After a lengthy battle with cancer, Canberra icon Anthony Robert ‘Chic’ Henry died in his Belconnen home on 14 April, aged 75.
The news has been met with sadness and memories from petrolheads, politicians and everyone in between.
Chic is most famous as the founder and father of one of Australia’s biggest and brashest car shows, Summernats, a celebration of everything fast and loud and preferably V8.
Co-founder of the G Spot food van and administrator of the ACT Classic & Muscle Car Forum, Andrew Dale, said he remembers sitting on a milk crate in his garage at a drinks party eight years ago as he and 30 others listened to Chic recount his life’s stories.
“We all watched like 10-year olds watching their favourite movie,” Andrew said.
“He was a bloody good man, a visionary. He didn’t care if you had a piece of shit or the best car at the show – he’d talk to you. Cheers to Chic Henry, for everything you’ve done for the car scene in this country.”
Born and schooled in Tasmania, Chic moved to Melbourne as an apprentice blacksmith for the Australian Army in 1964. He also worked as a mechanic for a funeral service for seven years and later recalled getting a hearse up to 120 km/h.
“Fortunately, there wasn’t a deceased person in the back,” he said.
In the 1980s, he became the national director and promoter for the Australian Street Machine Federation. The organisation had only just kicked off ‘Summernats’ with two events in Shepparton in Victoria and Narrandera in NSW but was looking for a new venue.
To Chic, now raising a family in Belconnen, Exhibition Park in Canberra (then known as Natex) looked ideal. He oversaw the construction of a dedicated burnout track and the gates were opened for the first Summernats in 1987*. The event was a resounding success, attracting thousands of cars and spectators to the capital from across Australia.
Despite the odd spot of controversy, the event continued to keep the money flowing into Canberra at a time when everyone else was at the South Coast. It also gave birth to other ‘Nats’ spin-offs around the country. But with numbers dropping, Chic sold Summernats to fresh hands in July 2009.
Andy Lopez, who took over the running and has just wrapped up ‘RockyNats’ Rockhampton in Queensland, says the sales deal stipulated that Chic would say on for three years to ensure it all went smoothly.
“The first that was clear about him was how passionate he was about his event, the people that attended and Canberra. He lived and breathed Summernats.”
But Chic and his insatiable love of cars was far from done.
He had his sights set on the ACT Legislative Assembly three times over the following years, first in 2012 with the now-defunct Australian Motorist Party, then in 2016 after joining the ACT Liberals, and finally with Bill Stefaniak’s Belco Party in 2021.
He might have been unsuccessful, but his dream to see the ACT have its own purpose-built motorsports facility remained undiminished.
Belco Party convenor Bill Stefaniak has known Chic since 1989 and says he was a key reason they almost scored a seat in the 2020 election.
“I would have loved to have seen Chic get up – he would have been a fantastic member of the Assembly.
“Goodbye old friend and thanks for all you have done for the ACT and your community – a great Australian and a great Canberran.”
Chic is survived by his wife Deb, son Kody, daughters Georgia and Angela, and granddaughter Lauren. Rather than flowers, the Henry family has asked Canberrans to donate to the Canberra Cancer Centre where Chic received treatment over the last six years.
“Chic wanted us to also express his love and thanks for all the friends he made throughout his life here and across the world,” they said.
The date for a memorial service is still to be confirmed, but the family says it will be open to all who would like to attend.
*Correction: This article originally stated Summernats commenced in 1988. The correct year was 1987.