Is it news?
There’s no denying the past few months have been ‘big’ for news. Plane crashes, elections, bushfires and terror attacks: you name it, we’ve had it. Barely a day goes past, where you don’t sit back at the end of a shift and think ‘wow, that was a busy one. What’s next?’.
We have been blessed for content to keep the news bulletins ticking along. But how does it stack up with other big news events over the years? Will we look back in years to come and say: “I remember when …”.
Obviously, time will tell. But what have been those ‘era’ defining, headline making news stories of time gone by? A Top 10 proved rather difficult, so here are my top stories from the past 25 years or so.
The death of Diana.
Much like the JFK assassination of 1963, the death of Princess Diana has become a point on the road map of history. Everyone has a story about what they were doing when they heard the news. The outpouring of grief was on a scale never before experienced.
Fox fm in Melbourne launched a brand new breakfast show the day after her death. Matt Tilley, Tracy Bartram and Jamie Angel went to air as The Tramspotters, but plans for a BIG first show were ditched. It wasn’t the time to be funny.
What a horrible day. The days following were just as bad. The raw emotion of those early broadcasts make difficult listening (and reporting). Most journos pride themselves on being able to separate the emotion, but this was one of a handful of events where that was nigh on impossible.
Until October 12, 2002 Australians would holiday in Bali without a care in the world, except perhaps for the dreaded “Bali Belly” that could ruin any holiday. That all changed when the bombs went off in Kuta. 202 people were killed – 88 of them Australians, many of them on end of season footy trips.
Three years later, terrorists again targeted the holiday island. Four Australians among the 20 victims
Boxing Day Tsunami
Christmas to New Years is generally seen as the ‘slow time’. Everyone’s on holidays and most newsrooms go into holiday mode. Who expect an international tragedy on Boxing Day, 2004?
It was triggered by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake in the Indian Ocean. It spawned a massive tsunami that struck Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the Maldives.
As I left for the day, I remembered telling the sports guy to keep an eye on the death toll and ‘maybe’ put it ahead of sport if it started to mount. Prophetic words. The death toll has been put at more than
Seven years after the Boxing Day tragedy, we watched as another devastated Japan powerful earthquake and tsunami: a wall of water that travelled 10kms inland and claimed almost 16,000 lives.
Black Saturday bushfires
If you lived in Melbourne, you remember ‘that’ day in 2009. 47 degrees. Orange sky. The air so warm, your eyeballs seemed to dry up. The magnitude of the tragedy became apparent by early afternoon, when the reports of loss of life began to come in. 173 Victorians perished in the fires.
Who can forget the images as the waters rose and engulfed Queensland’s south east corner on January 11, 2011? It was staggering to watch whole communities go under, cars tossed about like toys (picture of Toowoomba). The floods claimed 38 lives with nine people listed as missing.
Port Arthur Massacre
A quiet tourist spot with a violent past, Port Arthur is now known as the site of one of the worst gun massacres in the world. On April 28, 1996 Martin Bryant went on a bloody rampage, killing 35 people and wounding another 23.
It saw the introduction of some of the toughest gun laws in the world. There’s never been a massacre on Australian soil since.
The Berlin Wall.
In 1989, the Cold War between the east and the west had begun to thaw. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9 marked it’s end. For the first time in decades, East and West Berliners crossed no man’s land and hugged and celebrated. Powerful stuff.
The release of Nelson Mandela.
A policy of apartheid left South Africa isolated from the rest of the world. Sporting and economic sanctions left it ‘out in the cold’. The release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990 signalled to the world that South Africa was ready to change.
He’d spent 27 years behind bars, but bore no animosity to his captors and helped guide his nation to the first ‘multi-racial’ elections in 1994.
The first Gulf War
Long before the rise of social media, CNN dominated news gathering. It was wall-to-wall coverage, 24/7. I remember the AAP copy that told us that it was ‘on’.
“Fighter jets reported over Baghdad – CNN reports”. Those few words saw newsrooms around the world scramble to cover the TV war.
(A much earlier story of “Iraqi troops massing on Kuwaiti border’ almost slipped under the radar in one Melbourne newsroom).
The death of Michael Jackson.
His life was played out in the tabloids. After reaching the top of the charts as a solo performer, his life became increasingly bizarre – as did his appearance. There were the child molestation allegations and his marriages to Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe. There were his children: Prince, Paris and Blanket.
And then there was his death on June 25, 2009 and the media circus continued.
History was made in 2006 when Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States of America. Battered and bruised by the GFC and the war on terror, voters were inspired by his promise of better times with “Yes we Can” election slogan.
Olympic Opening ceremonies.
OK, there’s been a lot of doom and gloom in my list of big news stories. But there have been moments of inspiration. The Olympic Games have provided scores of memorable moments. But there are two that have stayed with me. 1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney.
Who can forget boxing legend Muhammed Ali lighting the flame in Atlanta, where 30 or so years earlier, segregation was a way of life. His battle with Parkinson’s was evident, but he held that torch aloft.
Then just four years later, Cathy Freeman did the honours in Sydney – standing in a ring of fire with the Olympic torch held high. For me, the games that followed have not reached that emotional high.
Rudd v Gillard v Rudd: Ahh, the Labor years. Enough has been written of the dysfunctional ALP and the role of some media outlets. But are we seeing a repeat performance within the Coalition? Time will tell.
Malaysian Airlines: A flight takes off. A flight disappears. Almost a year on and the disappearance of MH370 remains a mystery. We’re no closer to finding any answers or the wreckage. Then months later, tragedy strikes again with the downing of MH17.
The Backpacker murders: The stuff of nightmares. Seven back packers come to Australia for the adventure of a life time and wind up dead in the Belanglo State Forest. Ivan Milat the monster responsible
I remember attending a heart wrenching media conference given by the mother of a missing Germany tourist. Months later the body of Simone Schmidl was found.
Snowtown: A series of 12 murders carried out by John Bunting, Robert Wagner and Adam Vlassakis. The bodies found in barrels in the vault of a disused bank in Snowtown, South Australia.
Big events ‘before my time’…(OK, only just).
I know of a radio journo who saw the story on AAP and immediately spiked it, thinking a mother’s claim of a dingo stealing her baby was just absurd. Almost 35 years after baby Azaria Chamberlain disappeared at Ayres Rock, there are still some who believe she was murdered by her mother Lindy, despite being exonerated in a 2012 Coronial Inquest.
The Challenger Disaster
On a clear January morning in 1986, the Challenger blasted into the sky. 73 seconds after the launch, and just moments after Ground Control ordered it to ‘throttle up’, the shuttle exploded. Teacher Christa McAuliffe was among those killed.
Hoddle Street Massacre
Seven people died when former Australian Army cadet Julian Knight opened fire in Clifton Hill in 1987. 19 people were injured in his rampage. Just months later, the madness returned to Melbourne when gunman Frank Vitkovic shot dead eight people before he jumped to his death on Queen Street.
Ash Wednesday Fires
Until the fires of 2009, Ash Wednesday was the measuring stick for fire authorities. “It’ll be as bad as Ash Wednesday” was used to described the fire danger. 75 people lost their lives in the fires that raged in Victoria and South Australia.
The death of John Lennon:
I was sitting in a doctor’s surgery with a broken finger when there was a news flash that ex-Beatle John Lennon had been shot dead in New York City. I remembered thinking my dad would be devastated. And he was.
First Diana and Charles, then Sarah and Andrew. Later Mary and Fred and William and Kate. These ones take on a life of their own. Who didn’t attend a BBQ or party or stay up late to get a look at ‘the dress’?
This is by no means a comprehensive list of big news events. What can be important to one person, rates lower for another. This is MY list of events, but I’m interested in what ticks the box for you.
Nikole Gunn has 20+ years in radio and is the former DMG Melbourne news director.