After 30-plus years, why isn’t Summernats embraced as a Canberra institution?

Tim Gavel 11 January 2022 378
crowd cheering at car burnout

Summernats #34: a calendar fixture but not a beloved institution. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

I know it’s a generalisation, but many Canberra residents appear to have an uncomfortable relationship with anything to do with motorsport.

You don’t have to go back too far in the city’s history to corroborate this assertion.

There’s the failure to proceed with a dragway near the airport despite government funding being allocated to the project. Then there was the outcry over Canberra’s staging of the V8 Supercar event, the GMC 400.

GMC 400

The Canberra GMC 400 took place in the Parliamentary Triangle between 2000 and 2003. Photo: Epic Sports Photography.

It ended up existing in the city for three years, but there was continued community criticism over a plethora of issues, including noise, traffic disruption and cost. This is despite the event attracting many thousands of people to the city and generating much-needed tourist dollars during the winter months.

In the end, the public opposition was overwhelming and the contract to host the Canberra 400 came to an abrupt end.

READ ALSO: Summernats brings out the best and the worst as police target ‘antisocial’ behaviour

And then there is Summernats, arguably one of Canberra’s biggest events, along with the National Folk Festival and the National Multicultural Festival.


Summernats attracts about 20,000 visitors to the ACT each year. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

This year, over four days, Summernats attracted more than 20,000 people a day, with many attendees travelling to Canberra to attend. Many are car enthusiasts who treat their cars as they would a member of their family.

Summernats also provides a significant boost to the ACT economy while at the same time presenting a different perspective of the city. It helps to wipe away the staid and bland view of our city, which is a well-documented attitude held by many people who don’t live here.

Yet the event remains unloved by many in the ACT community.

READ MORE: Time for Summernats to change gears again, or go

The commentary before the event was filled with grumblings about noise, smoke and, in isolated instances, antisocial behaviour.

I regard myself as a moderate motorsport fan and I was critical of the decision to continue with burnouts during the bushfires a couple of years ago. But I find it hard to comprehend the open hostility from some in the Canberra community.

READ MORE: If we’re really a community, tolerate Summernats

Some have said that Summernats sends the wrong message given the city’s proactive measures towards renewable energy.

The same judgement, it would appear, doesn’t exist when considering the predominance of and reliance on motor vehicles in Canberra by residents, nor the high usage of air travel.

Is it time to consider the joy Summernats gives motorsport enthusiasts and its economic benefits to specific sectors within the community?

What's Your Opinion?

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378 Responses to After 30-plus years, why isn’t Summernats embraced as a Canberra institution?
Carolyn Pritchard Carolyn Pritchard 5:43 am 16 Jan 22

Totally agree I grew up not far from the Nat’s and what I had to endure if driving anywhere near was discussing. I’m not into cars but have over the last 5 years grown to appreciate a nice engine. And unfortunately there are way too many people who spoil these events for others

Andrew Wadey Andrew Wadey 10:48 pm 15 Jan 22

Because despite improvements over the last few years, there is a small portion of attendees who ruin it for everyone by taking it outside the festival and make public areas unsafe. I'm a car enthusiast myself but there are plenty of car shows (covid notwithstanding) throughout the year run by volunteers that cost a gold coin at most for entry and don't attract the same undesired element. It's sad but 30 years of culture won't change overnight, and until it does there will continue to be significant and not unjustified objections to it.

Es Colm Es Colm 6:29 pm 15 Jan 22

Can't leave my house without being cat called, sadly most women don't feel safe to be outside in their own city during summernats.

Matthew Coppock Matthew Coppock 9:39 am 15 Jan 22

Same reason people who live in Utah dont Ski or Snowboard.

Each to their own..

Grant O'Donnell Grant O'Donnell 10:40 pm 14 Jan 22

Because Canberran’s like to look down their nose at it and ignore the financial benefits it brings

phydeaux phydeaux 7:13 pm 14 Jan 22

Not a topic on which I might normally comment, except two options idly occurred to me so here are both of them.

Response 1.
I think burnouts are a ludicrous, and damaging activity. However, I appreciate the effort, interest, devotion, expense choices, sometimes ingenuity that can go into restoring older cars (or any things really) or developing new notions on older frameworks, and having those recognised by others. Such achievements can be highly personally rewarding. The fact I have negligible interest in the Summernats vehicles is no more important than my lack of interest in many other hobbies, or those people’s in mine. Let it be.

Response 2.
Given the sensational torque of electric motors from rest, I envisage future Summer(green)nats where the front motor is disconnected and still more extraordinary burnouts are achieved, while a sonic actuator against the firewall and windscreen (they have been fitted to many production cars for years) produces fabulous vroom-doof noises matching the virtual cylinder count dialled up in the cabin, and special tyres produced for the market vie for maximum smoke with minimum carcinogenicity. Soon, motors will advance and larger ones be stuffed into carbon-fibre frames until we can achieve Nirvana with Burnouts on Bicycles.


Ryoma Ryoma 6:18 pm 14 Jan 22

I am not interested in Summernats, and Tim’s article has made me wonder why not.

It’s a few things, perhaps. Australians broadly have a problem with quiet spaces. Try using an app like Sound Print next time you’re in a cafe or restaurant, and see if you can find a place below 50 decibels. We can’t seem to do quiet spaces like Japan or Taiwan do – not only can we not seem to talk loudly, but there is nearly always background music playing. A lack of soundproofing and hard surfaces mean that we’ll always hear the kitchen and coffee machine noise as well. I have written about this topic before here:

In recent years as Canberra has become denser, how people want to perceive it is changing. Marian Mahony Griffin’s original drawings of Canberra reflect a place that was classically beautiful, and genteel. In modern Canberra, much of that original architectural vision has been destroyed, replaced by endless ugly, car-dependent suburbs.

Perhaps a feeling that much of the modern world is out of our control means that our surroundings become more and more important to us. This is why modern houses have everything built in, so you never have to leave the house, and you have a tranquil place to escape the modern world. It’s an implicit acknowledgement that so much of our shared environment is ugly, aggressive and boring – that we have collectively given up on having beautiful and genteel public spaces.

When Summernats invades this tranquillity, it destroys the illusion, and leaves people to ask “Is nothing sacred – is there nowhere I can just *be* – without the modern world intruding on my consciousness?” And it’s that feeling, I think, more than anything else, that creates the ongoing anger towards the event.

Garry Booth Garry Booth 5:13 pm 14 Jan 22

The Greens...that's why.

Eleanor Evans Eleanor Evans 3:22 pm 14 Jan 22

I would guess most Canberrans just don’t really care either way about it. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I barely notice it’s happening (even when I lived close to it).

Josh Hogan Josh Hogan 12:40 pm 14 Jan 22

Because it belongs in Alice Springs…

Tariq Khan Tariq Khan 12:07 pm 14 Jan 22

Been in this city for over 32 years. Never been and probably never will. It’s a choice. Why complain?

Peter Dark Peter Dark 9:01 am 14 Jan 22

That picture gives you your answer!

Greg Quilliam Greg Quilliam 8:21 am 14 Jan 22

Move it to Wakefield Park. It would reduce the noise for "Ken Behrens" while also helping the communities of both Goulburn and Canberra!

artismal artismal 8:15 am 14 Jan 22

During my many years in Canberra my car has been broken into once, and I’ve had the fuel cap removed with the fuel drained once. Both happened during Summernats. Need I say more?

Paul Conn Paul Conn 7:56 am 14 Jan 22

Now that the drunken behaviour of past years has been largely eliminated, it is now just a silly few days that includes destroying tyres doing donuts and creating lots of smoke and calling that entertainment, so it is probably pretty harmless.

Chris Harrison Chris Harrison 11:57 pm 13 Jan 22

At that time of the year canberra is basically dead because so many locals leave around the xmas/new year period, im sure all the restaurants/accommodation venues, taxi drivers ect appreciate the extra revenue from the event, few days and it’s all over again

Damien Chubb Lowe Damien Chubb Lowe 11:20 pm 13 Jan 22

Summernats is not everyone’s cup of tea. It does disrupt the city for a week. But so be it. The income. The jobs. The tourism it brings to the act is invaluable.

Jenny Wood Jenny Wood 10:47 pm 13 Jan 22

I went in 1987 it was awesome!

Michelle Porobic Michelle Porobic 9:55 pm 13 Jan 22

Funny how no one complains about the 30 million that Summernats brings into Canberra ……

Pete Randle Pete Randle 9:45 pm 13 Jan 22

God help us if this is a high point to exhibit what Canberra has to offer.

A closed program within the confines of EPIC where most $$$ were spent at McDonald's. I appreciate the die hard enthusiasts who display some magnificent vehicles but they are over shadowed by boofheads, Neanderthals and others who take advantage of what could be a great event. ACT Police needs to start looking at what is already on our streets, put their big boy pants on and fine those who can't keep there vehicles roadworthy and within the confines of the law.

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