Last year, I wrote about going back to Summernats after steering clear for many years. Later, I also wrote about what it was like when I went back.
There’s should be no doubt that Summernats is an incredibly important event on the ACT calendar, contributing something like $20 million to the local economy, in part because so many attendees come from out of state.
I also don’t think our events calendar should be limited to flowers, craft, and the high arts. There’s value in diversity, even if that diversity is loud, messy, dirty, and definitely not for everyone.
But there should be no room for an event that permits or encourages sexual harassment or risky behaviour towards women in any way, shape or form. And sadly, Summernats’ success and value as an event has long been overshadowed by its sketchy reputation.
Following the 2017 event, Summernats faced an unprecedented backlash from the community, centred on the behaviour of patrons towards women and the suggestion that organisers were – at best overlooking, at worst accepting or encouraging – such behavior for far too long.
It would prove to be a watershed moment for the event, which was celebrating its 30th birthday. I guess we all have to grow up a little bit when we hit 30, huh?
In late February, Summernats announced it would be adopting a new ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward the harassment of women.
Among the changes were an end to the controversial Puppy Wash exhibit, and the annual Miss Summernats pageant.
Just as importantly, they also backed up this decision in communication with their fans, and especially, those few who protested the new rules.
As an aside, I’m always intrigued and mildly amused by those who swear they’ll never attend or support an event again because of a (relatively minor, in this case) rule change. Nanny state, they’ll scream. Political correctness gone mad, they’ll cry.
In reality, those people aren’t your core fan base. At risk of stating the obvious, if you’re going to Summernats for the right reasons, this policy change shouldn’t bother you. If it does, you’re probably not a genuine fan anyway (and the genuine fans have pointed out just as much).
What this policy will hopefully do, is make the event a safer and more welcoming place for a much wider group of people. Can we still run an awesome event without parading young women around and screaming at them to take their tops off? Of course we bloody can.
Ethical decisions can always be argued, but if nothing else, this is a smart business decision.
Summernats achieved its highest attendance on record last year, with around 119,000 people passing through the gates. Under new ownership since 2009, attendance finally edged past the 100K mark and has grown slowly but steadily every year.
Notably, numbers continued to grow after the notorious wet t-shirt competition was axed way back then.
So here we are. Summernats 31, the first to be held under the new policy, kicks off on 4 January. And I think we all need to throw our support behind it.
If you’ve attended Summernats previously, but stopped going because you didn’t feel comfortable there – now is the time to give it another chance.
If you haven’t been to Summernats before, this would be a great year to go along for the first time.
If you’ve ever complained about the uncontrolled behaviour of Summernats patrons, now might be the time to put your money where your mouth is.
The Summernats team has tried to do a really good thing here, by listening and responding to the concerns of the community.
What we need to do is support these moves by voting with our feet. Give it a shot. Buy a ticket, go along. If you see problems, report them, and see what action is taken.
What we don’t want to see is a big drop-off in attendance at Summernats this year, that could be linked to these new policies. To be blunt, we can’t let the bogans win!
I’m encouraging all Canberrans to go and check out Summernats this year.
Will I see you there?