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A brief history of gonatural: New Zealand’s only naturist magazine

gonatural is the official magazine of the New Zealand Naturist Federation, a member-based organisation that is dedicated to informing the public about the benefits of naturism. Throughout New Zealand, NZNF-affiliated clubs are run by individuals committed to the naturist movement. gonatural has been their voice for the last 62 years.

The magazine was launched as The National Review in May 1956 by Stewart Ransom. In his first editorial, Ransom introduced his new venture with “from the tiny acorn grows the mighty oak”, as a symbol for what he hoped would become of the magazine.

Although he wished for it, Ransom couldn’t have predicted the longevity the magazine had now achieved. His proposal was to issue the magazine quarterly in February, May, August and November – a schedule that has been continuously upheld 62 years later.

The magazine received a revamped look in September 1958, with a new title: The National Naturist Review. A fitting new cover image was drawn by Wellington Sun and Health Society member Bob McIver which was used on every edition through to February 1963.

The November 1960 edition was the first to include photographs – editor Perc Cousins put out a call for photographs in the previous issue, urging readers to send through proofs with negatives. Cousins was regarded as the ‘Father of Naturism’ in New Zealand, because he advertised for other naturists to contact him via the UK’s Health and Efficiency magazine during the 1940s and 1950s.

The first edition, 1956.

It was a significant milestone for the publication, and Cousins wrote in the November 1960 edition: “These pictures will add to the interest of our readers, for all the descriptions in the world are never as good as the actual pictures.”

But with images came issues surrounding censorship. Current editor Michael P Moore says from the time images started popping up, editors were self-censoring some in order to avoid any accusations of creating explicit content. It wasn’t until issue 52 in 1969 when photographs were included without retouching.

The change came after Indecent Publications Tribunal findings from the year before proved that it wasn’t unlawful to print natural photographs. Cousins wrote at the time that members had been requesting unretouched images that better reflected the ideals of the movement. However, such content was still banned in Australia and the magazine went to the extra expense of providing Australian customers with a retouched edition.  

When Cousins left the editor position in 1961 (he returned to the role between 1964 and 1969 when he died in office), the new editor, Gerald Wakely introduced a new name: The New Zealand Naturist. He also introduced a change from the standard cover graphic in 1963, using a different photograph for each edition –  a practice that continues today.

During the 1970s, John Gilmour became the first editor to be financially compensated for his work running the magazine – with a salary of $5,000 per year (approximately $60,000 with today’s inflation).

Unfortunately, the early 1970s was also when the Australian Customs changed the rules to allow the import of ‘unretouched’ images – allowing Playboy in the country for the first time. The relaxing of the rules saw sales of The New Zealand Naturist plummet in Australia in 1974, a market which had been accounting for more than half the sales at the time.

When Gilmour ‘sacked himself’ at the end of 1974, the next editor, Eddie Kwok, restarted the magazine on its previous volunteer basis.

Long-time editor Graeme Brown wrote in the December 1988 edition that “twelve dedicated nudists” agreed to supply the magazine with “the largest and most comprehensive assortment of written materials” they had seen in nearly a decade. The content boost, plus increased sales producing a profit, was a turning point for the magazine, which had been struggling.

The December 2004 edition was nearly the last one, with financial issues again forcing the NZNF to consider whether it was viable to continue the publication. When Conrad Inskip was able to help with doing the magazine layout on the computer, the magazine was saved in time for the first 2005 edition.

The 2005 name change to gonatural was a strategic decision. Moore says they wanted a name that better reflected the essence of naturism – something that is completely natural.

“It was an important marketing ploy and it’s cited as a successful change. We’re conscious about how people look in the photographs, they’re not posed like models – it’s natural.”

In December 1976, nearly 20 percent of magazine sales were going to club members, six percent to private subscribers and the remaining 74 percent of sales were happening through newsagent sales. Today, the figures are different, with Moore saying people buying the magazines in shops were usually one-off purchases.

These days roughly 2,500 copies of gonatural are printed each run, plus more and more people are choosing to subscribe to the digital edition – with a few hundred more subscribing digitally. The biggest impact on subscriber numbers has always been club numbers, which have been dwindling in recent years.

Moore says the annual naturist rallies, participated by multiple clubs in New Zealand and hosted by the New Zealand Naturist Federation, used to have hundreds of attendees – including countless families with children. These days the numbers are significantly lower, and younger members are hard to attract – something Moore is conscious of.

“I’ve really actively tried to include content about younger people – with younger relationships and families involved. The demographics of the magazine is hard to pin down and it doesn’t just sit in with what you might expect, say the 50 plus age group.

“But I suspect that subscribers wouldn’t be younger people in their teens.”

This year, the decision was made to cease selling gonatural through outside distribution and in newsagents. Previously distributed by Gordon & Gotch, Moore says that while the numbers were reasonably good, it was a costly process.

“Now we’re trying to develop a relationship directly with subscribers to us. I know some people really like wandering down to the local newsagent to buy a magazine, and having it in stores also did the bigger job of promoting us to an audience who would never normally see it.

“It was a huge price for us to pay to have that exposure though, so we had to make a call.”

Throughout the magazine’s history, reaching people who don’t understand naturism has always been a core objective. Moore says the magazine is a tool to educate people to the lifestyle, as well as promote the benefits of naturism in terms of body image, mental wellbeing and socialising.

“Our core subscriber-base are members of the clubs, but naturism is old news for them. The magazine is great for our subscribers to share with their friends to explain their interest in naturism.”

Taking gonatural off the shelves does have an upside. When Les Olsen was editor in the 1990s, he made the decision not to put full-frontal nudity on gonatural covers – to prevent the need for the magazine to be sold in a paper bag. Moore says the practice did go against the philosophy of naturism, and now it won’t be sold through stores he hopes to be able to better express the movement.

While now an internal magazine sold through direct subscriptions, the magazine remains registered and has an ISSN.

As the editor, Moore is in charge of the bulk of the magazine’s content as well as his features, which cover everything from profiles on naturists to advice for protecting against the elements as a naturist and comment on global nudity movements such as the ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign. Regular features include letters to the editor, Miss Bareall writes (an agony aunt-style advice section), a history section that reflects on how public nudity has changed over the years, and an ‘Around the Country’ section.

“The thrill I get out of doing this magazine is sharing stories about people’s lives, about their families and their lives,” Moore says.

“It’s largely a good news magazine – with so much mainstream media reporting on bad news, these types of publications are powerful because we concentrate on sharing positive and uplifting stories.”

As well as Moore’s work, gonatural also provides a platform for volunteer contributors to share their work – both images and articles.

“I help create the lion’s share of the content, but we rely heavily on people out there in the club environment, as well as people who aren’t in clubs. I don’t just stick to subject matters with people who are related to the organisation, we know we have a wider role.

“Like any organisation, the wider role is to share a belief with a bigger audience.”

As well as its print edition, gonatural has made the move to digital and is available for digital subscription as well. Moore says it was necessary to provide the option, but he does not wish to see the print edition being ditched.

The December 2018 issue will be the 247th edition of the magazine.

Not only is gonatural bucking against the trend of print, it also stands out as one of the last of its kind in its own niche market. Naturist magazine numbers have dwindled globally, but a few have managed to stay afloat in trying times, including the UK’s H+E magazine which has been in continuous print since 1901, and Tan in Australia.

This was originally posted on StopPress.

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