After tip-toeing our way across the scorching ground we found the perfect location- a patch of cool sand just above the crashing waves. I pulled out my black and white checkered blanket, flipped it in the air a few times, and hello. It was then that I noticed that the woman behind us was topless.
Was I automatically a pervert for sitting next to the only topless woman at the beach?
I’d always assumed nude and topless sunbathers found safety in numbers, kind of like a herd of buffalo drinking water at the banks of a crocodile-infested river.
I also thought about the beaches of Rio and how everyone pranced around in thongs; parents and probably even grandparents as well. Being the only topless woman in that environment wouldn’t seem like such a stretch.
However, amongst a crowd of bikinis, one-piece suits, and men’s Puritanical knee-length board shorts, it struck my American sensibilities as unusual. I expected a group of hormonally-deranged teenage boys to show up at any moment. Five minutes passed. then another five. I don’t know, maybe they got distracted at the ice cream stand.
A few hours later we saw another topless girl strolling along the crowded beach.
Ok, so the woman behind us wasn’t the odd one out anymore… It still seemed awkward.
Later that day we headed north along the Bondi to Bronte Coastwalk. The path snaked in and out of the coastline like an undulating ribbon, exposing a new beach every time we turned a corner. Before reaching Bondi we stopped at Tamarama, a stretch of sand book-ended by rocky outcrops that cast a delicious shade.
We picked a spot under the ledge where the waves had smoothed the rocks into the shape of a bench. It was peaceful until a slender girl with faded violet hair appeared with her friends. When they pulled out their iPods and speakers we realized we had walked into a hipster grotto.
The group of girls shouted at their friends down in the ocean, held up packs of beer, and started stripping their clothes off. In the US that would be called indecent exposure, in Australia it’s called changing into your bathing suit.
The girl with the purple hair was the most brazen of all; her naked body and pale butt cheeks stood out against the dark rocky cliffs.
“Ha ha! I can’t believe they could see you changing all the way over in Bronte!” A friend of the girl exclaimed after hanging up his phone. From where we sat we could just see the southern curve of Bronte Beach.
The purple-haired girl couldn’t have cared less though. Her actions had a feeling of youthful defiance, of lackadaisical ballsy-ness, of couture fashion ads. It might have surprised a group of Americans, but it only elicited a few whistles from out in the ocean. The naked hipster in the background didn’t even deter an old woman from photographing her husband as he relaxed against the rocks, knee brace in hand.
The lifeguards didn’t circle round blowing angry whistles. The water wasn’t streaked crimson from the bleeding eyeballs of wholesome families and small children. The world didn’t end.
I was baffled. It must be an Australian thing.
How to get to the Bondi to Bronte Coastwalk: Buses 333, 380, 381 (to Bondi), 361 (to Tamarama) and 378 (to Bronte) stop near the Walk.