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A list that could go on forever…

Week 6: Things that were once illegal
By Daniel Browne

No matter how far you look back through history, there will always be practices that were not only once considered legal, but were also widely accepted and even encouraged. Here are just a few:

Beating one’s wife

Those of you who have seen The Boondock Saints (1999) will have heard that “in the 1900’s it was legal for men to beat their wives, as long as they used a stick no wider than their thumb”, hence the expression ‘rule of thumb’. The term is at least three centuries older than that, but my point remains that giving your wife a flogging was perfectly legal less than a hundred years ago. All that said, the character who I’ve quoted gets her lights knocked out by a bloke anyway.

Beating one’s child

Child abuse was only made illegal towards the end of the 1800’s. I’m not too sure why though; the threat of a good beating would have prevented much of the lawlessness that seemed to take over my life as an adolescent. When it comes to guitarists, however, it’s still perfectly legal for them to ‘finger A-minor’.

Certain motoring offences

Astonishingly enough, up until mid-December 2011 it was legal to consume alcohol whilst operating a motor vehicle in Victoria. Using a mobile phone while driving is also a no-no, but masturbating while behind the wheel isn’t–as long as it doesn’t serve as a distraction and you’re not indecently exposing yourself to anyone. Note: car-jacking is a completely different offence.


Found yourself suffering from tension, apprehension, anxiety, depression, insomnia, suicidal ideas, delusions, hallucinations, crying spells, melancholia, obsessions, panic states, disorientation, psychalgesia, nervous indigestion or hysterical paralysis? Perhaps all of the above?  Then 50 odd years ago you’d have been up for a good ol’ fashioned frontal lobotomy, and most likely not by choice either. Don’t worry though, these days there are hundreds of prescription meds that’ll put you into a perfectly vegetative state without having to result to taking an ice-pick to the brain.


The sale of water pipes (bongs) was a completely legal practice in Australia until last year. When I asked a retailer–while looking for a gift for a friend, of course–why they were still selling brass and glass pipes the best answer they could come up with was, ‘they’re for tobacco’.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen someone smoke ‘baccy’ through a hand-crafted colour-changing glass pipe emblazoned with marijuana leaves, but there are plenty of videos on YouTube of people smoking cigarettes through water pipes (for what reason I have no idea). Regardless of the hypocrisy, I know I’ve been saving my Gatorade bottles, have you?


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