The rear of the year

Goodbye, 2020! Image: Guy James Whitworth.

As 2020 comes to a close (hurrah!) Guy James Whitworth wraps up the year we’d rather forget in his own inimitable style.

When I got the overly cheerful email from my editor asking me if I’d maybe be interested in writing the Sentinel‘s ‘end of year review’ for 2020, I was so flattered. I felt like a supermodel being asked to strut down a runway as the bride, climactically bringing a glamorous couture show to its close! But then I realised, nah, it was probably more the case that no other writer wanted the job. I mean, really, how do you put a positive and uplifting spin on the absolute shit-show-flaming-dumpster-disaster-zone that has been the last twelve months?    

When trying to recap the past year, I realised I either had a very bad memory, or my brain was going into what psychiatrists call ‘dissociation’, which is when our brain compartmentalises trauma and blocks it off so recollection of incidents can’t cause any further suffering.   

Either way, not exactly a good sign.   

Internationally, January started off cheerfully enough with the impeachment of Donald Trump, although the much delayed finalisation of Brexit in the UK balanced out the optimism. Locally, a continuation of the disastrous bushfires around Australia, especially NSW, resulted in poor visibility and air quality in Sydney. Collectively, a low settling anxiety ran rampant across the city as the ‘worst bushfire season on record’ resulted in almost 19 million hectares of burnt-out forest, the death of approximately one billion animals and 34 human casualties.

Also, despite the media not being quick – or in reality, keen – to take up the story, a new virus, zoonotic in origin, which had appeared the previous month, was firmly taking hold in Wuhan, China.    

Surely, thinks the world, things are bound to get better in February! Rather worryingly, however, Trump was quickly acquitted of all charges in the impeachment hearing. Some justice was served, nonetheless, with the long overdue conviction of Harvey Weinstein. The looming vague spectre of Covid-19 was dusted in rainbow glitter and then thoroughly disregarded as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade and party went ahead as usual – although only just, as days later the World Health Organisation officially deemed Covid-19 a pandemic. The word ‘unprecedented’ really began to get on everyone’s tits.   

By early March everyone is instructed to avoid crowds and limit travel. Rather understandably, royal press targets Harry and Megan announce they are stepping away from their royal duties, although in hindsight, maybe they were just two ‘work from home’ trailblazers and we didn’t realise it at the time? The Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled for the first time ever. Oh, and anyone with shares in the videoconferencing application Zoom started wondering if they should gift themselves a solid gold toilet.   

Throughout April face masks became obligatory, social distancing became a way of life and working while wearing pyjamas from the waist down became a new normal for many. Very briefly and surreally, toilet paper became more precious than bank notes and wiping your bum on a $20 note made perfect sense. The words ‘we are all in this together’ became commonly heard but realistically, the ‘optics’ (which became a shit-hot 2020 buzzword) around ‘those that have and those that have not’ became a lot clearer around the world, with very measurable and often terminal outcomes. In the US, President Trump confidently, yet somewhat contradictorily, makes the declaration that as well as being a hoax, Covid would also ‘magically disappear’. Unfortunately neither it, nor he, did.   

Also in April, the High Court in Melbourne quashed George Pell’s conviction stating ‘evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard’.   

In America again, racial tensions arose in May when Ahmaud Arbery is shot and killed while jogging, however, within a few days those tensions bubbled over dramatically as footage emerged of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, uttering the words “I can’t breathe” as police officer Derek Cauvin, surrounded and supported by three other officers, knelt on his neck for nine minutes, killing him in the process.

Rio Tinto’s chief executive Chris Salisbury released a statement saying, “We are sorry for the distress we have caused,” after the company used explosives to destroy a large part of the the Juukan Gorge caves, a sacred Indigenous site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, where many prehistoric artefacts had previously been found. 

Testing for the coronavirus becomes commonplace around the world (during which, a lot of gay men feel the need to politely pretend they still have a gag reflex).   

In June, because we all really weren’t all panicked enough at this point, Kenya and Eastern Africa experienced the worst invasion of desert locusts in the last 70 years (I believe ‘Biblical’ might be the word you’re searching for). Anger continued to boil over in the USA and many took to the streets to support the Black Lives Matter movement. In what appeared to be an example of tone deafness taken to an extreme level, peaceful protestors were shot at with tear gas, as Trump held a photo op outside a church in Washington DC. Internationally, statues of individuals linked to the historical exploitation of people of colour, and the slave trade, were toppled amid support for BLM. In Sydney, a socially distanced rally attended by thousands of people wearing face masks went ahead (despite police disapproval) in support of Australia’s Indigenous population and the rates of incarceration of First Nations people.

The everyday female name of Karen emerged as a vicious new insult.   

Just as July signals halfway through the year, and we all think perhaps the worst might be behind us, I kid you fucking not: Giant Killer Hornets were reported for the first time in the US and Europe.    

The border between New South Wales and Victoria was officially closed for the first time in over a hundred years, no thanks to Covid-19.

You know, I’m just going to pop it out there; I’m beginning to think maybe, by writing this, I’m not so much a supermodel bringing a fashion spectacular to a close, but a sacrificial lamb being offered to the gods in hope of a respite to all these scriptural afflictions! Actually, in the Middle Ages, they celebrated the end of the plague with feasts and orgies – can we just get to that bit now please? 

Not yet, unfortunately. In August, an explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon causes at least 204 deaths and 6,500 injuries. At least 30,000 people are left homeless.   

Shall I go on?    

Because really, let’s be honest, 2020 just isn’t fucking fun is it? It really does put the anus in Annus Horribilis. Oh, and then Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and a LOT of people around the world really stopped feeling any kind of optimism.    

In September, around 250 pilot wales beach themselves near Macquarie Heads in Tasmania. The Australian economy goes into recession for the first time in 30 years. Huge blob-like aliens are spotted asking for spare-change outside a KFC in Merrylands and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are arrested in Bondi getting punch-drunk and shouty from cask wine on the beach. Obviously, no, not really, but would anyone be surprised, at this point in time, if the last two items were true?   

In October, everybody’s favourite Sound Of Music cosplay performer and the nation’s sweetheart Gladys Berejiklian is rather surprisingly involved in a corruption and sex scandal where the word ‘dickmatised’ makes perfect sense! Now, although this seems as fanciful as September’s entry above, remember this is still 2020, so all bets are off as to what is unbelievable and what isn’t. Halloween happens and no one cares – basically at this point it’s Halloween every fucking day, unfortunately just without the possibility of any treats.   

Is there anything we don’t already know about the November election in the USA? I don’t think anyone needs reminding of that live and televised test in anxiety management? It kind of does dominate all other world events! Oh, and in a totally unforeseen joyous moment, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia rather hilariously becomes a household name. Mid-month, I read the words ‘Tangerine Palpatine’ to describe Trump and almost wet myself laughing.   

Well, we all knew there was a good chance December would be a strange one, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Along with spooky alien-style (but human made) monoliths popping up around the world, The Galactic Federation (look it up, I’m not touching that one) and finally The Donald admitted (kind of) defeat, and the UK was the first country to start rolling out The Vaccine! 

And there we go, we made it! We got through the year!  

So just to ponder on a few things, although 2020 certainly hasn’t been the best of years for many people, I certainly can’t help but think we here in Sydney, might have had it a smidgeon better than a lot of other places in the world, or even Australia. (Hi there, Melbourne, how you doing?)

At best, this past year has been a valuable lesson in resilience and resourcefulness that we have no choice but to learn from. Certainly, it wasn’t the year anyone wanted, but it did become a year when a lot of us started to appreciate what we had.  

This year, either because of anxiety, grief, the air quality due to bushfires or Covid-19, we have all – to paraphrase the horrific last words of George Floyd – struggled to find our breath at some point. 

Indeed, those who found themselves in good health appreciated all hell out of it. The expression ‘count your blessings’ never made more sense. This might not have been the year of my supermodel catwalk debut, real world or literary, but at least I’m not amongst the walking wounded or those that didn’t make it.

None of us knows what 2021 has in store, but jeez, I do hope it’s something very undramatic, understated and humdrum (I can’t believe that as a gay man, I actually said those words out loud).  

Happy New Year, everyone – let’s bloody hope, hope and hope some more that this coming year is better than the last!  

Memes sourced by Guy James Whitworth.

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle, is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.

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