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The Year Everything Changed

by Phillipa McGuinness

Why our Staff Love The Year Everything Changed: 2001:

2001 was a turbulent and surprising year for everyone - hardly what Stanley Kubrick had in mind. The craziest things happened, from the arrival of the iPod and Wikipedia to the collapse of Enron, Ansett, and One-Tel. The history wars hotted up, Mabo became law, children went overboard, and the Stolen Generation left us devastated and divided. We lost Bradman and crowned Kylie and Nicole as icons. Then, of course, there was 9/11. The outside world was closing in on us. It was hectic.

Whilst the world celebrated Princess Masako’s new child, Phillipa McGuinness faced the overarching trauma of burying a stillborn son. Looking back, she reflects on life’s turning points , the clustering of the improbable, and the loss of control and stability in an ever-hastening world. What else can possibly happen?

This is a beautifully balanced and surprising book. It is not a catalogue of events, but a montage of images and feelings. It brings together the personal and the political in a snapshot, a polaroid of a place and time when we were all different, the moment between before and after. So many of the fragments took me back to where I was at that time, who I was talking to, how I responded.

Writing with considerable intelligence, the author skillfully avoids nostalgia for its own sake and posits the events of 2001 as the seeds of our current attitudes, telling of responses to fate made policy. All of this makes 2001: The Year Everything Changed a highly thoughtful and entertaining read.


2001. It's not over yet.

On New Year’s Eve 2001, with her husband by her side, Phillipa McGuinness buried her son. They stood with a young priest in Chua Chu Kang Cemetery and watched a small coffin go into the ground. Later that night, shattered, they sat looking out at the hundreds of ships waiting to come into port in Singapore’s harbor. Or trying to leave, who could tell? Each of them thinking about the next year, starting within hours. Phillipa wanted time to push on, for 2001 to be over, but she was also scared. What might be next?

2001 was an awful year. It’s the only year where you can mention a day and a month using only numbers and everyone knows what you mean. But 9/11 wasn’t the only momentous event that year. In Australia a group of orange-jacketed asylum seekers on deck the Norwegian vessel Tampa seemed responsible for Prime Minister John Howard’s statement not long after: ‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’ These words became his mantra during the bruising election that followed in November, both sides of politics affected by their venom and insularity, or their strength and resolve, depending on which way you looked at it.

The year had started with what was supposed to be a celebratory event of sophistication and nuance, reflecting the kind of country we hoped we had become. Yet the Centenary of Federation on 1 January turned out to be a class-A fizzer. The nation seemed to decide that what was really worth commemorating wasn’t the peaceful bringing together of colonial states into a Commonwealth but the doomed assault on a Turkish beach that happened fourteen years later in 1915. It is easier to animate young men dying than old men signing a constitution.

2001 marked the halfway point of twenty years of continuous economic growth in Australia. But the year started with shiny tech startups continuing their implosion following the dotcom bubble burst. The deal of the (nascent) century, the merger between Netscape and AOL, seemingly an all-powerful mega corporation, began to slide. Yet perhaps the digital world as we now know it did start in 2001, at least for what is now the most powerful company in the world. For this was the year that Google, in no hurry to launch an IPO, received its PageRank patent, assigned to Larry Page and Stanford University. The rest, as they say, is history. Apple launched the iPod in 2001, not only transforming the soundtrack to our lives but shifting cultural alignments so that distributors became the richest guys in the room, rather than the artists writing, singing and playing the songs.

If 2001 were a movie oh wait, of course it was its tagline might be ‘The year that changed everything’. And that change is not over.

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