BEST OF 2023: Time to build a statue to Summernats founder Chic Henry

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Chic Henry

Summernats has evolved over 35 years to become one of Canberra’s greatest attractions. Photo: Chic Henry.

Year in Review: Region is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2023. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2023. Today, Ross Solly remembers Chic Henry.

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.

READ MORE Summernats 35 draws record crowds, entrants but marred by poor behaviour of a few

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!

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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.

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Lots of businesses bring in money to the Canberra community. Some even do it without crimes committed because of their business. Some businesses donate large amounts of money to charity. We do not have statues for all of them.
Chic Henry sold the business over a decade ago. If he wanted a statue of himself, he could have had one made…. Like Nick Georgalis (GeoCon) did.

I would rather see a statue of Stasia Dabrowski – who ran her soup kitchen from Garema place for decades until she passed away. She supported those in the Canberra community who needed it.

his memorial is all over Canberra for about three weeks every year: idiots hooning

Kate Carnell3:34 pm 11 Jan 23

I agree Ross . Chick made a huge contribution is Canberra

Dear Riot.
In support of my earlier input. This is from the ABC.
Regards merc600

Summernats organisers defend use of Govt grant
Posted Fri 5 Jan 2007 at 2:30pmFriday 5 Jan 2007 at 2:30pm, updated Fri 5 Jan 2007 at 2:31pmFriday 5 Jan 2007 at 2:31pm
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The organisers of the Summernats car festival say funding from the ACT Government has been “absorbed” into general funds.

A one-off donation of $300,000 from the treasury emergency fund was given to the car festival just before Christmas.

Some residents of Watson and Downer wanted the money to be used for extra noise prevention measures, but organiser Chic Henry says the funding did not come with any obligations.

“I think that if the ACT Government had given me instructions to use it in a particular way then I would have,” he said.

“But no such instructions were given and so I haven’t had to comply with anything in particular.”

Mr Henry says organisers have not made any major changes to safety measures at this year’s event.

Last year six people were injured after a stunt car ploughed through a safety fence and into the crowd.

Mr Henry says performers have been briefed about safety issues and fencing has been put around the main arena based on where the crowds are expected to sit.

He says there will be no stunts similar to the one which caused the accident.

“The things that we’re doing at this particular event haven’t made us change the planning,” he said.

“But it has changed our attitude and sometimes the attitude isn’t necessarily immediately seen, but we’re paying a lot more attention to different things.”

Posted 5 Jan 20075 Jan 2007, updated 5 Jan 2007

A memorial to Chic Henry? You’ve got to be joking. Memorials should be for someone who has done something positive for a society. Chic certainly has not had any altruistic motives for bringing a lot of yahoos to Canberra, to benefit all but a few retailers.

Capital Retro3:30 pm 11 Jan 23

Umm, who is the lager than life statue of in the foyer of the Canberra Museum in London Circuit?

Chic was kindly given 300k in 2006 , a one-off donation of $300,000 from the ACT treasury emergency fund just before Christmas 2006.
Chic Henry said at the time the funding did not come with any obligations.

Chic went on “I think that if the ACT Government had given me instructions to use it in a particular way then I would have,” he said.

“But no such instructions were given and so I haven’t had to comply with anything in particular.”

A.C.T Street Machine association first started by Peter Fitzgerald before 1988, meetings were held at the services club in Manuka, rules were only cars that were driven in not on trailer and street registered.

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