Clothing is optional
The first thing to mention is that WNBR is clothing optional. You can go totally naked or wear a space suit if you want or anything in between. It is your choice and organisers will not pressure participants to do anything against their convictions. Additionally we will not tolerate participants pressuring other participants to dress or undress. Obscene or lewd behaviour by participants will not be tolerated as the WNBR is totally non-sexual in nature.
The following passages are extracted from the ride report on the Melbourne 2006 page:
About 15 people gathered at Smith Reserve between 2pm and 3pm and began the dressing down and body painting session. The police drove by and spoke to one of our clothed helpers, but no instructions were given, and so the ride began.
Another group of police were grappling gently with a gentleman in the Atherton Gardens Estate. They waved. Yet another police car passed us going the other way up Brunswick Street. They waved too. ...the majority of people were happy to see us.
(We rode) past the Lord Newey Hotel, when we heard the friendly 'woop' of a police car. Pulling over, we were asked to clothe our bods as `there had been a complaint!' Hard to believe, considering that the overwhelming majority of bystanders were happy and entertained to see us – still there's always one! And it only takes one to spoil the fun.
Considering that we were nearing the end of the planned route, and since they asked nicely, we did as we were asked and the police officers thanked us and drove away with a smile and a wave.
- See full ride report on the Melbourne 2006 page.
The following passages are extracted from the ride reports on the Melbourne 2007 page:
The police chose a more tolerant approach than last year. One officer showed up at the start. He told us we were welcome to do the ride (as bare as we dared), but that the police were concerned about us being targeted by onlookers. Generally a very positive interaction and he was given a route map. He said that he contacted the relevant precincts to let them know we'd be passing through. Not bad eh.
...where all the cyclists were meeting, which was University Square in Carlton. A friendly policeman pulled up and told us that no police had been assigned to our action so he was the only one on duty for us. He didn't care what we did, he told us, "If you want to get naked and ride around the Melbourne streets, I don't care" his only concern was that other people might be of a threat to us. Drunk bullies in cars mostly, being that it was Saturday evening, and once some people hop into a car they feel empowered to dominate public space. The policeman also told us that we should adhere to normal bike riding rules like wearing a helmet, lights and sticking to the bike lanes, but he also said that we could ride on the road if we wished but we did so at our risk.
The ride was well received by the public.
...cheers and screams from people in restaurants, standing up and applauding, ... with mass hysterics and applause, waves, thumbs up, smiles, laughs,...
- See full ride reports on the Melbourne 2007 page.
The following passages are extracted from the post ride press release and ride report on the Melbourne March 2008 page:
Two police officers met the group in the park while they were painting their bodies with slogans and preparing for the ride. They were willing to offer any support and confirmed that riding naked was not a problem especially in the liberal minded Fitzroy precinct. Not long after 2 squad cars and senior police arrived and after discussions with the police the ride was escorted to ensure that the safety of the riders was observed and also so that the riders didn't offend any onlookers. Women were allowed to ride naked but men were considered offensive. Melbourne is the only city in Australia where men were not allowed to ride naked yet women were allowed to be completely naked. It seems discriminatory against men to say that they are somehow inherently obscene due to a chance of birth.
The riders were told by Police that the male body was illegal although the female body was not. Several female riders rode completely naked while all men were threatened with arrest by Police if they did not wear pants. Riders posed naked on the steps of VIC Parliament House. No riders were arrested.
The ride was well received by the public.
They were cheered and car horns tooted...
- See full post ride press release and ride report on the Melbourne March 2008 page.
The following passages are extracted from the post ride press release and ride report on the Melbourne June 2008 page:
- From Pre-Ride Details
WINTER WONDERLAND - WORLD NAKED BIKE RIDE
This is a secret night time ride.....
- TIME: 7pm
- DATE: FRIDAY 6th JUNE 2008
- WHERE: Meet at the UNION HOTEL (cnr Web & Gore Sts) Fitzroy.
Once everyone has arrived and had a few drinks and a good yak we will ride to a undisclosed location to de-brief and paint slogans and decorate our bikes and bodies in preparation for the mid-night start.
This time...we are prepared and are supported by a police liaison lawyer......protecting our rights...Guys you now have the chance to go naked!
- From the Ride Report
The riders had an enjoyable evening at the Union Club Hotel with several supporters in attendance. At about 10pm the riders retreated to the privacy of the secret venue where body paint was applied.
12 riders, 10 men and 2 women, most of who were naked, took to the streets of Fitzroy at midnight for the WNBR Winter Wonderland Melbourne 2008.
This ride promised to avoid the discriminatory attention of the Police who made only the male riders dress in Summer. The sneaky organising tactics worked and the riders avoided the police completely.
- From the Post Ride Press Release
At 11pm the riders retreated to private premises to strip and paint, avoiding a repeat of the discrimination inflicted by Police, experienced during the March WNBR. In March, Police insisted naked male riders were obscene and threatened arrests while allowing female riders to remain completely naked.
At midnight the protesters rode blissfully bare into the streets ...
The ride was well received by the public. Friday night revellers spilled out from pubs and restaurants to cheer the spectacle. Generally the public received the ride in jolly spirits and were well behaved...
Overall the ride was an amazing success.
- See full post ride press release and ride report on the Melbourne June 2008 page.
The WNBR in Melbourne on Sunday the 15th of March 2009 saw the VIC Police give their tacit approval to the WNBR and full nudity by both sexes. This was achieved by negotiation with the assistance of a dedicated Police Liaison lawyer who defended the rights of the riders. The VIC Police said they would not escort the ride and would only attempt to find the ride in the circumstance that there had been a complaint from the public about offensive behaviour.
VIC Police Special Events (Steve Cooper) said in summary
- police stations (Carlton and Fitzroy) will be briefed about the ride. The police are not sure whether they will attend. They don't want to interrupt the ride nor provide an official escort.
- he said that he doesn't think there will be any issues as long as 'people conduct themselves in the manner advertised.'
- He doesn't think police will be plucking people off bikes and arresting them.
- He can't understand why police told men to put pants on but not women last year.
- He said he couldn't give a blanket assurance of actual individual officers' likely response but said that the law was "somewhat in WNBR's favour" however, "there are some issues if people take offence."
The relevant law that may arise in the context of naked bicycle riding is section 19 of the Summary Offences Act.
This section provides:
19. Obscene exposure
A person must not wilfully and obscenely expose the genital area of his or her body in, or within the view of, a public place.
This means that in order for a person to be found to be guilty of the offence in court, the police would have to prove that the person:
- Exposed their genital area
- In a public place or within view of a public place
- Had the intention to expose her/himself in an ‘obscene’ way.
So the key issue is likely to be whether, in the particular circumstances, the exposure was ‘obscene.’
I have been unable to find any case law on this exact issue, but in a case called Pell v Council of the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Court stated that the words ‘indecent’ and ‘obscene’ convey one idea of a failure to meet recognised standards of propriety (indecency being at the lower end of the scale, obscenity at the upper end).
Butterworths Legal Dictionary defines indecent as:
- Unbecoming or offensive to common propriety.
- An affront to modesty. An act is indecent if it would offend the ordinary modesty of the average person.
The same work defines obscene as:
- Filthy, bawdy, lewd or disgusting:
- Unduly emphasising matters of sex, crimes of violence, gross cruelty, or horror, so as to offend against the common sense of decency.
In my view, exposure of genitals in public in a non-sexual manner while riding a bicycle would not meet the definition of ‘obscene,’ which appears to have a very high threshold (see the definition above. But ultimately this would be a matter for the Court to determine on the evidence, and having regard to ‘recognised standards of propriety.’
If a person was arrested and charged with obscene exposure, a very strong case could be argued in court that mere nudity is not enough to amount to ‘obscenity.’
I understand that on the last ride the police required men to put their pants on, but not women. This direction from the police has absolutely no basis in law and is discriminatory.
More on Indecent and Obscene
Lord Sands in the Scottish case of McGowan v Langmuir  S.C. (J.) 10, at 13: I do not think that the two words “indecent” and “obscene” are synonymous. The one may shade into the other, but there is a difference of meaning. It is easier to illustrate than define, and I illustrate thus: for a male bather to enter the water nude in the presence of ladies would be indecent, it would not necessarily be obscene. But if he directed the attention of a lady to a certain member of his body his conduct would certainly be obscene.
So, if you are naked and make gesticulations or say things that are rude you are very likely to get in trouble. Go nude without being lewd.
Naturist websites like Free Beaches Australia have a summary of naturist etiquette as do other respectable naturist groups.
Behaving in a way that is respectful, non-sexual, always non-threatening and considered good behaviour among the established Naturist community should not meet the definition of obscene and although it might be considered at law to be indecent, that law is dead.
This probably is the reason why Spencer Tunick has photographed masses of naked people in public spaces in Melbourne without trouble.
If you see the Police on your ride, it is more likely that they will be pissing themselves with laughter than angry. If they stop you, jolly them along with a joke and explain that you are protesting against non-renewable energy, the rights of cyclists to use the road safely etc. Try not to confront them or agitate them. Do not volunteer to dress.
If the police do make a formal directive to dress, this is your official warning. If you do not want to be arrested, follow the Police directive.
If you do want to be arrested, because you are fanatical about the protest message of the ride, defy the Police and they will probably arrest you. The decision to dress or remain naked is up to the individual riders and they should take the decision with their eyes open. WNBR applauds the riders who have stood their ground naked in the face of arrest for the cause (like Simon Osterman in Auckland 2005) although it takes a special bravery uncommon to most of us. Your arrest will get fantastic media coverage if exploited properly. The experience of Simon Oosterman was that about 600 newspapers picked up the story around the World. This is great value for money publicity if you are prepared to risk a fine of a few hundred dollars. WNBR internationally has passed around a hat for arrested riders in the past and this might offset some of the fines or legal expenses. This is not a guarantee or indemnity.
Ultimately, the decision to ride naked or clothed and comply or defy Police directives lies with the individual and they bear the consequences of that decision.
I reckon, that if you keep the above explanation in mind, you should be sweet and will avoid arrest by complying with the Police if and when they tell you to dress. WNBR can not give you an iron clad guarantee and the risk that Police will act in an unexpected way is still there. This makes the WNBR a more exciting experience. It is, after all, an act of civil disobedience that is essentially harmless.
The most important thing is to have fun. WNBR is positive and cheerful. The riders, the public and the police will all enjoy the experience of WNBR if you get into the spirit of the thing.
On the day of the ride, everyone should assemble WITH THEIR CLOTHES ON. When the ride gets to the secret painting place, I will explain further on the topic of nakedness and the law.
Like I said at the beginning, your choice to go naked or clothed is your choice. I will respect that participants will do what they want but need to have their eyes open while they do it.
I suspect that police will only seek us out if there is a complaint from the public - so avoid being offensive or confrontational (this goes regardless of the amount of clothes you have on).
If we meet the police we will be jolly and I recommend co-operating if they make a formal directive. I am sure that police do not like to do extra unnecessary work and have a sense of humour. How they apply the law may differ greatly from my opinion or those of a magistrate for that matter. I recommend not getting arrested but I can make no iron clad guarantees about it. My opinions on the law are not professional opinions and I do not take responsibility if you rely on my advice and do not like the outcome.