If you’re already rolling your eyes at the headline, I promise I’m not here to rehash old territory when it comes to Summernats.
We’ve heard it all before – the usual anti-Summernats arguments about the noise, air pollution, at-times rowdy behaviour, congested roads, etc etc. At the heart of it, many Canberrans simply don’t feel the festival aligns with the perceived interests of the local community. And let’s be real, there’s a fair amount of snobbery in that belief too.
I’m not an anti-Summernats crusader. I have no interest in attending but I feel as irritated as any other northside resident who has to detour due to road closures, endure endless burnout noise and watch the smoke rise from EPIC during the festival.
But I also fundamentally believe that community events are a positive thing, and I accept that just as not everyone needs to like my hobbies for me to want to access and enjoy them, the same applies to car enthusiasts who flock to Summernats.
Every year, I try to weather Summernats with an open mind and a commitment to not judge attendees. I’ll admit that, as a woman, that’s not always easy – while the catcalling and rude behaviour does seem to have ebbed slightly over the years, it’s still not a great time to be out in public, especially at night.
There was still oggling and the occasional yelled remark at Eaglehawk pub, but it’s definitely less full-on than years ago when I couldn’t walk through Braddon without strange men guessing my bra size from car windows, or just generally being rude.
Putting that aside, I love the fact that there is so much community around the event. As an external observer, I can tell that it’s the highlight of the year for many attendees, that they meet up with friends and socialise throughout the week, and that for people who really love the exhibits, it’s incredibly fun.
Friends of mine take their kids and share pics of the beautiful vehicles they see online, and I watched families setting up for the parade with picnic foods and camp chairs. After the past few years, it’s just nice to see people together and build community.
The issue with Summernats is that, despite the positives for people who attend, there are so many negative impacts on those of us who don’t attend, and we have no choice but to bear them.
I spent an hour waiting in traffic on Ginninderra Drive on Thursday before the parade road closures had even commenced, just because there was so much traffic trying to find parking and turning off into EPIC. An hour. To get from Ginninderra Drive to Dickson.
The noise pollution wasn’t too bad this year, but there was a bit of dangerous driving and stressful traffic incidents throughout the festival. For those of us who live in the vicinity, just the increased number of people in the area meant delays in getting places and accessing the petrol station or shops.
These minor inconveniences build up, and it just takes one rude Summernats attendee calling something out of their car window to make the otherwise ambivalent Canberran snap.
So it occurs to me that if we could just reduce the negative impact on non-attendees, maybe we could live and let live. There need to be more traffic management systems in place, better access to parking, and better communication of road closures to local residents so we can plan more effectively.
Summernats brings money to Canberra and joy to attendees. I’m all for it, but it’s hard to advocate for the pros of a festival I don’t even want to attend when my mates who equally don’t care about the content of the event are complaining about the negative impacts on their day-to-day.