Summernats – Friend or Foe?
It has taken me a very long time to learn to like Canberra. Being born in Sydney and having spent a fair amount of time there throughout my life, I find it hard to like Canberra’s seemingly lack of pace and quietness. However, it has grown on me and I find that I am increasingly fond of it. There is, nevertheless, one part of Canberra I cannot bring myself to accept, like, or even downgrade the level of hate I feel for it – Summernats.
Summernats, as most of us Canberrans know, is the Summerly car festival held in Exhibition Park. It features events such as fireworks, vintage cars, and basically just racing each other to be the best car at the show. It injects about $12-$15 million dollars into the ACT economy annually, and the ACT government generally supports Summernats by granting them around $300,000. It’s a great event for Canberra, and attracts thousands of visitors over the Summer period.
So why does it suck for me and many women? How about how blatantly dangerous it is? There have been reports of rape, gang rape, sexual assault and drink spiking at Summernats. The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre received three callouts in 2007, although they believe the assault rate is higher due to women’s perceived reluctance to report straight after the assault. A few years ago, women were encouraged to attend a small area of Summernats where they could feel safe and chill out from all the male attention going around. However, that has been closed down. High security levels don’t stop men organising drunken ‘mobs’ and harrassing girls to remove their shirts. And even with the unbelievable amount of sexual harrassment going on and well-publicized attacks on women, Summernats defends itself airily and dismisses the claims of a dangerous environment as a result of any event with alcohol consumption. But there is no doubt that many men attend the event simply for the ‘booth babes’ and women.
I don’t know how others feel on it, and how women who regularly go to Summernats feel about it. But there’s an alarming element of acceptance that I find disturbing. On the ABC News, one report about the ‘mob’ in Summernats featured a young, pre-pubescent girl being asked about her views on the male attention. I remember being that age and being terrified of men, getting unwanted compliments and disgusting stares at the age of nine or ten. But all she had to say was, “Oh, you know… that’s just… men.”
My questions are as follows: Why are girls like that one so accepting of that attention? Why is this event now a sport in harrassing women? Why is Summernats still advertised as a family event? Why is the ACT government funding an event so dangerous to women? And why isn’t there a greater warning to women who go there, that you go at your own peril?