Author(s): Phillipa McGuinness
On New Year's Eve 2001 we buried our son. My husband Adam, his father and my sister stood with a young priest in Chua Chu Kang cemetery and watched a small coffin go into the ground. Later that night, shattered, we sat by the water eating chilli crab, drinking Tiger beer and 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 us thinking about the next year, starting within hours. Someone else might write 'it were as if time had stopped', but that clichU was not true for me- I wanted time to push on, for 2001 to be over. But I was scared about what might be next. At that moment even a card-carrying optimist like me wasn't too hopeful about 2002.
2001 had been an awful year, not just for me and my family. It's the only year where you can mention a day and a month only using 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 resolve 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 14 years later in 1915. The futile, bloody disaster of Gallipoli was apparently where our nation was born. It is easier to animate young men dying than old men signing a constitution.
2001 marked the halfway point of 20 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.