How fitting that the first Summernats held since the passing of the man who had the vision to bring the event to Canberra 35 years ago has also been the biggest.
Chic Henry died last year at the age of 75. In 1988 he stared down considerable community backlash to stage a car festival that was wild and loud but (for hot rod enthusiasts) incredibly intoxicating.
The festival was called Summernats, and everyone – and I mean everyone – should take a moment to thank Henry for gifting our community an event that rakes in millions of dollars to the region every year.
Sure there were a few problems, especially on Saturday night when organisers had to take action to defuse a potentially dangerous situation, but generally, the event was a great success.
Summernats has never been everyone’s cup of tea and never will be. People complain about the noise and the dangerous driving. Others unfairly complain about the people who attend, with their mullets and their tattoos and their penchant for loud music and even louder cars.
But what they forget is that Summernats gives Canberra character. Most people outside the ACT believe, unfairly, that we are a boring city full of boring people who consider a trip to the library to be a major event. I’m not referring to the National Library where, of course, a visit would be regarded as a major event.
(And I should also say I very much like attending libraries. I find them very useful and interesting).
The car festival has changed a lot since 1988.
There were years when you would have been out of your mind to take your kids along. There were accidents, nudity, incredible levels of drunkenness and general all-around bad behaviour.
And, of course, for a while, Summernats bled money, so much so that Henry had to make the painful decision to sell the business in 2009.
But now families are there in full force, and from all over the country, to enjoy one of Australia’s premier car events. It’s estimated 125,000 car enthusiasts (a new Summernats record) turned out for the four-day festival. And Daryl Braithwaite performed, so to my mind, it must have been a good event!
Summernats deserves to be spoken of with the same enthusiasm we give Floriade, if not with even more gusto. Many figures will be bandied about the dollar value to the ACT, but success should not be measured by dollars alone.
Everywhere you looked over the four days, you could see the Summernats fans. They filled our cafes, restaurants, hotels and caravan parks and visited our national institutions. Thankfully, after two days of the type of weather everyone outside of Canberra believes we suffer year-round, summer returned.
It’s a real bonus for Canberra that these visitors turn up every year at a time when the city is otherwise deserted.
Summernats t-shirts commemorating Chic Henry sold out quickly. Reportedly, a firework was filled with some of Henry’s ashes, which filled the air at Exhibition Park on Saturday night.
The ACT should erect a statue of Chic Henry at the entrance to Exhibition Park. It seems the least we could do to mark the man who brought one of our most successful events to our city.