1931 Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act

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1931 Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act


By: Queensland Parliamentary Council

Date: 1931

Source: Queensland Parliamentary Council. Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act. 1931.

About the Author: The Queensland Parliamentary Council is part of the elected representative form of government in Queensland, a north-eastern state in Australia.


In an effort to legislate morality, the government of Queensland, Australia passed the Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act in 1931. The law targeted a wide range of behaviors that were believed to pose a threat to society, including prostitution and public nudity as well as gambling. Violators were subject to a fine of 50-100 Australian dollars (about 68.5-137 American dollars) and imprisonment of up to two years.

The Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act punished women for using premises for the purposes of prostitution. The aim of the legislation was not to suppress prostitution entirely. Australia had a long history of tolerating prostitution, in part because the vast majority of the first European immigrants to the country were male. Australian legislators generally accepted prostitution as a necessary evil that kept men from seducing or raping respectable women. Instead, the Queensland government sought to control the more offensive side-effects of prostitution. They did not want prostitution to be carried out in an open and flagrant manner. Police typically gave women sex workers summonses under the act but did not harass the patrons of prostitutes.

The legislation did target pimps. Changes to vagrancy laws across Australia in the early twentieth century made living off the proceeds of prostitution a criminal offense. The targets of these laws were white slavers, men who were assumed to have tricked innocent white girls into a life of prostitution. Concern about this practice was worldwide, fueled by sensationalist newspaper and magazine reports of an international white slave traffic. In most cases, these stories had racist overtones, with the white slavers typically portrayed as Asian or immigrant men who corrupted virtuous Anglo-Saxon females.



4.(1) Any person who—Vagrants

(a) having no visible lawful means of support or insufficient lawful means, does not, on being charged before a court, give to its satisfaction a good account of the person's means of support;

(b) is the occupier of a house frequented by reputed thieves or persons who have no visible lawful means of support;

(c) being an habitual drunkard, behaves in a riotous, disorderly, or indecent manner in any public place;

(d) habitually consorts with reputed criminals or known prostitutes or persons who have been convicted of having no visible lawful means of support;

(e) in a house or place frequented by reputed thieves or persons who have no visible lawful means of support, is found in company with reputed thieves or such persons, and does not, on being charged before a court, give to its satisfaction a good account of the person's lawful means of support, and of the person being in such house or place on a lawful occasion;

(f) plays or bets at any unlawful game, or plays or bets in any street, road, highway, or other public place at or with any table or instrument of gaming at any game or pretended game;

(g) without lawful excuse (the proof of which shall be upon the person)—

(i) is found in any dwelling house, warehouse, coach-house, stable, or outhouse, or in any enclosed yard, garden, or area, or on board any vessel in any port, harbour, or place, or in or upon any mine or claim as defined by the Mining Act 1898 or any Act amending or in substitution for the same;

(ii) has in the person's custody or possession any picklock key, crow, jack, bit, or other implement of housebreaking, or any dangerous or explosive substance;

(iii) has in the person's custody or possession any instrument of gaming or any instrument which, in the opinion of the court, is constructed or kept or used as a means of gaming or cheating;

(iv) willfully exposes his or her person in view of any person in any public place;


The Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act of 1931 had became obsolete and the subject of mockery by the new millennium. While the legislation primarily targeted vagrants and gaming, it also made it illegal for Queenslanders to wear slippers outside the home at night, to carry dark lanterns, vomit in public, walk home while drunk, use offensive language in public, and make too much noise while in a park at night. Some of the provisions were regarded as unjust in a modern society while other parts of the legislation were phrased in language that needed to be amended to suit the modern era.

The segment of the act that came under the heaviest attack banned nude sunbathing and nude swimming in public areas. Both the Australian Tourism and Police Ministers worried about the effects of the law on tourism, especially on international tourism. The Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) and the Queensland Government spent considerable sums to induce foreigners to visit Australian beaches. In 2000, ATC promoted Australia as a free-spirited country and included shots of nude bathing on a Sydney beach in its advertisements. In response to demand, ATC also produced a fact sheet in reference to nudist vacations and advised potential tourists of the availability of clothing optional beaches. No one told visitors that Queensland police might arrest them, take them to court, and fine them for sunbathing in the nude. The other Australian states and territories had long legalized nude bathing at certain beaches.

Accordingly, the 1931 act was replaced by the Summary Offenses Bill of 2004 that sought to allow police to prevent serious crime by tackling lower-level offenses. Under the new law, willful exposure, begging, being drunk in a public place, and piercing the nipples or genitals of a child all remained illegal. The new legislation was part of the Australian government's child protection reforms. The additional new legislation that aimed to protect children required registered nurses to report suspected child abuse and expanded the monitoring powers of the Child Guardian.



Daniels, Kay. So Much Hard Work: Women and Prostitution in Australian History. Sydney: Fontana, 1984.

Perkins, Roberta, Garrett Prestage, Rachel Sharp, and Francis Lovejoy, eds. The History of Female Prostitution in Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales, 1994.

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1931 Vagrants, Gaming, and Other Offenses Act