thought of as a perv, being only on the beach for one thing, would I?
Now back to that summer in question. Once upon a time I lived just across the Bass Highway from the shores of Bass Strait and for most of the time Cooee Beach was a peaceful spot, far less crowded than Hilder Parade or West Beach, both fronting Burnie’s CBD. I know, that day, she wasn’t there when I arrived, otherwise my towel wouldn’t have been as close to hers as it was. I would have paraded down the beach to put a more respectable distance between her topless display and myself. But, at some stage, I changed position to face the opposite way and there she was. Fulsome of figure, red bikini bottom and blonde-haired – perhaps early thirties, it seemed to me. She was tanned all over, so obviously dispensing with her top wasn’t anything new for her. I have often thought many times since why she’d positioned herself so close to me when she had an almost empty vista of sand to choose from? I’ll never know the answer to that, perhaps she figured I looked harmless (I was) and that being so near would provide some protection in case a more in-her-face type turned up and gave her a hard time. Eventually I had to depart and again, passing her – but not too closely – I wouldn’t want her thinking I was a perv – afforded me a closer view of her tantalising bosoms.
I went eagerly back across the road for weeks, after that, on sunny days, but she never re-appeared. Her wondrous disporting of herself has never left me though. Please don’t think I’m dwelling on this or that I’m weird. For me, it’s just a lovely memory – so totally unexpected in normally staid Burnie.
Now in recent decades Hefner has become a bit of a joke and he was certainly one of yesterday’s men, wasn’t he? But once upon a time he did create a climate for change and bucked the mores of the period. Not all he did was positive for women, we know that. But, as with Clem B following, seeing old stock of the magazine, from its glory years, still brings back a sense of nostalgia. It’s there for all the times I spent wandering around the university grounds in the four years I lived at that hall of residence. For me the campus was a wonderland of earthly delights and then, of course, there was my own personal blonde bombshell on Cooee Beach. Can we still buy US Playboy here. I know the Aussie version has long ceased publication. If I find the former, will I buy one? I know the ‘Girls of Summer’ won’t be there anymore as all its famed nudity has now been expunged from its pages, but will the articles still stand up? And does Hef deserve to RIP? Well, that’s for you to decide.
Clem Bastow on Hugh Hefner’s legacy = http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/hugh-hefners-legacy-is-as-much-a-quandary-as-his-playboy-magazine-20170928-gyqy4g.html