A man in regional Victoria is alleging that his local council has attempted to block him from holding private nude events on his property.
Kevin Smith, who lives outside of Benalla in north-eastern Victoria, has been holding NudeManFest gatherings with about 50 primarily gay and bisexual men since 2011.
“It has all the ideology of a Men’s Shed, except we remove our clothes,” Smith told the Star Observer.
He was inspired to start his own event after visiting nude beaches and venues in other parts of Australia.
Smith said NudeManFest ran three times each year without incident until offenders committed what he believes was an act of homophobic vandalism.
A police officer himself for 30 years, Smith reported to police in 2016 that a large quantity of oil was dumped in the driveway of his property.
While the offenders were found and eventually charged, Smith said the event was referred to the Benalla Rural City Council, and he has since been subjected to increasingly complex and expensive red tape to keep his events going.
After complying with the council’s initial request that he apply for a permit, Smith said he was subsequently asked to make changes including upgrading his driveway, and lodging traffic management and fire management plans.
Last year, the council reportedly told Smith that an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plan would be needed, which could cost upwards of $20,000.
“If everyone else had to go through these hoops, not a problem,” said Smith.
“It was absolutely exhausting.”
Smith said his permit came with restrictive conditions, including that there was to be no music at all during the event.
NudeManFest team member David Cundy said that the council scrutiny of the events has been “in the extreme”.
“It is clear that there is a high level of homophobia in the council and amongst some locals, and we feel that the council is determined to confound any attempts for Kevin to have events on his property,” Cundy told the Star Observer.
Locals have also allegedly made numerous false claims to the council about the events, including that men had been causing distress by “flaunting their nudity”, and what Smith called “outrageous claims” about environmental impacts such as river pollution and animals being traumatised.
After “a really ugly and homophobic council meeting” over whether he had breached his event permit, Smith was taken by the council to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal several times between 2015 and 2017 with no resolution.
The council has reportedly inspected the property, bringing police officers along on the most recent occasion, which he said he considered intimidation.
Smith and Cundy said the council has previously allowed nudist events, including a nude bike ride in town, but are applying disproportionate scrutiny to a gay event.
“I’ve been a cop for a long time, and this sort of stuff is outrageous,” Smith said.
He plans to continue legal action against the council so that he can hold gatherings in the future.
“This is a fight for my rights, every gay man’s rights, to be able to live their life as they choose without undue scrutiny by other people,” said Smith.
“I’ve had a lifetime of absolute homophobia. This time I’m not taking it.”
*Benalla Rural City Council has been contacted for comment.