2022: Australia’s year of living forgetfully | Australia news – The Guardian

Australians emerged from two years of lockdowns seemingly intent on putting the past behind them and embracing a newfound sense of liberty
Twelve months ago, as Australia’s most populous states savoured new post-lockdown freedoms, any possibility Covid-19 might slip from public consciousness was unthinkable.
Borders were reopening. Christmas family reunions interstate were an enticing, though challenging, possibility. Simply venturing over the Tweed from New South Wales to Queensland demanded near-impossible dexterity: a negative result from a PCR station with average turnarounds of three and half days, received inside a 72-hour window before crossing the border.
Australia seemed to be finally arriving at that highly anticipated place, a “new post-lockdown normal” where living with the virus would still probably require precautions – isolating if positive, masks in public – but social gathering would again be possible.
A year later, and Australia has embraced a great forgetting with almost no historical parallel. The virus is still rampant, with reported weekly cases steadily rising above 70,000 through November.
The political and economic imperative to reopen in 2022 was always contingent on a profound psychological and emotional shift in our society. Central has been the harsh utilitarian acceptance of an alarming number of Covid-related deaths. In November more than 70 people a week were still dying of Covid. This would have been of grave community concern during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns, when just a few deaths were headline news and panic-inducing. But the great post-reopening Omicron waves of January (a seven-day average of 92 daily deaths at its height) and July (83) have inured many Australians to inevitable mass (and mostly headline-unworthy) fatality. It has been the year of invisible suffering.
During lockdowns time lost dimension (like Dali’s clocks, I wrote). Its arrow bowed out of shape. But time’s arrow has quickly realigned and travels now at Exocet speed; everyone says 2022 has flown like no other year. It’s as if we can only focus on the road ahead and not on the continuing pain and loss. Most people go about maskless. Isolation with the virus is effectively optional. A cruise ship with 800 cases docking in Sydney barely raises a public health eyebrow … the Ruby Princess is a distant memory.
It is deeply discomfiting to ponder what this exposes about human nature, the herd survival instinct and whether a similar death rate by most other means would be tolerated. As we, the mass vaccinated, get about our business, it also poses another question: how might history recall Covid’s dead and those who grieve them? If the global flu pandemic that struck Australia in early 1919 (eventually killing 62,000 from a population of about 5 million) is any template, the historiography will be thin.
Mass displays of grief in 2022 were largely reserved for those touched by fame.
In March the (not only cricketing) world grieved in disbelief the death of Shane Warne at 52. Warnie, the everyman with a less than once-in-a-generation cricketing gift. Bogan prince. Sporting wizard. He was memorialised in a fashion usually reserved for the long departed. Beetson. Cazaly. Phar Lap. Bradman.
Warne was the relatable sun-kissed and zinced blonde suburban boy (son, husband, dad, brother) next door, fond of a beer and a gasper, always earthily prosaic in taste and demeanour. Except he could do anything on the pitch and much else beyond it. He was already a fixture in the national heart when he played Shane, the Warnie impersonator who married Sharon Strzelecki in Kath and Kim.
Two much-loved Australian girls-next-door – Judith Durham and Olivia Newton-John – also died this year, both in August.
We will never find another songstress quite like Durham, who was 79, not least for a becoming modesty disproportionate to her enormous musical talent. She was lead vocalist of the Seekers at a time when the folk band from Oz was breaking international musical records unmet even by the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
British-born Newton John, who died at 73, was readily claimed by Australia, where she grew up, for her appeal to a generation of parents wary of the devilish rock and pop culture of the late 60s and 70s. Courtesy of her breezy pop hits and wholesome image (amid the louche menace of the Easybeats, Daddy Cool and the Masters Apprentices) she was an apparent innocent in a corruptive sea of potential moral danger for Australian youth – Melbourne’s Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Then in 1978 Grease transformed Our Olivia, the ingenue, into the temptress, Sandra Dee, opposite John Travolta.
Politically, 2022 was momentous.
In May Anthony Albanese, parliamentary veteran and Labor true believer brought up by a single mother in inner Sydney public housing, became Australia’s 31st prime minister. Labor ended almost nine years of conservative rule, its election a comprehensive repudiation of Scott Morrison’s “bulldozer” style and sometimes tenuous relationship with truth.
Morrison – with his perplexing blend of ideological vacuity, political gamesmanship and Pentecostalism – revealed more of himself after the election than was ever known to voters, disclosing that he and fellow worshippers “don’t trust in governments” and “don’t trust in the United Nations”. But Morrison himself actually seems to have done more than any other Australian PM to undermine faith in parliamentary democracy, bragging to friendly journalists (who, writing their convivial book about him, forgot what a massive news story looked like even while it snapped at their backsides) that he had secretly been sworn in to a number of his ministers’ portfolios. It’s an act that earned shamelessly unrepentant Morrison the status of first PM to be censured by parliament. As Alanis Morissette pondered: “And isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”
Further on trauma: the new federal government began, finally, repatriating from Syria the wives and children of Australian Islamic State fighters. Is it Pollyanna-ish to read into this some sign that compassion might challenge Australia’s enduring post-9/11 tough-on-national-security-and-terrorism auction?
In the blur of pandemic years, it’s easy to forget that the first, 2020, began with devastating bushfires. Then came the floods. More fires. Floods again. And now yet more floods – even as a pre-Christmas heatwave torpefies Australia’s north. This wide brown land is inherently, notoriously, capricious – “of droughts and flooding rains’’. Little wonder that the flood victims are afflicted with disaster fatigue.
Is it too much for the rest of us, continentally and emotionally distant, to remain cognisant of their plight at the end of 2022, the year of invisible suffering? As with the continuing Covid pain in our midst, we can become inured to our constant environmental vagaries and their human carnage.
If fire and plague ushered in the new decade in 2020, three years later there is a definite lightening of national mood – even if we are far from arriving in a post-pandemic state. We are free to travel. At liberty to gather. To party. In our tens of thousands for the New Year’s fireworks. To worship. Masks? Optional. There is a sense that we have somehow dodged an apocalypse, even amid such pervasively high numbers of deaths from the virus.
So we go forward into 2023 with nary a glance in the rear-view. That’s unsurprising, really. For Australia has never been a nation to dwell overly on the painful past.


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