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My first time at Summernats

10 Jan

Every early January, it seems like all Canberrans heave a sigh and say, “It’s that time of year again.” Engines deafen Braddon’s cafe conversations and the heat already beating off the streets becomes hazier, smokier. It means busy hotels in what should be a quiet season and advice to “avoid EPIC”. Ever since I moved to Canberra, with one sentence I’ve heard people defend it and lament it: “It’s not what it used to be.

I’ve always wanted to attend Summernats simply to see what the fuss is about. What is so attractive about it that it draws people across Australia to Canberra on what is often one of the warmest weekends of the year? Is the tourism boost worth the event’s dubious reputation – and is its reputation even warranted?

I’ve procured a ticket online and when I arrive on the sweltering afternoon, there’s no line to get in. I hand my ticket over and get a lime green wristband which clearly marks that I’m only there for the Friday session and that’s it. Through the gates, the first challenge: crossing Tuff St. Cars are just cruising and cruising, some occasionally – spontaneously – shooting forward a few metres, making it only safe to cross when there’s quite a big distance between cars.

My first experience is a tame one, heading across Main Street and into the judging pavilion. My phone camera gets a workout before we even step inside.

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Inside, there’s a barrier around the entire pavilion and people are leaning up against it, admiring the cars being judged. Even with just a few cars slowly on the move it’s very, very loud. The cars go up a small ramp so they can be judged all over and for some cars which have been lowered – and I mean really lowered – it’s a close call to not scrape off paint or do them damage. In half an hour I see cars modified with hydraulics, some amazing paintwork and one car which has all the judges engaged with tiny torches looking at every single detail. This car takes the judges five times as long to finish judging as all the others we see and later it’s confirmed it does very well.

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Hydraulics! This car appears in a video later in this post…

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From we walk through the exhibitors pavilion where there’s plenty of things on display to help you modify your car – anything you could think of (and plenty of things I have no idea about).

Outside, we walk up Main St. Crossing the road again is an adventure and my friend – a Summernats veteran – stresses the key to an enjoyable and safe Summernats is being situationally aware at all times; consciously knowing what’s going on around you and being prepared to move if you need. Every second stall seems to either be one with fried food – I enjoy two dagwood dogs during the day! – or with alcoholic slushies (bourbon, rum, tequila, and vodka fire engine). A bar with undercover shade is further up with security inside. There’s a range of mid-strength beers on offer, a cider, and the most expensive beer – at $8 – and the only full-strength is a can of VB. It’s the most popular. Outside, I have the first of a few experiences where a car goes past so loud that it feels like my eardrum is shuddering.

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One of the ‘highlights’ of Summernats is the burnout track. We’re there for over an hour in the stands with the sun scorching skin all around us. Without my friend explaining the purpose of the burnout competition to me, I’d have no idea what I’m watching. We’re upwind so we’re saved from the constant billowing smoke but not from the flecks of rubber. Within minutes I’m coated in the black powder that mercilessly spreads as soon as I try to rub it off.

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From what I can gather, the whole purpose is to pop as many tyres, create as much smoke, and spin the car around in a quite small area and try not to hurt anyone. It’s all at once senseless, entertaining, polluting and concerning. I watch talented drivers who spin their cars so hard and fast and blow tyres and create so much smoke that I then can’t even see what they’re doing to assess if it’s any good. I watch other drivers barely create any smoke and drive almost into a wall before 10 seconds are up, to jeers of the crowd.

For something where I still have no idea what it’s actually supposed to achieve, it draws an enormous crowd.

At the end of the qualifying round we depart to the Show n’ Shine field but many of the cars have departed as it’s about to transform into the arena for the night’s entertainment with Seth Sentry. In addition to a few remaining cars there’s a V8 simulation (not worth it), a Slingshot and helicopter rides.

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This car gets in trouble in a vehicle you’re about to see…

I’ve had a real assault on the senses by this point – the sun has sunk so low it feels like it’s glaring at eye-level, and combined with the fumes and smoke means I’ve got tears streaming down my face – even in the middle of the field! After a rest we head back to Tuff St where there is a lot of action. This is probably the most entertaining part of the day for me. The cars are interesting, and it’s great to see many of them in action. Directly across from us are a group of blokes who help make it even more interesting by asking cars to spin their wheels right in front of them. Given how close they are to the road, I’m also terrified that tyres are going to run over feet (and so surprised this doesn’t happen). This is also the only point that I see any, uh, exposure – of two vehicles, one is particularly devoted to this (but I see no competitions!) (this does not add to the entertainment factor for me!).

And that’s my experience at Summernats. The ticket is valid for the rest of the evening and there’s entertainment to be seen – as well as plenty more cars, and the judging pavilion is about to reveal the best cars – but five hours of heat, noise and fumes exhausts (ha, ha) me.

Does Summernats warrant its reputation? Yes and no. It’s loud and a lot to me seems senseless and plenty about it is crude. But I also saw so many families – so many very young children – having a truly great time. I saw how passionate people are about their vehicles and the money that’s gone into some of the cars and the effort that it takes to become someone who understands their vehicle’s every join and exactly how to make it do what you want. I saw a lot of security and spent a lot of time watching them, particularly on Tuff St, and their approach looked to me to be fair – having a chat to people when their behaviour made things a little unsafe, pushing crowds back a little bit, but largely being very watchful and quite simply very present.  It’s also no where near as big as I expected it to be.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been to in Canberra, ever. It brings something totally different to our city. While I know I’ll never totally get it – and some things I certainly question – I can see what the fuss is about.

The best Belconnen Christmas lights

19 Dec

Every year I see the published lists of Christmas lights in Belconnen, and every year I feel overwhelmed by the choice and limited time to see them all (especially when I leave it to the last minute/week).

For me, the perfect Christmas lights experience is getting in as many ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’ houses before I get annoyed listening to the GPS and/or too many hours go past. Achieving this means knowing where the best houses are. Once you’ve knocked these over, you can enjoy the fantastic efforts of so many contributors throughout town – every house offers something magical!

So, if you’ve only got a limited amount of time before your patience runs out, here are my top three picks in Belconnen (and they’re all pretty close together!).

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Trev’s at Dickson, Dickson*

10 Oct

* I reviewed Trev’s at Dickson as a guest.

Not that long ago, Trev was The Lodge’s resident chef for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. A little over five years later, Trev leads his eponymous cafe/restaurant tucked away in the office area of Challis Street, Dickson.

Trev’s is open seven days a week for breakfast/brunch and dinners on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Today’s a Thursday at what seems a very early 7.30am. On arrival we’re greeted with requests for coffee orders and my large chai latte arrives truly large with a yummy crust of  cinnamon sugar on frothy milk.

Trev’s is also renowned for its similarly eponymous dish: the Trev’s Taste Collective. Have you ever perused a breakfast menu and felt like you really want something sweet but you also really want something savoury, and somehow early on a Saturday morning you’re still required to make that very difficult choice? For me it’s almost always pancakes with fruit and ice cream versus a dish – any dish – that has poached eggs. The eggs usually win (unless it’s pancakes from Ha Ha Bar – then pancakes are victorious!).

Trev’s Taste Collective goes some way to solving this. At $18.50 you get a small stack of thick pancakes with strawberry and basil compote, marscapone and a smatter of icing sugar, a very thick corn fritter with a heaping of avocado and tomato salsa and a bacon rasher, followed by a two-fruit salad (today it’s strawberries and watermelon) with kaffir lime syrup and a wisp of fairy floss. It all comes with their mini JOD (juice of the day) – today it’s apple, orange and cranberry and it’s tangy and delicious and all too small; I’d love it slightly larger with an ice cube.

Corn generally is not my thing but what I do have of the corn fritter is tasty. The generous helping of avocado salsa is a stand out and I could eat plenty of it with the bacon. The strawberries and watermelon are sweet and fresh and it’s easy to devour. The pancake batter is a little thick rather than fluffy but they’re just enough to make the whole dish very, very filling.

I’m sure a few friends have questions about eating it altogether or separately, and whether it’s weird to have sweet and savoury near or touching each other. While it’s clear from the photo that some of the juice from the berry compote and syrup leak under the fritter, I don’t know it at the time.

Trev’s idea is a very clever one which finally provides an answer to so many people’s early morning dilemmas. But to answer mine, it still needs a poached egg in it somewhere!

Date: Thursday, 8 October 2015

Where: Challis Street, Dickson

Cost: I dined as a guest of Trev’s at Dickson. The Trev’s Taste Collective costs $18.50 including a small juice of the day but not including coffee/s.

Want more? Trev’s has a very comprehensive website and detailed menus.

Coming Up in Canberra – Spring 2015

4 Oct

What better way to celebrate the welcome return of daylight saving?! It’s a LONG while since I’ve done one of these posts but there is honestly so much happening that this post can basically write itself from my own diary’s calendar! Here we go:

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The Green Herring, Gold Creek

4 Oct

I don’t know much about Green Herring except that it’s quaint, it has a solid menu, and that it’s somewhere in Gold Creek. The only place I have a vague idea where it is is the aviary, so on this Friday evening it takes me a little time to find the car park attached to the very rustic cottage – The Slab Hut built in the 1860 – in which Green Herring resides. (It turns out it’s just behind George Harcourt, but you could have fooled me at the time in the dark – it’s really not very well lit!)

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The Confidence Man, The Street Theatre*

20 Sep

* I attended The Confidence Man as a guest of The Street Theatre.

We’re sitting in a row of chairs, level with the stage that we border, in the Street One Theatre. Among us are six audience members who are about to run the entire 45 minute The Confidence Man themselves. We know who they are because they’re wearing enormous masks: black mesh covered with wide facial features to allow them to see. The stage is dominated by a house setting, but at one end there’s another small house setting, as well as a set of plants which doubles as the main house’s backyard and a park.

We all have headphones and phones – even the players. Each of the players listens to their pre-recorded dialogue and thoughts for their character through the headphones, as well as instructions on what to act out. Their entire experience of the show is through what happens with their character – they have no idea what any of the other characters are thinking or being instructed to do, but they can hear their dialogue if they are in conversation with them.

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Muse, Kingston*

17 Sep

* I visited Muse as a guest

This humble little blog recently celebrated four years – four years of eating, drinking, reviewing and peeling back the layers of Canberra bit by bit. While still being hosted entirely by WordPress after all this time (yes, yes, there are moves afoot to discard wordpress from my URL!), I’ve also seen a lot in this time and the only thing that’s surprised me recently is that this city still tolerates bemusing degustations.

But then I experienced Muse, the definition of which might be ‘Food, Wine and Books’. (That’s what the wine glass tells me, anyway.)

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On Red, Red Hill

8 Sep

Mid-year, Living Social advertises that they’ve got a degustation deal at On Red. For $99, Boyfriend and I can enjoy a five course meal which is normally valued at $94 per person. I snatch it up because it seems almost too good to be true. It almost is: On Red is booked out for most of its weekends and we finally find a mid-week dinner when both the restaurant and we are free, just before the voucher expires.

On Red’s at the top of Red Hill – not just the suburb, but the hill. I always thought On Red was known for its good service, food and its views. The views are certainly on point, and when we name ourselves on arrival, our waiter already knows we’ve got a voucher – a good sign.

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Cafe 2617, Belconnen

2 Aug

Belconnen Town Centre’s Urban Roast has undergone a revamp: the ownership hasn’t changed and the cafe is still bright and roomy, but there’s a new, streamlined menu and the shouting to the kitchen and back has thankfully stopped. The outfit seems calmer and more organised. The lunch menu has completely gone – replaced with blackboard menus which change every three or four days to allow the kitchen to take advantage of what’s fresh and seasonal and be more creative. And, of course, the name has changed.

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Grease, The Q

31 Jul

Grease – the classic 70s broadway hit and film – arrived in Queanbeyan on Wednesday night, bringing clever costume designs, the well-known songs and the blatant sexism.

Say what?

I’ve had a long, fraught relationship with the musical as I’ve revisited it over the years. On the one hand, I love it. The songs are (mostly) fantastic. The music is great. The cast and costumes are great. The choreography is great. And, from a young age, the message was apparent that Sandy was actually pretty annoying and just was too hard on Danny; she was so much more likeable when she just relaxed, took up smoking, and made her voice a breathy one (and I couldn’t wait for that end of school party once I finished year 12, either). In my pre-teens it occurred to me that a whole lot of the behaviour between the characters in the movie was actually incredibly cringeworthy, or – more accurately – cruel. In my early teens (okay I’ve seen it heaps of times) a whole lot more sexual references finally clicked for me and, in the middle of singing along to songs, I found myself largely horrified about the messages being promoted.

The horror and the discomfort hasn’t changed. And Grease hasn’t changed, either – it’s still hugely popular and a theatrical feast which is exactly why I was drawn back to it. So, while I could write weeks of blog posts analysing the politically incorrect, sexist and otherwise questionable messages, this is a review blog and thus: here’s the review.

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