Streaking: It seemed like a good idea at the time

Just as Richard Krajicek and MaliVai Washington were about to begin play in the 1996 Wimbledon men's final, a 23 year old girl wearing only a small apron distracted them.  And everybody else.

Melissa Johnson dashed naked across the lawn, pausing to "flash" the Royal Box where the Duke of Kent sat laughing, before being hauled off by a couple of Bobbies and given a stiff talking to.  Krajicek said it relaxed him.  Washington's reponse was the opposite.  "I saw these things wobbling around and, Jees, she smiled at me," he said.  "Then I got flustered and three sets later I was gone."

In Germany it would be called Nackerblitz (nude lightning), but to us, Melissa was a streaker, one who sprints nude from one point to another, intent on causing as much shock and laughter as possible.  The streak - the first at Wimbledon - made history, but it also joined a tradition of frivolous and rebellious nudity that has crossed borders and cultures to become an icon of modern culture.

While it can be said that Lady Godiva, riding through the streets clad only in her hair, was the first streaker, the real origin of today's phenomenon is the United States.  It was there, in 1974, that gangs of university students cavorted nude across campuses, reportedly as a celebration of spring and the sexual revolution.  Newly created co-educational colleges got to know each other better by running through lectures, chain-dancing along highways, parachuting, and playing golf together, all sans clothing.

It didn't take long for the trend to spread overseas, and soon Australians were running in the buff through public places as though born to it.  The first reported Aussie sighting of a streaker was at a Sydney taxi rank.  Within weeks, police were kept busy chasing an explosion of naked flesh as hundreds merrily took up the challenge and ran through every available public place.  A full-blown craze had begun, and in May 1974 Ray Stevens made number four on the charts with his goofball hit, The Streak.

The tradition of streaking at sporting events began at roughly the same time; the idea of maximum exposure via a large audience and television cameras proved too good to resist.  Today it remains the pre-eminent arena for a run in the nicky-noo-nar.

Streaking at the cricket became popular after Michael Angelow broke the monotony of a Test game by hurdling the stumps at Lords.  He pointed out later that he waited until the end of Dennis Lillee's over because he "didn't want to disrupt the game."  The cricketers of the time soon tired of the stunt.  Terry Alderman injured his shoulder tackling one errant runner, and Greg Chappell made a "citizen's arrest" in New Zealand.  "I took his hand and didn't let go.  When he realised the police were coming he tried to get away so I gave him a whack or two to quieten him down."  These days players are advised to let security officers do the dirty work.

After streaking became a regular occurrence, television coverage of the event was curtailed in an attempt to reduce the publicity given to streakers.  The policy continues today, as proven every summer, when Ritchie, Tony and Bill make inane, distracted chatter over the sudden unexplained roar of the cricket crowd, while the camera focuses unerringly upon preening seagulls.

At the Sydney Cricket Ground, rules against pitch invasion, which includes streaking, are sternly enforced.  Security officers stand at intervals around the ground, seeking to deter anyone who tries to enter the arena, but, says Karen Gregor, general manager of SCG Operations, Events and Services, "there hadn't been a streaker for years until last year... Wimbledon has a lot to answer for."  Now guards have blankets at the ready.  Streakers are not looked upon kindly.  "It distracts the players, and some have been known to get out soon afterwards," says Karen.  "The crowd thinks it's funny, but it's not funny.  We're here to provide what people have paid for, [we're] not for others who want to be a sideshow.  They're breaking the law, and our by-laws, and we treat it as a serious matter."

Following a spate of pitch invasions on New Year's Day 1997, the NSW government also took it seriously.  In January new laws were introduced increasing the $100 pitch invasion fine to $5000, along with a 12 month ban, in the hope of discouraging streakers and hooligans.  These rules echo tougher fines in Melbourne ($1000) and Brisbane ($600) which now make it far riskier and costly to engage in nudity at a sporting event.

NSW Sports Minister Gabrielle Harrison justified the new fines, saying, "In most Australians there is a certain 'larrikin' element which occassionally is characterised by someone streaking at a major sporting event.

"While it might be easy to say it was 'all a bit of a hoot' at the time, you have to consider the effects - a game has been interrupted, often at a vital stage, players have lost their concentration and spectators who have paid sometimes considerable amounts of money get quite upset.

"Also, streakers are usually encouraged to become just that by the amount of alcohol they have consumed, and it is this aspect of streaking which has a nasty and offensive side.

"I am certainly not a wowser, but... I don't need to see normally sensible members of the community doing something which can cost them dearly both financially and emotionally."

In addition to the pitch invasion fine, streakers, if caught, are charged with indecent exposure under the relevant Summary Offences or Police Offences Act.  This usually carries a fine of between $200 and $1000, or imprisonment for a maximum of twelve months, depending on which state you're in.  Between 1980 and 1994, an average of 200 people were charged with indecent exposure each year.

Doris McIlwain, a lecturer in Psychology at Macquarie University, believes the illegality of streak is a crucial component of its appeal.  "In a way it's the law that increases the bravado of the act because it increases the personal risk of those involved.  If it weren't against the law, I'm not sure it would have the same social standing.

"The streaker is breaking a taboo, and the shock of that is what makes us laugh.  Nudity is a great leveller in a way.  The streak itself is a form of protest as well as fun; it's usually a challenge or a dare.  It's also about power: 'I can do this and no-one can stop me'."

Opinion in the 70's insisted that streaking was not exhibitionism.  An article in the British Medical Journal asserted that "streaking is the antithesis of 'flashing'.  There is no lingering to see the... look of dawning interest that the flasher so vainly hopes his victim will show."  Doris partly disagrees.  She asserts that the act of running naked to gain attention is a form of egotistically showing oneself off and "all exhibitionism is sexual in some way.  According to Freud, it's an infantile form of sexual pleasure.  You're being looked at and you're being given attention.  From the moment we're born we have a love of looking - a desire to see dangly bits; a sexual curiosity, and streaking satisfies that in a way.

"The only thing that makes me uncertain that it's only sexual is the uninvited element of it.  It does bring an amount of violence into it - the crowd is being made to view the nudity without consent.  They may like it, but the element is still there."

Of course, the streaker may not have such lofty ideals in mind.  Often it is motivated by peer pressure, alcohol, a bet, or a simple sense of the absurd.

One streaker who had an altogether different purpose behind her public run in the buff was Tracey Collison, a professional dancer.  She streaked in July 1996 at a rugby league game in the hope of winning $10,000 in a radio promotion.  The idea was to promote the station logo to as many people as possible.  Tracey wanted to use the money to help pay her father's legal costs after an expensive court case.  The petite, media-savvy 22 year old speaks cheerfully about the event.

"I decided to streak about two hours before the game and I went there just in a wraparound skirt, and I was painted [with the station logo] at the last minute.  We didn't have enough time to buy any real paint so we grabbed some blue house paint that I later had to wash off with turps - it was all very rough and not that planned.  I left it until twelve minutes to go in the game.  I waited until a big fight broke out at the end of the field and all the security guys went there.  I went straight past Fatty and Blocker so they could have a good look, and the streak opened The Footy Show the following Friday.

"I got right across the field, then I turned around and came back, but they got me before I got to the goalposts - it took them a while to catch me.

"The security guard told me how stupid I was, but I couldn't really say anything.  They carted me off with a blanket around me and put me in a paddy wagon out the back for half an hour until the audience that I had sort of created disappeared."

Tracey didn't win the competition because her act was illegal.  She was fined $650 for indecent exposure, but soft porn magazine Hustler arranged to publicly pay her fine and offered her work.  She appeared as the March 1997 centrefold, and is currently touring in a promotional strip show for the magazine.  She was also crowned Miss Nude NSW and Miss Erotica Australia, and subsequently appeared on the Channel Ten show, Sex/Life.  While insisting that she was already in the business, Tracey admits the streak did help her career.  "It was great for publicity workwise, because a lot of people know me who wouldn't otherwise."

And what did her dad think?

"He couldn't believe it.  He was the only one I rang on the way.  I'd wanted to do it since I was eight years old...  He said he didn't believe me, but asked who I was going to watch.  I said, 'I dunno, but I'm going to streak' and he freaked out."  In the end, Tracey's post-streak career has earned her more than the original $10,000 prize money, and she says her father is happy with the support she's given him.

When asked how it felt to run naked in front of so many people, the thrill is transparent in her voice.  "I loved it!  40,000 people screaming at me - I loved it!  If I could draw a crowd like that in any way, I'd do it.  I don't care what I'd have to do.  It was excellent!"

Some memorable streaks.

* Robert Opel streaked past David Niven, and a worldwide television audience, at the 1974 Academy Awards.  Opel was later shot dead during a robbery at his Los Angeles sex shop.

* At an international rugby game in England in April 1974, having "had a few", Michael O'Brien, an Australian accountant, stripped off during the half-time interval and streaked in front 53,000 fans, including Princess Alexandra.  When caught by the police, an embarrassed constable used his hat to cover O'Brien's naughty bits, ensuring they were both immortalised in a well-known photo.

* The Doncaster Handicap of 13 April 1974 at Randwick racecourse had a thrilling finish as Allana Kereopa and David Cook streaked across the finishing line ahead of the horses.  Watched by 52,000 punters, Allana tried to escape via the member's enclosure, whereby the gatekeeper said, "You can't come in here, you haven't got a badge on!"  Her excuse to the magistrate was "It seemed like a good idea at the time," thereafter known as "The Streaker's Defence".

* The first person to streak at an Olympic games was Michael Leduc at Montreal in 1976.

* Erica Roe, described by leering tabloids as "busty", was possibly the first to receive job offers following a streak at Twickenham in England during a Test match.  Having lost her normal job for taking a sickie that day, she was asked to model suits for $500 a day.

* A naked man ran through Hawaii's parliament in 1974 calling himself "The streaker of the house."

 This article originally appeared in Australian Women's Forum, September 1997

© Karen Jones

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