The great Australian cover-up lands in hot water.
It was in the men’s change room, preparing for the delights outside, that I first noticed a strange phenomenon. The location was the Peninsula Hot Springs, a spa type establishment on Melbourne’s increasingly popular Mornington Peninsula, that in the last few years has itself rocketed so much in popularity, that visitors without an advance booking are regularly turned away.
In discussion with other blokes it appears the phenomenon I noticed there is the new order among Australian men in change rooms- guys covering their privates in front of other men, wearing bathing togs when showering or getting changed. I even noticed one fellow, wrapping himself in a beach towel before he removed his undies, as one might do on a public beach.
This was particularly poignant because the hot springs reminded us of a highlight of our European trip last year when we had visited a spa in a German town called Bad Wildbad, (the subject of an earlier blog entitled: ”From wurst to bad”). Not only did it have shared change rooms, but it had a ban on clothing of any kind in most parts of the sprawling complex. Once you got used to the idea that you could check out what had otherwise been private on others, just as easily as they could do so on you, embarrassment seemed to evaporate. Undressed we noted most people were no more stunning looking than us.
As hippy sympathisers growing up in 1960s-70s Australia, with our public bodily displays at events like Nimbin and the various Down to Earth festivals, it did not take us much to get used to German bathhouse ways. It seems to be much the same across most of western Europe, possibly excepting Britain. I remember nudist beaches across France and having my 34th birthday at one on the banks of the Danube in Vienna.
Jill tells me, behaviour in female change rooms is normal, so what is happening among Australian males? Surely it is not that Aussie blokes are more bashful than their European counterparts. Why are our young fellas so worried about others seeing their old fellas? I have a theory that might partly explain it- pornography. Maybe blokes are so used to looking at the feats of porn-star super-studs, they are worried to show their tackle, lest they feel inadequate.
Porn has become so ubiquitous, it is so easy to access on the net and the sex industry is so keen to make the public accept it as mainstream, that it even fields its own political party. We forget most porn is basically a freak show-
unnaturally endowed men consummating passion with equally freakish and usually artificially endowed women.
This brings me back to the Peninsula Hot Springs which are very unlike the German spa, which displayed signs that togs were “verboten.” Here they displayed signs that insisted bodies were to be clad in bathing suits. Perhaps a few Europeans had tried it on by not having anything on. We noticed a couple of Muslim women who were clad in much more that other people, but I suppose at least they feel free enough to get out and enjoy themselves.
On the day we visited, New Years Day mid afternoon, the place was packed and they had closed it off to any more visitors. This posed a peculiar problem which seemed contrary to the spirit of modesty. Some pools were so packed they resembled a kind of a kind of human soup, slowly cooking in water up to 40 plus degrees. Here was the irony- while one could not gawk at any fully exposed body, sometimes it was impossible not to touch one, despite the most abstemious intentions.
Our day was coolish Mornington Peninsula summer, with grey skies and drizzly south westerly winds. We started at the top first visiting the exposed Hilltop Pool, which was packed and offered a view over a countryside that could have been the Yorkshire moors. The water was so warm that the cold wind and rain sprayed a welcome cool on our faces.
Down the gully, the so called “silent pool” felt like a Japanese onsen, with water running through rocks and overhanging trees, but its spirit was defied by a pair of South American women who couldn’t stop talking. Further down a very hot small pool offered a chance to stew any bodily parts left uncooked by the slow cookers above.
For those who prefer to heat themselves without water there is a sauna and a Turkish hamam which was only spoiled by a shortage of the aluminium dippers needed to pour cool water over yourself. There were only two. The Turkish tiles and taps were a nice touch though.
All up there are 20 pools and a large but unswimmable lake in the cheaper and more popular section which is known somewhat confusingly as the Bathhouse, curious because all the pools are outside. In a separate section is the ”Spa Dreaming Centre,” considerably more expensive, and offering a range of treatments and therapies, plus the added attraction of private hot pools. Presumably those who can afford a private pool will be able to enjoy what the Germans are able to enjoy in public.