Saturday, November 15, 2008

A short biography, Part 3.

Chidley did not enter public life until the late age of 51 years, just over two years after Ada’s death. His autobiography reveals his interest in the issues of sex, dress and diet to have been longstanding. His manuscripts which are held in the Mitchell Library include correspondence between himself and the English writer Havelock Ellis as early as 1900. It appears that it was Ada’s death that propelled Chidley into public life at least in part as a means of dealing with his own grief. In a letter to Havelock Ellis several weeks after Ada’s death Chidley hinted at his forthcoming mission:

“Poor Ada died – demented – in the hospital on the first of this month. She had been living with me for the last 2 years – part of myself has gone – and that I have failed as far as she and I are concerned. It is only the thought of others that keeps me alive now”.

After numerous unsuccessful attempts at obtaining a publisher for his philosophical essay “The Answer”, Chidley self-financed the first edition of his work. With copies of “The Answer” for sale Chidley entered the public domain to publicize it. His entrée into public life occurred at Melbourne and was favourably received by the Melbourne Herald in March 1911. The story described Chidley as a “tall, well built man, about 50, with the bronzed limbs of a surf bather”, dressed in a neck to knee bathing costume. The article quoted Chidley on the health benefits of his form of clothing and reflected on the attentions of the crowds to this “bronzed stranger”. The Herald stated that Chidley “was not a lunatic, but a scholar and philosopher, who had the courage of his convictions”.

With the assistance of H. H. Champion, an Englishman famous for his trade union activities, Chidley had the first edition of “The Answer” placed in several bookstores including Coles Book Arcade. Wanting further publicity for his cause Chidley ventured to Sydney in May 1911 and appeared in his bathing garb in the Sydney Domain. With relatively few takers for his essay he began parading the streets of Sydney in a bathing costume with a sandwich board upon his back publicizing “The Answer”.

It was only a matter of days before Chidley accumulated the first of nearly thirty (30) criminal convictions. Charged with behaving in an offensive manner in George Street, Chidley was fined 5/- and the book forwarded to the Crown Law Authorities. Chidley informed the Magistrate, Mr Smither, that “People will eventually discard a lot of the clothing now worn. They ought to live to 130 years”.

Chidley returned to Melbourne shortly thereafter and soon experienced difficulties with the Victoria Police. On 25 September 1911 Detective Burvelet attended Chidley’s home and confiscated seven copies of “The Answer”. Upon visiting Coles Bookshop two copies were bought, together with a further two purchased from H. H. Champion. Champion, Cole and Chidley were summonsed to the Melbourne District Court on 8 October 1911, and whilst Cole pleaded guilty to having the offensive literature, Champion and Chidley were defended by counsel, Maurice Blackman. Chidley was fined 5 guineas and the books were impounded and destroyed.

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