22 December 2020

2020 Year in Review: A surprising twist in a year of bushfires and COVID-19

| Kim Treasure
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Of Australia’s two biggest stories in 2020 – COVID-19 and the Black Summer bushfires – surprisingly our top story was neither of those.

An amazing photograph hooked in Region Media‘s readers and helped one tale go viral.

Bushfire-related content comprised a majority of our most popular posts, but we’ve decided to bring you a broader view of the year with 12 of the stories that captured your attention in 2020.

Take a look back at the year that was.

12. No smooth sailing for Batemans Bay aquatic and arts centre as bitter battle emerges

Concept design for new aquatic and arts centre at Mackay Park in Batemans Bay.

One of the concept designs for the new aquatic and arts centre at Mackay Park in Batemans Bay prepared by NBRS Architecture. Image: Eurobodalla Shire Council.

The $55 million project for the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre on the site of the Batemans Bay Pool came under fire with allegations of cost blowouts, lack of community consultation and possible rate increases.

The Eurobodalla Shire Council’s bold business plan for the site – which got the green light in May – includes replacing the ageing 50m outdoor pool with a 25m eight-lane pool that can operate all year. The new pool area will include a warm-water therapy pool and spa, freeform indoor leisure pool with learn-to-swim and toddler areas, waterplay splash pad, waterslides, gym, group fitness and a wellness area.

11. Tumba timber mill’s future hangs in balance

Hyne Timber at Tumbarumba.

Owners of Hyne Timber at Tumbarumba have their fingers crossed the NSW Government will approve a $10 million grant, which will help them secure vital timber bound for China. Photo: Hyne Timber.

The family owned 138-year-old Hyne Timber company continued to call for government support to direct Australian saw logs destined for China to their mill in Tumbarumba.

The company’s chief executive officer, Jon Kleinschmidt, said employees and the community were increasingly concerned about the mill’s future following the Black Summer bushfires, which decimated 40 per cent of Hyne’s local log supply.

10. ‘It was like a bomb going off: Lightning strike blasts kitchen wall in NSW home

Colin Picker standing in kitchen damaged by lightning.

Colin Picker stands where lightning hit the kitchen of his home in Bigga. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

A Bigga couple got the fright of their lives during one of 2020’s wild storms when a lightning strike blasted their home, causing extensive damage to their kitchen.

The lightning strike to their home, north of Canberra, caused the wall to crack in multiple places; blew the air conditioning unit off the wall; threw a picture frame and phone socket to the other side of the kitchen; and melted electrical wiring.

9. NSW South Coast in mourning after horrific end to the year

People sleeping and taking refuge in Moruya Basketball Stadium.

People waking up at the Moruya Basketball Stadium on 1 January, 2020. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

As the NSW Far South Coast began to put together the pieces of a horrific end to 2019, the two men who died while trying to save their house west of Cobargo were named.

Father and son Robert Salway, 63, and Patrick Salway, 29, were prominent members of the Bega showjumping community. They died in the blaze as they stayed to defend their property in Wandella, 10km west of Cobargo.

Then Bega Valley Shire Council Mayor Kristy McBain fought back tears briefing her bushfire-ravaged community after a devastating day.

8. ‘Mega pod’ of humpback whales spotted feeding off the coast of Eden and Merimbula

Man photographing pod of humpback whales in sea off NSW South Coast.

Up to 100 humpback whales were spotted off the coast near Eden and Merimbula in September 2020. Photo: David Rogers.

“Look! A whale!” is an often-heard cry between May and September along the NSW South Coast.

But those lucky enough to be out on boats one day in September 2020 were treated to humpback whales en masse, with witnesses saying there were up to 100 whales all breaching and feeding, creating a spectacle that will not be forgotten.

Tathra-based photographer David Rogers was on Merimbula Marina whale-watching boat True Blue, and says seeing the whales – referred to as a ‘mega pod’ by locals – was the most amazing natural spectacle he’s ever seen.

7. Batemans Bay now COVID-19 hotspot as infection spreads

Exterior of Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.

Two tourists who dined at Batemans Bay Soldiers Club tested positive to COVID-19 in July 2020. Photo: File.

Batemans Bay found itself in an unwelcome spotlight as a potential COVID-19 hotspot in July.

Hundreds of people were asked to self-isolate after two tourists who dined at Batemans Bay Soldiers Club tested positive to the virus.

6. Site revealed for new $200m Eurobodalla Hospital

Michael Holland, Andrew Constance, Liz Innes and Russell Schneider at the site of the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Michael Holland, Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Eurobodalla Shire Council Mayor Liz Innes and Southern NSW Local Health District board member Russell Schneider at the announcement of the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital in December. Photo: Alex Rea.

A rural block east of Moruya TAFE, between Albert Street and the Princes Highway, was confirmed as the site for the long-awaited new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.

The site was announced by Member for Bega Andrew Constance and NSW Health representatives on 7 December, 2020.

5. South Coast residents warned conditions are set to worsen

Flooded Deua River.

The flooded Deua River. Photo: Peter Smith.

As if bushfires and COVID-19 were not enough, the NSW South Coast also had to contend with floods in 2020.

In August, Moruya residents were being urged to brace for possible evacuations as heavy rain continued to fall.

4. Close encounter with great white shark sparks word of warning

Spearfisherman Glen Thurston sitting on jet ski holding tuna.

Spearfisherman Glen Thurston with a southern-bluefin tuna he caught in July. Photo: Facebook.

A NSW South Coast spearfisherman, who came face-to-face with a great white shark, warned people against going in the water with the prevalence of sharks due to the migration of whales.

“It was right in front of me, about a car’s length distance away, and not even moving, just staring straight at me,” said Glen Thurston, a well-known former professional bodyboarder and ocean lover who lives near Ulladulla.

3. Crashed tanker was protecting Two Thumbs koala sanctuary, now destroyed by blaze

James Fitzgerald standing in bush.

James Fitzgerald in his wildlife sanctuaries at Peak View. Photo: NSW Koala Country.

The blaze that claimed the lives of three American firefighters in an air crash during the Black Summer bushfires also wiped out koala conservationist James Fitzgerald’s life work at Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust, near Jerangle, and killed many of the animals he was caring for.

The blaze destroyed his home and the animal enclosures where rescued koalas were being housed.

2. Riders and shooters to face off in Victorian Alps as horse lovers mount rescue mission

Brumbies running in the Victorian Alps.

Perilous and wintery conditions awaited snipers and horse riders as they faced off in the Victorian Alps. Photo: Australian Brumby Alliance.

It was a showdown with all the markings of Banjo Paterson’s ‘colt from old Regret’, the one that got away. In mid-May, a quiet insurgency took place in the Victorian Alps, with horsemen across the high country riding in to save mobs of brumbies from a shooting cull of feral horses.

1. Red-bellied black snake caught in netting freed by WIRES

Red-bellied black snake tangled in netting.

A red-bellied black snake tangled in netting was rescued by WIRES and released into the wild. Photo: Supplied.

It’s a face only a mother could love, but it was enough to send readers into a frenzy.

Trained snake handler and WIRES volunteer Kay Mallitt rescued this entangled red-bellied black snake from netting at Long Beach on the NSW South Coast and her story sparked a storm of interest.

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