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Disruption to Service

2 January to 9 January 2023

Reason for interruption: Covid

Photo Hannah Walmsley ABC Canberra (2018)

My plan for the first week of January was to get out and about on buses to get the feel of it. I had also planned one of the more difficult bus routes to take, and write about. All good plans of mice and men and all that.

We have moved from the early days of the pandemic where we all have to register our whereabouts at all times, even on trams and buses, with QR codes, with contact tracing ensuring we were where we said we were. We no longer have to limit ourselves to an hour or two during the day when we can go out to exercise. We now travel around the country and overseas at will. Many of us are more lax about mask wearing but the one restriction that has not been lifted, and rightly so, is that if you get Covid you are to stay at home for at least 7 days and longer if you still have symptoms, but our housemates are not confined with us. I am now in that process. I have another day before I am released out into the wider world of Canberra. And feeling much better. I feel grateful about vaccines and anti-virals.

While the experience of Covid has not been great I have had a major distraction; Summernats. This is the annual celebration of all things to do with motor vehicles. Old and new cars, souped up revving cars, cars that have been repainted with love and care, cars that sound like their engines have seen better days, and cars that are brought to the festival on the back of a trailer as they are so precious they are only driven for short periods. Summernats attracts a particular crowd with particular interests and is generally very loud. The Inner North, where most of the action takes place, is transformed for four days and nights from the Lentil Belt to the Rev Head, Bogan Belt. Something no one can ignore.

The night before the start of the festival we got a ring-side seat into an informal gathering across the road from our apartment block. The car park, usually full of soccer and cricket parents, filled up with cars that backed into spaces (is this boy thing? I never back into a car park space). The men, and it was exclusively male from what I could see, walked up and down inspecting others cars. Bonnets were popped so all could see and admire the insides. A coffee truck appeared, cars came and went. Loops of Northbourne Ave, into the city and back again were made. Many opportunities to rev those engines at every red light, and there are a few between us and the city. A small Mazda with a boom box fitted on the roof appeared, playing tuneless hip-hop music. A party for some that we had to endure.

Thursday morning saw the opening parade, although parade is too limp a concept for the organisers, so the City Cruise saw just over two and half thousand vehicles drive from EPIC, the centre of action, to the city and back again. The roads had been blocked off, trams not running for three hours. I am sure these blokes would be the first to complain if Northbourne Ave was closed for a cycling event or a park run. Onlookers started to arrive at around 9:30 parking anywhere where they could find along the nature strip. It appears that followers of Summernats drive everywhere too. Thankfully, Covid meant I slept through most of this.

Before we moved to Canberra we knew about Summernats, we had a close encounter with a group of participating bikies a few years ago while on a visit. In and around Civic the roads are raised to indicate that pedestrians get right of way, big signs on either end of the roads indicate this. As our family crossed Bunda Street, expecting the traffic to stop, as it usually does, a group of bikies pushed on revving engines just to make a point. They inched closer to our group, got within a meter or so, with my partner standing his ground to make sure we passed safely. While no one was injured or hurt; we all lived to tell the tale of the day H faced off the bikies, it was intimidating and unpleasant.

Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) is where the main action of Summernats takes place, a good 6 kms from the Civic. Competitions for the most rubber burnt out on your tyres doing donuts, best skidding, best adapted car, best mullet, music, including Daryl Braithwaite and Shannon Noll, and a fireworks display, all part of the program. Smoke can be seen billowing from the venue over the weekend.

Photo by Rohan Thomson from the Canberra Times

My partner likes cars, he owned a vintage Jag for a while, we have been to old car shows before, both in Australia and the UK but Summernats is different. It is not the sedate perambulation of loving restored relics but is a testosterone fuelled, amped up, indulgence for a few, centred around ‘Street-machines’ to use the lingo.

For me, on the outside, Summernats is more of an intrusion than anything else; loud, invasive and not something I can really get my head around. Why do some men like these adapted cars so much? Does it make them feel more masculine? But for many people this is the highlight of their year. Coming to Canberra to camp, with their vehicle and family to spend time with other people who share their interest. Wikipedia tells me that the biggest attendance was in 2017 and exceeded 119,184. (It is predicted that the numbers will be topped in 2023.) That is a lot of people who are interested in cars, and interested enough to drive, sometimes long distances, to take part in something. After some ugly and publicised misogynistic incidents the festival has been changed to encourage participation from women and to make it more inclusive. In 2018 the wet t-shirt competition and the Summernats Pageant were dropped, the stripping competition had already been abandoned. When purchasers place their ticket order they have to tick a box that acknowledges they understand that this is an inclusive event and bad behaviour will not be tolerated. Gone are the days when men were allowed to hold up home made signs saying “Bring out your tits, for the boys”, or surround women in large groups to encourage them to take their shirts off.

Photo Summernats Facebook Page

This is our second year experiencing Summernats. Last year, when the event did not officially take place, due to Covid, although there was a parade and other activities, it was mixed with the huge contingent of anti-vaxxers who descended on the capital. The Convoy to Canberra slid into the back end of unofficial Summernats in mid January and set up base inside the Parliamentary Triangle. They were moved to EPIC but cleared out before the Canberra Show. The organisation happened mainly through social media and was very disruptive. The worst damage was done to Old Parliment House, which houses the Museum of Australian Democracy, when a fire in the portico outside the front door took hold. The site was closed and only reopened fully in November 2022 after over 19,000 hours of worker time fixed the damage done by the fire and the water used to put it out. Over 38 organisations were used to do the remediation.

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is located opposite Old Parliament House and many people had gathered there for the 50th anniversary. The ABC news on the day were informed that none of the protestors came from the Embassy. It is not clear how the fire was started or how it got out of control so quickly.

Summernats and the Convoy to Canberra share a common thread; male dominated with women on the edges. There is also a sense of entitlement that comes with these groups. Men who feel they can impose the sounds of their cars, say what they like to women, behave in anti-social ways. Is it just a Y chromosome thing? Does it make their mother’s proud? The territory government love this event as it brings in millions of dollars to the ACT when most people who live here head to the coast, and other tourists are not attracted by the culture on offer here at this time. It is a strange thing to promote in a proudly green left leaning territory. It certainly bursts the Canberra bubble.

I have made a note in my diary to book accommodation outside Canberra for the first weekend in 2024. We are going to join the Canberra exodus next year.

Normal service to the In Transit project to be resumed next week.


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