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A Colonial Childhood, Adventures of a Girl Reporter, Asia, Hong Kong Deadline

Silly streak seals pressman’s fate at Dragon Boat race

There was even more colour and movement than usual at Hong Kong’s premier dragon boat races when the 1974 craze for running through a public place naked reached the shores of Stanley. They called it the Streak. Your Girl Reporter was on the scene. “Don’t look, Sally!” But it was too late. I’d already been mooned. 

The dragon boat races at Stanley on the south side of Hong Kong island have long been regarded as the best in Hong Kong and in 1974 we had a ringside seat, thanks to Reuter’s economics chief Phil Wardle who lived right on the beachfront.

That year the Hong Kong Press Club – founded just a few months before at the end of 1973 – had skin in the game, entering men’s and women’s teams in the knockout event. Phil’s place was to be base camp for the press, participants and supporters all.

Your Girl Reporter and younger sisters shortly before events unfolded on that fateful day. That's Phil Wardle in the background wearing the 70s style patterned shirt.

Your Girl Reporter and younger sisters shortly before events unfolded on that fateful day. That’s Phil Wardle in the background wearing the 70s style patterned shirt.

Dragon boat racing was still very traditional in 1974 – the slick international competition of modern times was a few years away. It’s possible, but I can’t be sure, that the Press Club was the first to enter teams which included non-Chinese paddlers. If you know of any earlier, I’d love to hear from you.

The Spackman family, who always liked to do things properly, were among hundreds of people camped on the beach the night before, swapping snacks and songs and stories and staking out a spot for the following day’s action.

It was a muggy June morning and I was the first to wake, to the tickle of a translucent little crab crawling across my sandy hand. As soon as my dad Jack Spackman judged the hour to be reasonable we headed to the Wardle house, ready for a big day at the races.

A combination of inexperience and ineptitude saw the Press Club men’s team crash out in the first round. The girl reporters made it to the second stage, before they too were beaten. With the amateurs out of the way, the rest of the day was devoted to the real competition between the various fishermen’s associations and, duty done, the hacks retired to the Wardle front garden for the rest of the afternoon.

The day had started muggy and continued overcast with occasional bursts of steaming rain which did nothing to lower the temperature or the humidity. At some point an over-refreshed member of the men’s team accepted a wager.

For $500 he would introduce the race day crowd to the latest sensation. He would run the half a mile from Wardle’s house to the shelter of the rocky outcrop at the other end of the beach. And he would do it naked.

Your Girl Reporter was delighted. Streaking, as it was called, was rare in the colonies, but not unknown. It had started on the college campuses of America that year and spread to the rest of the world as these things tend to.

Ray Stevens' novelty hit The Streak can be enjoyed in all its glory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtzoUu7w-YM

Ray Stevens’ novelty hit The Streak can be enjoyed in all its glory here

Incidents had been reported at the Eiffel Tower and St Peter’s Square and were fast becoming a staple at sporting events – which is no doubt where our Boy Reporter got his inspiration.

It had reached the ears of your young GR thanks to that year’s novelty hit by Ray Stevens. The Streak had been a regular feature of our Sunday afternoons for months, playing each week on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 through a long spell in the charts, including three weeks at number one in the lead-up to that fateful day at Stanley.

This would not be Hong Kong’s first incidence of streaking. The China Mail had recently reported that an unnamed history maker, wearing only spectacles and a pair of socks, had dashed along Luard Road in Wanchai and disappeared into a waiting taxi.

“Frankly it was just something I had to do,” he was quoted as saying. “I had read about streaking in the States and I thought, this is for me. To my mind it is a completely liberated art form… It was a tremendous liberated feeling just running through the streets nude. I was free, I was unashamed. It was marvellous.”

Your Girl Reporter overheard it rather differently. I will let renowned historian and Hong Kong Press Club member Arthur Hacker set the record straight, as his version – recounted in his social history of Wanchai from the Qin Dynasty to 1997 – is more in keeping with what I heard.

streakAccording to Hacker, the anonymous streaker was an unnamed journalist whose infamous run was launched from the Press Club in Luard Road. “The operation was not a success,” Hacker writes. “This was because the streaker, an obese, naked, pink and white Scotsman, ran into a posse of French matelots and fled screaming back into the Press Club to delighted howls of ooh la-la.”

At Stanley, the crowd on the beach had swelled to thousands, steam rising from their drenched clothing, and our intrepid Boy Reporter prepared to make his dash. With the fall of a sodden shirt he was off, tearing through the crowd which appeared largely indifferent to his contribution to the occasion.

Having made it unimpeded to the rocks at the other end of the beach our streaker too late realised the value of forward planning. I understand he spent a little while in their shelter, perhaps waiting for one of the other hacks to appear with some clothing to get him out of his predicament.

With no assistance forthcoming, our hero did the only thing he could and set off for another run. That’s when he was arrested. I understand the subsequent fine was an ironic 500 bucks.

A similar fate had befallen the first streaker at Twickenham – Australian Michael O’Brien was also chasing a bet when one of the great photographs of the 1970s was taken and he too was fined the exact total of his winnings.

It’s hard to convey now the sense of delight which streaking gave to people back in 1974. It was a glorious silliness that seemed a perfect counterpoint to all the turbulence of the times. Not everyone agreed, I’m sure, but the tone of the Ray Stevens song captures the spirit of streaking as I understood it pretty well.

By the time Your Girl Reporter saw another nudie run – at Twickenham in the 1990s – the mood had changed. Such intrusions were by now an unwelcome distraction to the serious business of passing a ball around. There are still streakers but, alas, they are yesterday’s heroes.

Further reading:

The Twickenham Streaker – Alec Selwyn-Holmes recounts the tale of Australian Michael O’Brien and his history-making dash at the Iconic Photos blog

It beats rocks and tear gas: Streaking and cultural politics in the post-Vietnam era – by Bill Kirkpatrick, Denison University

The naked truth about streaking – Opinion piece writers beware. Check this pompous piece of absurdity from the Observer archives.

About Stanley dragon boat racing – a good history of the Stanley Dragon Boat races, and it’s on Angelfire which is nice.

© Sally Baxter 2016

Want more Baxter? Some memories of a colonial childhood in Hong Kong here 

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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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