It’s rare to begin a year without the usual community debate around Summernats – whether you love it or hate it, the annual car show is a point of conversation in Canberra, which has been its home since 1987.
This year, due to the ACT’s COVID-19 restrictions for large public events, Summernats will be taking place in Sydney this weekend.
There won’t be the usual influx of Aussies from other parts of the country to the ACT, eager to participate in one of the car-loving community’s key annual events. The sound of burnouts won’t be ringing through North Canberra. Women can walk the streets without expecting to be cat-called by visitors to our town in their souped-up cars.
From my descriptions, it’s probably clear that I’m not a regular attendee of Summernats, and have no interest in becoming one. But despite my preference for other forms of entertainment, I’ve always struggled to define my position on the festival.
Most people I know are from the part of the Canberra community who hate Summernats, and think it’s low-brow and not in line with the overall culture of the ACT. They dislike the sexist aspects of the festival, which has long been criticised for reports of sexual harassment experienced by women attendees and the wet t-shirt contest that used to take place. The smoke and noise of burnouts irritate these Canberrans, and they’re probably relieved that the festival has moved up to Sydney for this year.
But personally, I always try to push back against the divide of low-brow v high-brow culture, and this idea of Summernats as a bogan festival for the unenlightened. Clearly, there are many Canberrans and Australians that enjoy the event, who are passionate about cars, and who look forward to Summernats as a chance to engage with their community. Why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy themselves, provided the festival organisers are actively trying to address the genuine issues with the event’s culture?
Just because some of us might prefer to visit the National Gallery of Australia than watch a burnout competition doesn’t mean there’s no value to the latter.
It’s also important to remember that Summernats is a big annual contributor to the ACT economy. The impacts of not having the festival this year will be felt across our hospitality and tourism sectors. We benefit as a Territory from big events like this, regardless of whether we would choose to actually attend them.
With these common arguments for and against Summernats told, I’m curious whether the majority of Canberrans have registered that the festival won’t be in our city this year, and if any worry that the move to Sydney may become permanent (though organisers have assured the public that it’ll return to EPIC in 2022, COVID-permitting)?
Despite the controversy associated with it, is Summernats a key part of Canberra’s identity? It’s definitely a much-debated topic of conversation and one that every Canberran I know has an opinion on. Whether you love it or love to hate it, will you be missing Summernats this weekend?
Or is its absence this year an opportunity to prove that Canberra isn’t the right home for the event and that maybe it’s time for a new chapter in its history?