POLICE officers caught a red-faced couple hooking up in Rosalind Park 150 years ago, giving an insight into the private lives of Bendigo's ancestors.
Quite why 25-year-olds Charles Coates and Maude Joy chose to have sex in the Camp Reserve (as it was known in 1871) is not specified in a Bendigo Advertiser account published a few days later.
But being caught came with a terrible price.
Such acts could be a big deal in a society that placed a premium on respectability.
A defense lawyer tried to argue for reduced sentences based on the disgrace that the incident had already bought the pair, as well as their previous good reputations.
The magistrate was having none of it.
Society's moral fibre was on the line. The pair were going to jail.
"If this thing were allowed to go on, what would be the result? Why, decent persons would not be able to visit the reserve," the magistrate said.
"It would become the place where all bad characters would assemble, and where all manner of filthy deeds would be perpetuated."
The park had a sordid reputation by late 1871.
Police had caught at least two other couples that December in an apparent crackdown on immoral behavior.
"The authorities are evidently determined to put a stop to the indecorous practices so common and notorious in the public reserve, and no doubt the examples made of those convicted will have a very salutary effect on others," an Advertiser journalist wrote approvingly.
Outdoor sex seemed to occupy more than a few Bendigo minds in 1871.
One man, a miner called P. Austin, was so appalled about the amount of sex people were apparently having on their way home from church that he wrote to the Advertiser.
"I have found out that there are ... a lot of young gents attending regular, and that the nice lot, my girls and other peoples' boys, after church, go some curious ways and paths together to get home," he thundered.
Austin blamed this immoral impishness on the late hours priests chose to hold services, and the long, lusty looks worshippers kept giving each other.
"That this leads to no good no one will question, and many crimes are committed through this church going in the long dark evenings," he said.
"I know too well that young people ... old ones, too, very often ... care nothing for the spouting from the pulpit. I cannot help bringing this serious matter forward, and I hope the clergy will alter their time in preaching from evenings to afternoons from two to four o'clock."
Austin said employers were partly to blame, too.
They kept giving his daughters time off of work for church, even though Austin worked such long hours, and his wife was so busy looking after the couple's youngest children.
Did they not understand how hard it was for their employee's poor, long suffering parents?
Could priests not do the Christian thing and listen to such reasonable requests?
The Advertiser's editor was intrigued by Austin's correspondence and went so far as to write a lengthy opinion piece that accompanied its publication.
The paper's boss said that Austin's fears spoke to those many parents had in a period where even innocent walks could destroy reputations.
"Some people are indignant because their unattended girls have been seen sauntering on their way with outer peoples' boys, and other people raise a virtuous howl because their boys can't go out without meeting with some peoples' girls," he said.
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Still, it was not the churches' fault young people were taking the long way home, the editor wrote.
The way he saw it, if parents had a problem with their children they should either walk with them or stop them leaving the house.
What Austin's girls thought of their father's fears - real or imagined - being published in the press is not clear.
They can't have been wild about the blunt speculation on their sex lives.
Of course, there was another reason any woman seeing their names attached to gossip about sex would have been worried.
Nineteenth century courts routinely dealt with women more harshly than men when it came to cases involving consensual sex.
Maude Joy - one of the women caught in Bendigo's Rosalind Park crackdown - appears to be classic examples of a 19th century gender bias.
She was sentenced to nine months jail. Her partner got six.
The magistrate said Joy was the "inducing cause".
Historian Brian Rhule has detected a similar bias in many cases he has investigated during studies on Bendigo crime enforcement throughout the decade to 1881.
"A woman was expected to display a higher moral standard than a man because she were regarded as the 'moral guardian'," he said.
"(Courts) tended to partly excuse the man's behaviour while condemning that of the woman's."
Joy's conviction was cut to two months imprisonment after concerned residents started a petition.
But that small mercy did not end her troubles.
Police dragged her back to court multiple times in the years that followed.
They said she had become an alcoholic and that she used bad language in public.
Perhaps she was an honourable woman struggling with the pain of the 1871 conviction.
Maybe she was a troublemaker.
Or she could have been using prostitution to try to make ends meet.
Being a prostitute was not a crime at the time - at least in the sense that there was no law forbidding it.
It was frowned upon, though.
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Police had all kinds of legal tools they could use to target women they believed were acting immodestly.
Prosecutors often linked women to public swearing, riotous behavior, vagrancy and public drunkenness.
They would then add in arguments that a woman was widely believed to be a prostitute, close their case and know the magistrate would probably take their word for it.
Those tactics were not just about enforcing a moral code, Dr Rhule said.
Officers might have genuinely been concerned about their target's wellbeing. This was an age before social support nets, after all.
"They would lock (someone) up on a drunk and disorderly charge, or a vagrancy charge, as a way of giving her shelter for the night," Dr Rhule said.
"You have to read between the lines on every one of these cases, and try to understand that woman's history to really understand what is going on."
Whatever officers' motivations for bringing Joy back to court, her thoughts about their attention were clear.
Police arrested her in 1874 for using "obscene and disgusting language" on the street, while drunk.
That night, Joy "willfully" destroyed items while locked in her cell.
That moment of rebellion only made her eventual fine more expensive.
Joy could not afford to pay it. She was sent back to prison, yet again.
Such was the price of protecting Bendigo's moral fibre.
This article is the latest in the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series entitled "WHAT HAPPENED?" Our thanks to La Trobe University's history department for its help with this story.
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