Australian states regulate sexual freedoms with a surprising amount of inconsistency, and nowhere is this truer than Queensland. For example it's legal there to sell R-rated videos, but not R-rated magazines. Laws around the legal age of consent are also a little strange, with 16 being the standard, but anal sex banned until 18. And then there's all the red tape around swinging.
Swingers clubs in Queensland must be in commercial areas with specific zoning. They can't charge for entry unless they're a licensed brothel. If alcohol is for sale, there can't be any sex, nor can there be any unwrapped food. There also can't be any sex in public areas, such as dance floors, and properties must open themselves up to frequent council inspections. The upthrow of all this is that unlike NSW or Victoria, swingers in Queensland have only a handful of venues, and just one on the Gold Coast: the illustrious Chateau Vino. (The club makes money through a complicated system of memberships).
Hidden away in the industrial suburb of Molendinar, Chateau Vino boasts a BYO bar, a dance floor, a stripper pole, an outside area for smokers, and 11 "play rooms" for their patronage of people aged 20 to 55. And while swinging isn't really my thing, I went along on a Saturday night to see how Sunshine State laws have affected the local scene.
It was Pirates of the Caribbean night at the Chateau and I arrived to find some wenches watching porn and gossiping at the bar. Off to the side, a group of Captain Jacks shot pool and eyed off the wenches. The atmosphere had an unmistakable sexual charge but I was surprised by how comfortable I felt.
As mentioned, there can be no sex or nudity in Queensland's public clubs. If a single nip slips in a Queensland bar the club owner is liable for a $4,000 AUD (2,500€) fine. Consequently "playing" is restricted to the playrooms, which is actually sort of futile as the doors to these rooms are often purposely left open. As I talked to a guy called Mick, who owns the bar, it was impossible not to notice a bunch of fake Jack Sparrow dreadlocks flailing through an open doorway.
"The swinging scene on the Gold Coast is unique because it's social," Mick told me while sipping a chardonnay, his arm curled around his wife's waist. "Most places around Australia, and most other parts of the world, are much more hardcore. You go to a club or a gathering and by 10 PM everyone's naked and fucking."
Mick explained that because of this difference, Muggles (what swingers call non-swingers) don't feel completely out of place at Chateau. This in turn creates an oddly platonic side to the place.
"People go to most organized orgies with one thing in mind," said a scantily-dressed woman named Sherry, standing next to her husband. "But when we come to this place, we don't arrive with expectations. We come to socialize and feel sexy, and if something happens, then something happens."
The Gold Coast swinging lifestyle is geared towards middle-aged couples. That's why Mick says that Chateau Vino offers two things—a place to play, and a place to party, even if you're not there to swing.
By 12:30 AM I was standing at the bar with two couples, one from Melbourne, one from South Africa, both fully clothed. The Melbourne couple had just flown up for school holidays. "We found a babysitter for the kids, went out for a few drinks in Surfer's Paradise and came here," they explained. They told me they knew most of the people as they came through the door, greeting them with kisses and longish hugs. "We come almost every time we're up here. It's like one big family, and it's neat because not all places are like that."
Of course there's another side to Chateau Vino. As the night wore on more and more people dispersed to the private rooms and soon the bar was mostly empty. Couples still loitering in the main area began leaning in a little too close for comfort, whispering sweet tales of their exploits. Out of curiosity I wandered past some playrooms, checking out how many rooms were occupied and by how many people. I was surprised by the sheer quantity of bodies; it seemed to me that a lot had walked straight past the bar and and got into it.
So what do swingers really think of Queensland's sexual restrictions? Throughout the night almost everyone I spoke to mentioned that, whenever possible, they seek out a more hardcore experience. One couple even described their annual trip to a three-day sex retreat. "Yeah, we go to this retreat every year," the woman said. "It's definitely what we look forward to. I mean, by the end of the weekend I can barely stand up!"
And that's the crux of it. Swingers don't go to clubs like Chateau just because they want to socialize. I don't think sex should be governed but if Queensland wasn't a such nanny state and nudity was permitted in public spaces, the entire club would have been hammering away right on the bar. I guess that's where my preconceptions about swingers get a bit snooty. I might be too judgmental or close-minded to appreciate the highs of sexual maturity, but for the purposes of my Saturday night I appreciated some lawfulness. Even if all signs of modesty were only a facade.