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2012 in review: as reported at canberratimes.com.au

Date

Hamish Boland-Rudder

In digital terms, a year is a very long time.

Canberra shock jock Jorian Gardner made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2012.

Canberra shock jock Jorian Gardner made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2012. Photo: Karleen Minney

In an era when a new phone can be obsolete within weeks, when a story can be seen by millions on Facebook within minutes, and breaking news is expected and provided within seconds, 12 months seems like an eternity.

Staying true to the digital zeitgeist, canberratimes.com.au packed plenty in to the year that was in 2012. And so did Canberra.

It has been a tumultuous year in politics – both federal and local – with yo-yoing opinion polls for our federal leaders, and a hard-fought local election in the ACT. The ACT has recorded a terrible year for safety on worksites, public servants have been threatened with job cuts from both sides of politics, and Raiders and Brumbies fans have both sniffed grand final glory before having it whisked away.

But what is it that has caught your interest this year? Let’s wind back the clock, cue the highlight reel, and take a look at just what Canberra was clicking on in 2012:

The year started with a local tragedy, when, on New Year’s Eve, two people died after eating poisonous death cap mushrooms picked in Braddon’s Haig Park. The deaths caught national interest, and prompted warnings from experts about inexperienced enthusiasts picking wild mushrooms for consumption.

The 25th Summernats brought its usual noise, colour, and unique burnt-rubber smell to wider Canberra with the re-institution of the ‘Nats street parade down Northbourne Avenue. Sadly for the organisers, perhaps one of the more memorable images was captured by a Canberra Times photographer who watched a brawl unfold right before their lens. The photos were referred to police, and any perpetrators were promised lifetime bans from the annual gathering of revheads.

Federal politics also wasted no time finding controversy in the new year, with one of the most iconic images of the year being snapped on “Australia’s day of shame”, as The Canberra Times headlined it the following day. The story of Julia Gillard being literally dragged by security from a raging mob of protesters on Australia Day in Canberra broke online, catching the attention of the nation.

February was a big month for canberratimes.com.au. It was in mid-February that we farewelled our old, regional website and embraced our metropolitan roots with a complete new look, a huge boost to content, but the same emphasis on providing our readers with Canberra’s best breaking news service.

By the end of February and into the beginning of March we put our new online tools to the test, initiating live, rolling coverage as parts of the ACT and surrounding areas were threatened by rising flood waters. While the region was spared a complete disaster, photos of the under-construction Cotter Dam overflowing, as well as huge numbers of reader-submitted photos from around the region illustrated not only the brevity of those few days, but also the willingness and ease with which people were able to share their stories online.

In April, Canberra captured the attention of the world – in a way. It began when Scottish comedian turned US late night talk show host Craig Ferguson decided to turn his wit on Australia’s oft-forgotten bush capital. The enigmatic Ferguson teamed up with Australian movie star Guy Pearce to engage in a solid round of Canberra bashing, with the former calling Canberra “a !@#$% dump” and the latter telling the world (or at least Ferguson’s substantial US and global audience) “there’s a lot wrong about Canberra”. The tirade lasted the duration of the show, and prompted a strong (and, most frequently, a tongue-in-cheek) reaction from staunch knights sworn to defend the honour of our nation’s capital (think Robyn Archer, Andrew Leigh, Andrew Barr, and co) – as well as quite a few cheeky comments from readers around the nation.

Guy Pearce’s subsequent apology to the people of Canberra might not have shaken our city’s great residents to the core, but a little more than a week later, a minor earthquake definitely rocked quite a few from their restful morning slumber. We mapped where the 5am rumblings of the 3.7 magnitude tremor was felt around the region, while a survey of our readers revealed about 55 per cent felt the earth move where they were.

On a more sombre note, Canberra also recorded its first road fatality in over 12 months in April, when 23-year-old motorcyclist Stewart Orme died in hospital after falling from his bike on Tidbinbilla Road. His death was the first of 11 on the ACT’s roads up to the time of writing.

In May, Canberra was hit with the federal budget blues. In its desperate quest for a surplus, the 2012-13 budget handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan was a tight one, with 4000 jobs to be cut from the public service within the year, and a further 8000 expected in the not-too-distant future. No surprise, then, that one of our most-read articles was a break-out list of where the projected cuts would be coming.

But it was a much more controversial political story in June that was to take the number one spot on our most-clicked list for the year, courtesy of local radio jock Jorian Gardner and an apparent joke that many readers failed to see the humour in. Gardner copped a ban from being heard on Radio 2CC’s airwaves after an on-air joke about “upskirting” Prime Minister Julia Gillard – or, more specifically, a joke about Communications Minister Stephen Conroy wearing a “penis cam” to film the PM’s nether regions. The story attracted well over 200 comments, and was run nationally across Fairfax’s metropolitan mastheads.

The internet’s taste for salaciousness and scandal isn’t always the clear winner. One of the other top winners in June once again confirmed Canberra’s obsession with restaurant culture, as a detailed breakdown of the cost of a meal at one of the capital’s top restaurants piqued significant interest with the local readership. Ever wondered why Aubergine charges $36 for a dish, and just what goes into it (and how much profit is being made)?

As the old saying goes, if you can’t handle the heat, then head from the kitchen to your heated lounge room, and throw another log on the fire of public opinion, because in the freezing depths of Canberra’s July, wood-fired heaters stepped into the civic spotlight. A government ban on wood heaters in some of Canberra’s new suburbs divided readers, and prompted a letter to the editor that found itself worthy of a lead spot on the homepage of canberratimes.com.au – an ode to the ACT nanny state, with a note sarcastically requesting further bans on barking dogs, fat people, and bad coffee. If only!

Cold winter weather didn’t douse the flames of another burning issue for Canberra – a proposed mosque in the city’s far north. Opposition to the mosque was based on a range of issues, from burqa-clad women scaring children to traffic congestion, while other residents levelled claims of bigotry against the anti-mosque crowd. It was an issue that would flare up periodically as the year stretched on.

Meantime, as the weather got progressively colder, canberratimes.com.au readers were enchanted by images of animals from Canberra zoo coping with the cold by photographer Colleen Petch. Colleen's photo gallery, including a stunning shot of a giraffe breathing steam in the early hours of the morning, was one of our most viewed galleries for 2012.

Two more deaths captured the attention of the capital in July, both for very different reasons. One was the alleged murder of well-known Red Hill resident Terrence Freebody on the millionaire’s row, Mugga Way, for which the court case continues. The other was the death of 21-year-old concreter Ben Catanzariti on a Kingston Foreshore construction site. His was the fourth fatality in Canberra’s construction industry in the previous eight months, and sparked a campaign by his mother to raise awareness of unsafe work practices threatening lives in Canberra.

The last week of July was the first week of the Olympics, and after an uncharacteristically poor performance by the Australian swim team, Paralympian and all-round hard man Michael Milton contacted canberratimes.com.au and kicked up some controversy by labelling our Olympic athletes too soft.

“Much of Australia’s sporting success was built on the back of people who lived and learned the hard way, people who learned their craft with a cricket stump, a golf ball and a corrugated water tank,” Milton wrote in a piece that was read widely across the nation. Thankfully, Aussie athletes in other, at times unexpected fields went on to rebuild some of the country’s sporting pride.

While our Olympic performance gradually warmed, Canberra’s temperature dropped. A cold snap on August 17 brought a rare dusting of snow to the capital, and even more in the surrounding areas. Readers flooded canberratimes.com.au with photos and stories of snow falling, roads closing, and children playing. It was a short-lived but magic winter moment for many.

At the end of August, Canberra farewelled a politician who had weathered many winters in the Legislative Assembly, and kicked up his fair share of mud and slush. John Hargreaves’ retirement as an MLA gave canberratimes.com.au readers a chance to reflect on the highs and lows of a very colourful career, and gave us the perfect excuse to run a gallery of the man and his moustache – a gallery that’s worth revisiting for anyone still missing one of the Assembly’s big characters.

Hargreaves’ departure came just before the start of what would be a very hard-fought campaign to win the hearts and minds of Canberra’s voters. Complete with controversial and hotly-contested slogans (“triple your rates”), widely varying tactics by the major parties (particularly in the number of costings submitted), and a fair few accusations of dirty campaigning and open vandalism, the run up to the ACT’s Legislative Assembly was anything but dull. One of the early runners to garner significant public attention (although perhaps not all for the right reasons) was Molonglo independent Philip Pocock, who gained national attention online for his staunch stance against homosexuality. Almost 150 commenters had their say on Mr Pocock’s call to outlaw gay sex.

Health was a hot-button topic through the year, especially after news broke online in April that more than 11,000 patient records were tampered with in the Canberra Hospital’s emergency department in an effort to improve the hospital’s statistics. But while the territory’s politicians kept their focus on policy and performance during the election campaign, canberratimes.com.au readers found something else to click on – the top 10 ailments treated in the nurse-led walk-in clinic in 2011-12.

Come election day, readers logged on in droves to check results, and, as the count tightened and it became clear the election result would go right down to the last few hundred votes, interest in the campaign peaked. The Greens’ electoral wipeout, and a swing to the Liberals at the polling booth was the topic of conversation both on the internet and around the water coolers of Canberra. But just as interesting was the dissection of how the city voted geographically, with Katy Gallagher commenting on the growing political divide between the progressive voters from north Canberra and the conservatives in the south.

With the election done and dusted, Canberra turned its attention to the future (and the past) in November. There was plenty of musing over how a local family could spend its share of a $111 million lotto jackpot at the start of December, while at the end of the month Centenary celebration organiser and defender of the capital’s honour Robyn Archer gave the Australian media a sharp warning – don’t make fun of Canberra, it’s not cool, it’s not on, and it’s bad for the whole country, particularly on the lead-up to the capital’s big 100th birthday bash.

And what could be more Canberra than a good, old-fashioned showdown between Territory and Municipal Services, and the hedge-owning populace of the inner north and inner south? Hedge-wars was re-ignited at the end of November by a rare TAMS agreement with the keeper of a beast of a hedge in Braddon – TAMS would move the footpath rather than force the overflowing shrub to be hacked back. Needless to say, scarred survivors of hedge-wars gone past were not happy.

But in other news of times past, November was also a month when Editor-at-Large Jack Waterford had an FoI success 30 years in the making – and it made for the great headline ‘How they fed us donkey burgers’. Waterford’s request for further information on the findings of a Royal Commission into Australian meat sellers took just shy of 30 years to be answered, but it confirmed for the first time the extent of a scandal whereby sub-standard meat (including donkey, horse, and pet-food grade meat) was substituted for and sold as human-grade food.

Scandalous food news continued in December, albeit of a completely different nature. A CSIRO employee who claimed he was sacked over a Big Mac had his complaint heard nationally after it was aired on canberratimes.com.au and spread to the mastheads around the nation. Then came the answer to a Senate estimates question, which revealed more than $100,000 has been paid by taxpayers to fuel a federal department’s taste for coffee over three years. Needless to say, the puns flowed, as did readers’ snarky comments.

The Canberra Times rounded out the year by breaking news of one of the most significant cyber security breaches in the Department of Defence’s recent history. A lone hacker revealed to canberratimes.com.au how he hacked into an ADFA personnel database within minutes, stealing the personal details of thousands of students and other military personnel in the process.

That’s not to say there haven’t been many, many more equally worthy and interesting stories peppered online throughout the year. And it doesn’t even touch on the brilliant images our photographers have brought us every day to illustrate these and many other stories. But the highlight of the year, without doubt, has been the growth of engagement with readers. Journalists now have the joy, and pain, of instantaneous feedback, be it directly through a comment addressed at a journalist, or indirectly through a conversation that continues on our website, or on Facebook or Twitter, for days after a story has broken.

We hope, after a year of significant growth for canberratimes.com.au in 2012, that we can keep that fire burning, and keep the conversation going as we continue to provide Canberra with the news it needs and the news it wants.

See you next year!

What do you think was the most important story of 2012? Leave your comments below.

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