On this day January 12: Black Rock Beach arrests

posing as homosexuals black rock beach january 12

The Melbourne Age reported on January 12, 1977, that police admitted entrapping gays at Black Rock Beach by imitating supposedly homosexual mannerisms, including a ‘particular walk’.

Image courtesy Australian Queer Archives.

A particular walk? F_cking hell!

Police told the Age they assigned ‘most unlikely looking policeman’ to the operation. Translation: hot young bathing-suit-clad recruits a few doughnuts short of the regulation beer belly.

“Chief Inspector Sutton said police studied homosexuals through binoculars so they could imitate their mannerisms.

“Police posing as homosexuals used a ‘particular walk’.

“Inspector Gething said the policeman’s acts were so successful they had their bottoms pinched, and one officer had been fondled.”

What a waste of resources. If police needed lessons on mincing, they could have just whacked on a video of Are You Being Served? Which – btw – was a comedy with exaggerated mannerisms for humorous effect. You know – like the Keystone Cops. (A reference for all our readers aged 120 and over.) However, Gething wasn’t a get-the-joke kinda guy. He told the paper, “But our operation is aimed not only at nude bathers and homosexuals. It is also against people stealing from cars and against vandals and louts.”

Oh, he had a sense of humour after all.

Numbers of homosexuals arrested: 68, nude bathers: 48, people stealing from cars: ZERO, vandals: ZERO, and finally, a total of precisely ZERO louts!

Camp Ink

Melbourne gay organisations previously became aware of the operation through calls to a helpline. As reported in Camp Ink, the Victorian Homosexual Law Reform Coalition wrote to Chief Secretary Vance Dickie protesting both the entrapment and the blatant discrimination. The gay beachgoers were charged with ‘loitering for homosexual purposes’.

“This law has no heterosexual equivalent… No law proscribes loitering in a public place for heterosexual purposes.”

The coalition reported that the faux homosexuals initially gazed at men on the beach before engaging them in casual conversation.

“Posing as friends, they ask leading questions, presumably with the intention of eliciting incriminating evidence.”

The cops quickly arrested anyone who propositioned them. But they did not give up on those who didn’t. They detained ‘suspects’ and extracted confessions ‘by the threat of prison and publicity in newspapers’. When one man refused to confess, police interrogated him for three hours before he eventually signed a statement under duress.

From bottom-pinching to arse-kicking

Response to the article came quicker than you can say ‘Varda the dolly basket on mincing Lilly Law’.

No bottom-pinching for Chief Inspector Sutton and Inspector Gething. No, they got their arses kicked instead. The Acting Deputy Chief Commissioner denied police either imitated or entrapped homosexuals. He said the local commander merely instructed the young cops to “put on bathers and go to the beach and see for themselves.”

See what for themselves, he never explained.

Letter writers, newspaper columnists, civil libertarians and the Labor opposition expressed outrage. A group of 40 lawyers offered to ‘take on the police’. A barrister stated that the lawyers “would consider counter-charging the police with loitering with intent to commit a homosexual act.”

Gay organisations also organised picnic rallies at Black Rock Beach to protest police harassment. They erected black flags with pink triangles, an early gay rights symbol based on the mark used to identify gays in Nazi concentration camps.

Meanwhile, a poll showed 57% of Victorians thought the law should treat homosexual and heterosexual acts equally, with only 30% opposed.

Melbourne Age columnist Claude Forell wrote, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if the latest police persecution of homosexuals were to precipitate reform of an oppressive and discriminatory set of laws.”

As Graham Willett, Wayne Murdoch and Daniel Marshall explain in Secret Histories of Queer Melbourne, that’s what happened. The heavy-handed police action contributed to the growing momentum for decriminalisation. Victoria, which retained the death penalty for sodomy until 1949, long after other Australian jurisdictions, finally repealed the sodomy law in December 1980, effective March the following year.

Read more: January 11 <— On this day —> January 13

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