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Getting naked for a cause

Bike loveAnyone who claims Canberra is a boring, stuffy place wasn’t down by Lake Burley Griffin yesterday for the World Naked Bike Ride. On a glorious day with a sky full of scribbled cloud, cyclists left their clothes at home in favour of outfits constructed mostly from paint.

The ride is intended to expose the dangers cyclists face as well as the negative consequences of our dependency on oil and other forms of non-renewable energy. Serious stuff, although it’s questionable as to whether this message was really conveyed by everyone getting their kits off and splodging paint in strategic places. But then I suspect there were as many different reasons for being there as there were people. The world event organisers do admit that ‘too many people are coming to the event without really supporting the primary focus of the ride’. But let’s face it, where else do you get the opportunity to paint your bits in gold glittery flames and parade about proudly hands on hips (if you’re that way inclined).

World Naked Bike Ride group

Embarrassed but intrigued onlookers hung back, watching from a distance as everyone gathered and got painted up. ‘It’s a real event,’ I heard one woman trying to convince her companion. ‘They do it all around the world.’

And she’s right. It’s held everywhere from Peru and South Africa to Russia and Israel. The aim is to advocate cycling as an alternative and environmentally friendly form of transport. Despite body-painted slogans like ‘Go Green’ and ‘Less Gas, More Sass’ being overpowered by more distracting visuals, nudity does generate media interest, and therefore has the potential to get the message out. Over the years it’s been used to draw attention to a range of issues. Perhaps one of the most striking examples in recent times was when photographer Spencer Tunick organised hundreds of people to get naked on Switzerland’s shrinking Aletsch glacier in order to raise awareness of global warming.

Back in balmy Canberra, a procession of cyclists and rollerskaters headed off around the lake escorted by a small group of police on bikes (who I swear were trying not to smile). The ride travelled via Parliament House and, as it turned out, through a vintage car show and a bemused couple’s wedding snaps. Although I may never get the image of an elderly man with a bodybuilder tan (but not the body) strutting around in a G-string fashioned from red paint out of my mind, I have possibly never laughed so much. Activism has never been so entertaining.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Irma Gold is an award-winning writer and editor. Her short fiction has been widely published in Australian journals and her debut collection of short fiction, Two Steps Forward, was released in September 2011 (Affirm Press). She is also the author of two children’s books and is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Facebook.

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