Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 23rd 2012
Get as bare as you dare
According to Section 5 of the Summary Offences Act of 1988, "wilful and obscene exposure" carries a maximum penalty of six months. The Act prohibits exposure of your "person" (which has been a legal euphemism for "genitalia" since the 1824 British Vagrancy Act). You have to be in or within view of a public place or a school for the law to apply, though, so you can be as wilful and obscene as you like in the privacy of your own home. What if you want to use your body as a tool of protest, though? In particular, what if you want to roll through Sydney naked on a bicycle, surrounded by a mass of naked flesh on either side? Well, that's still illegal. But it doesn't mean it's never been done.
The World Naked Bike Ride started in 2001 in Spain, and quickly spread to over fifty cities in twenty countries. While the biggest enthusiasm comes from North America and Europe, with some cities getting over five thousand participants in the ride, there's a growing Australian movement to join in. Melbourne scrounges a few hundred every year for the March ride, and around twenty brave souls brave the cold weather for the Winter Wonderland naked ride two months earlier. It's kind of a hippy, save-the-environment atmosphere, and you can roughly predict the turnout based on that (high in Byron Bay, for instance, and low in Sydney) but everybody's welcome.
You don't have to be totally naked. The motto is "as bare as you dare". Feel free to wear underwear, or pants, or a bikini, or just show up in your normal cycling gear to lend moral support. Or ride in the nude, with a flower necklace around your neck and several tubs' worth of body paint sweating off your back.
The organisers of the event have adopted a grab-bag approach to theme and purpose: like the Occupy movement, they've thrown a hundred different causes at the wall to see what sticks. They're concerned about raising the profile of nudism and naturism, protecting the environment, world peace, protesting nuclear energy, anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism, supporting good health and active lifestyles, making it safer for cyclists in cities, and so on. You might think that some of these causes contradict other causes, but that's almost the point. The World Naked Bike Ride is what you make of it – a sort of pre-packaged protest, event or rally that can fit almost any purpose.
Australians have tended to play down the more anarchic aspects of the ride, focusing instead on raising driver awareness of cyclists on the road. If you squint and hold your head just so, it makes sense: inadequate bike lanes, a hostile cultural atmosphere and insufficient legal protection are things that make cyclists feel exposed and vulnerable. Stripping down and riding naked makes that vulnerability obvious. Too obvious, according to some city police departments. The police have previously broken up attempts to hold a Naked Bike Ride in Sydney, even forcing participants to construct makeshift underwear out of duct tape and strips of bark – if you're doing it yourself, you might want to carry actual underwear with you just in case. It's much more comfortable and much less painful to remove.
Because of the questionably-legal (read: illegal) status of the Sydney Naked Bike Ride, the organisation is always going to be flexible. You can check out the Australian section of the official website for general information, or the Facebook page for more info. It's a community-run thing, so there's no official Naked Bike Ride Leader – if you're interested, and nobody else is speaking up, why not step up and run it yourself? Participating in the Sydney Naked Bike Ride could be the experience of a lifetime.
From the fun-loving larrikin society that Australia was 30-40 years ago to the 'awe of law' nation that is Australia today, we've become, arguably, the most regulated and law abiding society on the planet! So anything to rock the boat and have a laugh ... I think its still legal, is worth the effort, so sign me up for the SNBR .