From bushfires to COVID-19: The moments that changed us in 2020

The world changed dramatically in 2020.

The world changed dramatically in 2020. Photo: Getty

We kept hearing the word “unprecedented” in 2020, but this year really has been unlike any other.

The coronavirus pandemic completely upended life as we knew it, global powers shifted and the killing of an African-American man sparked mass demonstrations around the world.

Here, The New Daily reflects on the moments that shaped us in 2020.

Black Summer bushfires

Even before the coronavirus hit our shores, the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires had already left millions of Australians feeling traumatised.

The fires, which began in August 2019 and lasted until March, burnt more than 19 million hectares of land.

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A child on a boat escaping the fires at Mallacoota, Victoria during the crisis. Photo: ABC News

Thirty three people died and more than 3000 homes were destroyed by flames.

New South Wales was by far the hardest-hit state, but fires also ripped through parts of Victoria, the ACT, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.

More than 1.2 billion animals were killed, with international crews flying in from all over the world to help rescue the survivors.

One year on, many Australians are still reeling from the pain. 

Bushfire survivors say the royal commission into last summer’s fires will be ‘useless’ without urgent climate change action. Photo: AAP


For the first time since 1918, a deadly virus strain ignited a global pandemic.

What started as an aggressive, pneumonia-like illness in the Chinese city of Wuhan rapidly spread from one country to the next, killing more than 1.7 million people.

Within months, the sound of sneezing and coughing made people flinch and face masks quickly became an essential item.

wuhan toll coronavirus revised

Workers in protective suits ride on a truck taking medical supplies into a Wuhan hospital at the height of the crisis in China. Photo: AP

Australia no longer behaved like one united country, as international and domestic borders slammed shut, forcing loved ones to live apart and sparking division between federal and state governments.

Ill-equipped nursing homes became overwhelmed with sick and dying residents, while anxious shoppers turned on each other by panic-buying essential items in supermarkets.

And although many enjoyed swapping pub nights for puzzles and takeaway pizza, the isolation also led to plenty of ‘doom-scrolling’, a spike in dangerous conspiracy theories and despair over the world’s soaring death toll.

The death toll from the coronavirus climbed rapidly in Mexico, along with other Latin American nations. Photo: Getty

Black Lives Matter movement

In the US in May, the police killing of African-American man George Floyd was the final straw for millions of Americans fed up with racism and police brutality.

The 46-year-old’s death, caused by a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes, sparked a global anti-racism movement.

Mr Floyd’s chilling final words, “I can’t breathe”, became a slogan for Black Lives Matter protests all over the world.

Demonstrators in New York air their anger at the death of George Floyd. Photo: Getty

That included Australia, where our dark colonial history and ongoing mistreatment of First Nations people were cast under the spotlight.

Thousands of protesters march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in Sydney. Photo: AAP

Actor Meyne Watt delivered a powerful monologue on ABC’s Q&A program, saying, “You go to weddings. We go to funerals”, while activists called for justice over the deaths of hundreds of Indigenous people in police custody, including Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day.

In a move that added salt to the wound, that same month mining corporation Rio Tinto blew up the sacred 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves in the Pilbara, WA.

Juukan Gorge in 2013, left, and 2020. Photo: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation/ABC News

Cardinal George Pell’s conviction quashed

In April, Cardinal George Pell – the most senior Catholic in the world found guilty of historical child sexual abuse – was freed from prison and had his convictions overturned.

It followed two years of legal battles after a Melbourne jury unanimously convicted Cardinal Pell on five charges in December 2018.

The jurors believed the complainant was telling the truth when he told the court that in December 1996 Cardinal Pell sexually assaulted him and another 13-year-old boy in the priest’s sacristy at St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Pell, maintaining his innocence, was sentenced to six years jail for sexually abusing the two choirboys.

George Pell became the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes. Photo: Getty

For thousands of Australians who survived child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church, the Cardinal’s conviction was a rare example of justice finally being served.

But one and a half years later, the 79-year-old walked free.

The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, should not have found Cardinal Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Cardinal Pell has since returned to the Vatican.

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George Pell sits with another priest at a bar near St Peter’s Square, in Vatican City. Photo: Getty

Democrat Joe Biden wins US election

After a painstakingly close election race, Democratic leader Joe Biden was announced the next US President on November 8.

His running mate, Kamala Harris, made history by becoming the first woman – and first woman of colour – elected Vice President.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Photo: AP

The announcement came five days after millions of American voters headed to the polls to decide whether Republican Donald Trump should remain in the White House, or if Mr Biden should take over.

Finally, after days of waiting for votes to be counted, a winner was finally declared with Mr Biden reaching 290 electoral college votes.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has continued to dispute the election results, arguing without evidence that widespread voter fraud took place.

Although Mr Biden has pledged to unite the country when he becomes president on January 20, scenes of angry Trump supporters are a sign he has a challenging task ahead.

Trump supporters march in the streets of Washington. Photo: AAP

China tries to bully Australia

For years, tensions between Australia and China have been bubbling away under the surface as the Asian powerhouse seeks to exert its political influence.

In 2020, those tensions bubbled to the surface.

The latest dispute started in April, when the Morrison government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

The PM believes the coronavirus emanated in Wuhan, most likely in its wet markets.

China, meanwhile, has denied the virus originated in its mainland, arguing that just because the epidemic started in China, it doesn’t mean the source of the virus originated there.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is dialling up the pressure on Australia. Photo: Getty

Since then, China has punished Australia by slapping tariffs and bans on some of our top exports, including beef, wine, rock lobster and coal.

It has also been using ‘soft power’ strategies to try to humiliate us.

Chinese state media posted several cartoons making fun of a disturbing report that found war crimes had been committed by members of the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan.

As we head into 2021, Australians are being urged to buy local as our relationship with the world’s biggest economic partner looks set to sour even further.

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