The body of the Meter Maid has become a type of public entertainment.
Paul McCartney penned his pop song "Lovely Rita" in 1967, he is said to have been inspired by a female parking inspector who gave him a ticket. The Gold Coast Meter Maids, launched by the Surfers Paradise Progress Association just two years before, did exactly the opposite.
Gold Coast Meter Maids were introduced in the 1960s, with fears that the installation of parking meters would drive tourists away. The job of the meter maids was to put coins into expired parking meters ensuring that no one got a parking fine.
Wearing gold bikinis and high heels and armed with sixpence coins they topped up the newly installed parking meters and posed for pictures with grateful motorists and anyone else who wanted a souvenir of the glitzy Gold Coast strip.
Surfers Paradise Meter Maids became such a synonymous part of the Gold Coast experience that they travelled nationally and internationally, sometimes with flamboyant Gold Coast Mayor Sir Bruce Small, promoting Queensland as a tourist destination in the 1970s.
The Meter Maids are a product of their time, a product that commodified women in an era when commodification was the norm. However, their ongoing existence displays that society still condones institutions that view women’s bodies as sexual objects.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke thought it was acceptable to have a photograph of himself flanked by two Meter Maids published on the front cover of Penthouse, as Tony Abbott thought it was acceptable to stand with a sign that stated “Julia: Bob Brown’s Bitch”. Both examples reflect society’s normalisation of the degradation of women in public space, even by high-ranking politicians.
Once the justification of their existence, the Meters Maids no longer top up the parking meters, due to their replacement by paper ticket machines. Instead of depositing coins in the meters, pairs of gold bikini-clad women now tout for business, charging tourists to have their picture taken with them.
While the Meter maids were once promoted by the Surfers Paradise Chamber of Commerce, they distanced themselves in the 1990s due to many of the Meter Maids appearing in soft-core and sometimes hard-core pornographic magazines. On February 4, 2001, the Sunday Mail reported that the meter maids were promoting for the local strip clubs.
From today’s Meter Maid you can purchase bikinis, beer coolers, T-shirts, mugs, bar runners, calendars and posters, all covered with highly sexualised images of Meter Maids. These pornographically styled products include photographs of a woman’s torso and breasts shaped to form a beer cooler.
The Meter Maid is essentially ‘live’ advertising of female bodies for the male gaze. The body of the Meter Maid has become public entertainment as it would be in a strip club, without being subject to the same regulations as sexual entertainment.
Meter Maids as bikini-clad women for entertainment blur the lines with the strip club industry. Their role in the general public space normalises sexual objectification and pornified culture.
Mayor Tom Tate has said the maids no longer fit the revamped image the Gold Coast is trying to project.
“The meter maids are part of our history, but we’ve long since moved on,” he said.
Even in a town where women walking in bikinis is the norm, Meter Maids are a product of sexism as they exist from commodification. It isn't just the bikini or the high heels: it is the blatant objectification, the reduction of young women to the role of souvenir.
About the Author: Judy McCue has worked in the media, marketing and education. She has been around long enough to still think that two of the best things that ever happened to women in Australia (after the Pill of course) was two books. 'Damned Whores and God's Police' and 'The Female Eunuch'. Thank you, Anne Summers and Germaine Greer.
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