NEXT UP ON this.
Is it really illegal to go swimming at Melbourne’s Brighton Beach if you’re not wearing a neck-to-knee swimsuit? Or to be found transporting more than 50 kilograms of potatoes in Western Australia?
Or, as legend would have it, will you actually find yourself in the slammer if you’re sprung wearing hot pink pants after midday on a Sunday in Victoria?
While old-fashioned, strange laws – or local bylaws – such as these may or may not have existed at one time, they are largely urban myths nowadays, says Deakin law lecturer Dr Claudio Bozzi.
‘People call them all sorts of things, like zombie laws, or the undead laws.’
But Dr Bozzi says there is actually a technical term for the process of laws passing into disuse, which is desuetude.
‘It is linked to an old Latin phrase that says something like “the tooth of time gnaws away at the unused law”. Ultimately if the law just sits there, unused, then in some counties (but not all) the tooth of time will gnaw away at it until it disappears, so disuse, which is what desuetude is, is a way of rendering laws literally inactive.’
While such laws – such as the one against tying a goat to your vehicle and driving it through a public area – can seem pretty weird or irrelevant these days, they do provide an interesting porthole into another time.
However when there’s a dramatic change in society, laws that have fallen into disuse can very occasionally be reignited, Dr Bozzi says.
He gives the example of England’s vagrancy laws. ‘Those laws have gone historically through periods where they’ve found favour and they haven’t found favour.’ This is usually because those laws could be used to serve powerful interests in different ways.
While some Australian laws, such as those around noise controls, will probably never fall out of fashion, others may continue to befuddle.
‘My favourite obscure law is the Victorian law called the Rain-making Control Act, and it’s the one that sets out who can make rain,’ Dr Bozzi says.
‘My view is if you can make the rain fall people will love you, but apparently not, according to the Act. Don’t think that you can just make rain yourself – don’t interfere with clouds. You’ve got to be a certain person to make the rain fall.’
Think you can tell fact from fiction when it comes to strange Australian laws? Take our quiz below.
Subscribe for a regular dose of technology, innovation, culture and personal development.