I reckon I was New Zealand’s first female streaker – well, my accomplice, whose name I’ve forgotten, and I. It was in the middle of winter and we had mates in a band who got a gig in Fairlie, in South Canterbury, NZ, circa 1972, and we went along because we had nothing better to do on a Saturday night. There was definitely alcohol involved. We were a little bored standing in the wings of the stage, watching our mates play to a fairly typical South Canterbury crowd – bit rowdy, bit drunk, but having raucous fun, waving their arms around and drinking, probably out of large bottles of beer. I said to my friend words to the effect of ‘Let’s take off all our clothes and run across the stage.’ Within seconds I was naked except for a colourful pair of rugby socks that came up nearly to my knees. I led the charge. We tore across the stage in front of the band, and looking down, seeing the astonished faces of people at the front of the crowd. Like those clowns at the shows of the time, mouth open and turning as we went by. It felt just a little bit scary. Talk about vulnerable. I’m sure I would never have done it sober. We got to the other side, and realised our clothes were still where we’d left them, so, back we went again, and giggling helplessly, put our clothes on again. I felt exhilarated and a little bit proud of myself.
The Great Ngaruawahia music festival the following year, 1973, was the scene of another very public naked incident which actually went on to have far-reaching repercussions. I'm not saying the picture of me naked in the Sunday News changed the law, but it was part of a court case. The police, in their wisdom, decided to press charges against the paper for publishing indecent documents.
Anyway, there we were, a bunch of us camping in a crowded tent. It was extremely hot and loads of people had got their kit off. We had just smoked a joint in the stifling tent and decided to go for a swim in the nearby Waikato River. The wide, sprawling body of water was cool and inviting. A few willow trees draped over the shallows gave us a nice shaded spot to splash about in. We were feeling fine and I was practicing my diving technique off a partially submerged tree trunk when a photographer appeared on the bank. He was fully clothed and had a decent stills camera draped around his neck.
‘Hello, I’m from the Sunday News. OK if I take a photo of you?’ he politely asked. At that stage I was standing waist deep in the water.
‘Only if you get naked too,’ I shot back.
He stripped to his Jockeys and waded into the water. The man was clearly prepared to suffer for his art, I thought, and went back to diving off the submerged log, backlit by the fierce sun. When the paper came out a couple of days later it published pages of pictures of naked people, including one of a gorgeous hippy girl walking toward the camera completely naked. She had long blonde hair and a great pair of breasts. But for some strange reason the editor had placed a big X over her pubic region. The main pic on the front page was of Corben Simpson, the lead singer for Blerta, seated on a stool with his guitar over his genitalia, grinning at the camera.
The pic of me turned out to be quite an arty shot, diving into the water, side on to the camera. Because the sun was behind me, I was nearly in silhouette – but you could tell I was in the nick. The photographer asked for my details, which I happily provided because he’d been such a good sport and worked hard to get his pic. His caption read something like: Wellington journalist Bridget Wilson cools off in the Waikato River.
Months later when I turned up for work on my first day at the New Zealand Press Association in Wellington, there was my picture pinned to the newsroom noticeboard. A couple of my new colleagues gently ribbed me about the pic, but they all acknowledged it was a good shot.
A couple of months went by and one day I got a call from a lawyer who was representing the Sunday News. It wasn’t hard to track me down, given the caption. My colleagues and I were outraged that the police could have such a conservative attitude to nudity.
The lawyer asked me if I would be willing to be a witness in the case. It was coming to court in a couple of months’ time. I said I’d think about it and rang an older journalist friend.
He said: ‘Don’t be silly. You don’t want to be a martyr to the cause of nudity. But write something instead.’
So I spent an evening writing out what I thought was a well-reasoned piece about my thoughts on nudity. I talked about how I’d grown up in a family where being naked was fine. I wrote about the sheer heat of that day back on the banks of the Wanganui River. And I typed it out on my trusty Remington typewriter on copy paper and handed it over to the lawyer.
When the case came to court, I went along and sat in the back of the room and was chuffed to hear the lawyer read my words to the magistrate. I was even more chuffed when the police lost the case – something about the X over the hippy girl’s pudendum, mainly – and the law was able to be changed.
The other day my erstwhile husband Peter, an acclaimed cinematographer, sent me a 20-second clip of some footage he’d shot of me some time in the mid-70s. He’d set it to that classic striptease music. There I am, all full of joy and probably quite a lot of alcohol, standing front on to Peter’s film camera, somewhere on the Otago Peninsular. All of a sudden I rip off my sundress to reveal a naked body, and making like a stripper, I start to wiggle and fling my arms up in the air like I just don’t care. It’s a joyful 20 seconds of pure, unadulterated glee and no sign of any sense of inhibition at all. I laughed out loud and emailed Peter telling him it had made my day. I didn’t remember the occasion at all. I’m considering showing it at my funeral.