Wow – 2020, huh? From fires in January to Sydney lockdowns in December – via elections, travel bans, and all of us learning far more about epidemiology than we ever thought possible – it’s been quite a year.
It’s hard to believe it was all packed into 365 days.
It feels like it’s been longer than that, so the standard end-of-year lists seem too short to do justice to this devastating and incredible year.
Instead, we present our alphabet of 2020, pulling in everything you’ll remember about this year we’d rather forget (and probably a few things you’d managed to put out of your mind already).
Whet your whistle with the first half.
A is for Andrews
Perhaps the main star of #Auspol 2020. Depending which side of the fence you stood, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was hero or villain. His state saw the worst COVID outbreak in the nation, with 20,000 cases and 820 deaths, but also brought the virus under control in a way arguably no other jurisdiction globally has done.
His press conferences became appointment viewing for 120 consecutive days, his every move and timing scrutinised, his announcements turned into memes and songs. Even his clothing achieved cult status (see: N).
Mr Andrews was torn apart in national media, had ministers resign amid scandal, was grilled over Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine, and has now emerged to record more than 50 days of no COVID spread in his state. His name is even being whispered in Canberra circles, for a possible federal stint.
B is for Borders
A real thorn for many people this year, with family reunions for births and deaths and marriages derailed by state premiers slamming shut their doors with regularity.
The true power of state leaders, often overshadowed by federal politicians, was on show as premiers and chief ministers ring-fenced their borders with police and army personnel.
For better or worse (and often both), some borders stayed open (hello NSW) while others stayed shut (hi Qld and WA). Even now, states are pulling up the drawbridge in the wake of the Sydney cluster.
Like them or hate them, border closures will probably be a constant presence until we get a COVID-19 vaccine.
C is for COVID
Really, what else could it be? A word that didn’t even exist until February, when it was announced as the official name for the coronavirus disease of 2019, has now taken over the entire world.
D is for doughnuts
The unlikely junk food star of the pandemic, as Victoria’s remarkable run of zero COVID cases sparked celebration of “doughnut days”.
Today's a good day. pic.twitter.com/66Hk2dmNwk
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) October 26, 2020
Bakeries and supermarkets sold out, as Aussies flocked to celebrate near-elimination of the virus.
E is for Epping Gardens
The names of aged-care homes with devastating COVID outbreaks – Dorothy Henderson Lodge, St Basil’s, Epping Gardens – have become etched in infamy. With calamitous failures and shocking breaches in infection control, training and basic management, Australia’s aged-care homes have been the scenes of the majority of the nation’s virus deaths; some 680 fatalities.
The aged care royal commission made sweeping recommendations for the sector in a special COVID report, various independent investigations probed failings in specific catastrophic outbreaks, and the federal government has poured billions extra into caring for our elderly.
Richard Colbeck’s spectacular failings as aged care minister, the most infamous being failing (twice) to know the number of deaths in homes under his watch, saw him demoted and the portfolio elevated to Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of this pandemic may be that aged care is taken more seriously in Australia.
F is for Fires
They happened all the way back at the start of the year. And they’re already happening again.
We saw the worst of this country, but also the best of Australia, as communities rallied and countless millions of dollars were raised for charity and victims.
The very first days of January also gave us images of Scott Morrison that will endure perhaps as long as he is in public life, heckled out of town and refused handshakes by residents in fire-ravaged Cobargo.
The Black Summer bushfires have almost been overshadowed by COVID. But while the virus could (fingers crossed, pending a successful vaccine rollout) be just a memory this time next year, the threat of climate change will not.
Scientists say last summer’s fires will not be a freak event any more, and instead occur more often.
G is for Gladys
Similarly to Dan Andrews, NSW’s Gladys Berejiklian was either hero or villain to some, and sometimes both.
Managing the biggest state through the pandemic, making serious missteps with the Ruby Princess (see: R), letting the Avalon cluster seep out then reeling it back in, the shredded sports grants documents scandal, her explosive secret relationship with a former colleague at the centre of corruption probes, nearly seeing her NSW Coalition split in two over koala policy, failing to isolate after a COVID test, and yet batting away all those to remain one of the most secure leaders in the country … it has been a big 2020 for the premier.
H is for health officers
A year ago, near-anonymous public servants. In 2020, the nation’s chief health and medical officers enjoyed a bizarre treatment akin to rockstars.
Brett Sutton and Nick Coatsworth got fan pages and their faces put on merchandise; while others enjoyed the dry wit of Paul Kelly, the sharp haircuts of Brendan Murphy and Nicola Spurrier, and the unflappable stoicism of Jeannette Young and Kerry Chant.
Perhaps none have inspired the same fanatic devotion as their American counterpart, Dr Anthony Fauci (although Professor Sutton arguably got close), but this was the year that quiet, diligent epidemiologists and public health experts became unexpected mega stars.
I is for Iso
The word of the year. We all spent months in isolation, some of us more than others, as we adjusted to the strange new world of staying inside.
Scott Morrison was telling everyone who’d listen how he had to go into “iso” when returning from Japan.
For some, it was a not-terrible chance to read or watch Netflix. For others, like those in Melbourne’s locked-down public housing towers, iso meant being cooped up without enough food or supplies like baby formula.
J is for JobSeeker/Keeper/Maker/Trainer
The mind-boggling quantum of the pandemic wage subsidy and welfare payments stopped journalists in their tracks when first announced in the early stages of the pandemic.
The PM’s MarketingFriendly font joined up all the programs (first you seek the job that a boss is making, then you train for the job, then you keep the job) under a kitschy common umbrella, but the successes of the programs are undeniable.
Australia’s unemployment rate is lower than some of the most optimistic projections, and many jobs lost have now returned.
But controversy surrounds the gradual cutting back of welfare payments, especially as unemployment is projected to rise past 8 per cent in coming months.
Welfare advocates and economists alike say that keeping unemployment payments is good for society, the economy and the vulnerable, pleading for the rate to remain high. The government hasn’t committed to the post-pandemic rate of JobSeeker, but will be under pressure to peg it above the previous $40 a day.
K is for Kebab
Or a symbol of the strict and often confusing COVID lockdown rules.
Eating a kebab on a bench alone? That was a breach of NSW’s stay-home order, with a Newcastle man fined $1000. Others were fined similarly heavy amounts for sitting alone in their cars, playing Pokemon Go on their phones, or even taking a driving lesson.
Blatant breaches included people gathering for big house parties, meeting friends to play video games, or driving far outside their ‘bubble’ to visit family.
In the COVID early stages, it sometimes took time and confusion before new rules were explained properly (remember Daniel Andrews trying to explain ‘intimate partners’?), while some rule changes even confused the PM himself.
L is for Leppington Triangle
A whopping $30 million for a piece of land valued at $3 million? And nobody can explain why? And multiple investigations, including from the federal government and police? And the Department of Infrastructure is still not answering questions on it?
The scandal dubbed ‘airport rorts’ will continue into 2021. Don’t forget about this one – we certainly won’t.
M is for Monkeys
Remember the baboon throuple that escaped in Sydney and caused havoc around Royal Prince Alfred hospital for that incredible afternoon?
That was this year. The bizarre news story that quickly turned into a meme and captivated a whole city for days, it quickly emerged that the primates were research experiments and the male was on his way for a vasectomy.
It sparked weeks worth of talk about animal rights and the ethics of experiments, and even reached the federal government when Health Minister Greg Hunt, tongue in cheek, spoke of how they “operated as a modern relationship and I’m fine with that”.
Check with us on Tuesday for N to Z of the year that has been so unreal, you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t live it…