It’s summer, it’s the beginning of the year, half of Canberra’s gone to the coast and there’s a lot of big, shiny, noisy cars on the roads. This can only mean one thing…it’s Summernats time.
Canberra seems to have a love-hate relationship with Summernats. Short for Summer Nationals, the annual car festival attracts tens of thousands of people and their street machines to the capital at the beginning of every year. It’s either “oh God, those petrol head bogans are here again wasting fuel and making a noise” or “oh those Summernats, they’re only here for a few days, they’re good for the economy” ($15 million bucks this year, I hear). People who live in the north, and who haven’t gone to the coast, complain about the noise, and the smoke from the burnout comps and not being able to get a park at Dickson shops because the ‘nats are all there buying beer, and eskies and snags and bread rolls and ice.
I saw my first Summernats “street cruise”, which was definitely unofficial, about 20-odd years ago, just after the birth of my daughter. The “cruise” involved a whole lot of hotted up cars driving from Watson, where the event is held, into the city and back again. We sauntered out in the late afternoon, up to Northbourne Avenue, and were most surprised to see quite a throng of people lining the road, some with deck chairs and picnics and drinks, waiting for the cars to arrive. This is quite the big deal, I thought. What’s the attraction? I heard the cars before I saw them, and covered the sleeping baby’s ears, for fear her very new eardrums would burst.
What I saw next was a stream of cars, some very shiny, and some that looked like an old boyfriend’s 2-door Torana and I wondered what was so special about a car in which I had sped around Melbourne in my youth. With no exception, every car was driven by a man, a young man at that, with three or four other young men in the back, arms hanging out the window waving their VBs and their cans of rum and cokes. Seems chicks didn’t feature at Summernats, except on the roadside watching the parade. Perhaps this was the petrol head equivalent of surf culture at the time? The boys did all the fun stuff and the girls sat on the beach, looking pretty and waiting.
The cars of young men zoomed by. And with rare exception, every backseat rallying cry was “Show us ya tits! Show us ya tits!” One of them even had a Chucky-esque doll which he waved out the back of a purple panel van. The doll’s t-shirt was controlled by a string and when the doll’s handler pulled the said string: voila! the t-shirt rolled up and Chucky yelled , yep you guessed it: “Show us ya tits!”
I was not impressed, especially as a young, exhausted breast-feeding mother with a six week old baby in her arms. “You can tell who the bottle-fed boys are”, I said to her. I didn’t pay all that much attention to Summernats after that year, except when I was living in the north and hadn’t gone to the coast and sat somewhere between “God that incessant revving is annoying”, and “they’re buying up big at the IGA, that’s gotta be good for the local shops”
Fast forward to 2015, and the “City Cruise” is now very official. Police sanctioned, intersections are closed off, and there are barriers in the city for onlookers to stand behind. The Cruise is executed with precision and a police escort, front and rear. There’ll be no funny business – no speeding, no burnouts, no undue noise, no offending the locals. It’s done and dusted within half an hour. It’s a far cry from the one I first saw which seemed to last several, higgledy piggledy hours, and if I remember rightly culminated in a bit of a riot and someone swinging from the traffic lights at Antill Street. This year 200 cars drove sedately, though at quite a clip, along Northbourne Ave; people complained it was too fast to take pictures.
I stood on the corner of my street (yep, living in the north again and not at the coast) for a nostalgic view at the Cruise. It was hot, and people wore hats, and huddled under the gums on both sides of the road. There were a couple of deck chairs but no eskies and cold drinks that I could see. I still heard them before I saw them, and when the cars came they were all gleaming and they were mostly pretty damn loud. There were some differences from my first Cruise though – mostly men drove, but they weren’t so young. A lot of them had wives and girlfriends in the car with them. And a great deal of them had kids in the back who waved at the crowds – with their hands, and their iPhones – but no one waved with beer cans.
And do you know what? Not one of them yelled out, not once did I hear: “Show us ya tits! Show us ya tits!”