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A look back at the defining Sydney moments of the last decade

Written by
Time Out editors

It’s often said that hindsight is 2020. So, as the third decade of the new millennium kicks off, we’re putting that wisdom (a little too literally) to the test.

Time Out Sydney’s editorial team – city editor
Maxim Boon, associate editor Olivia Gee, food and drink editor Matty Hirsch, arts editor Ben Neutze, associate publisher Nick Dent, branded content editor Claire Finneran and editorial assistant Alannah Maher – have selected the most memorable and defining moments of the last ten years – the events and happenings that shaped the city, transformed our culture, and made Sydney everything, for better or worse, that it is today.

A pair of celebrity epidemics strike Sydney: Bieber fever and Oprah-itis

It began in April, with symptoms spreading rapidly through tweens with questionable taste in music. Transmitted by a shared obsession with a floppy-haired Canadian heartthrob, a Sydney outbreak of Bieber fever went from being a metaphorical malady to a life-threatening condition ahead of a free public performance at Circular Quay. The assembled crowd of overzealous Justin Bieber tragics surged outside the Overseas Cruise Ship Terminal as the singer prepared to deliver a three-song set for Channel Seven’s Sunrise. The hysteria was so contagious, in fact, that the desperate jostling of more than 5,000 fans forced the police to shut down the star’s appearance. Later in the year, a different yet no less infectious fandom began spreading across Sydney. The December arrival of talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, with 300 American audience members (and for some reason John Travolta) in tow, brought similar displays of mania on the streets. Not even city officials were immune, slapping a colossal letter ‘O’ on the Harbour Bridge, and temporarily rechristening the nation’s most famous building the Sydney Oprah House. Fortunately, all those affected (including iconic landmarks) made full recoveries. Maxim Boon

The Baxter Inn opens and changes Sydney's bar scene forever

When the Shady Pines Saloon switched on the lights back in 2010, we’d never seen anything like it and thought for sure it was the bar of our dreams fully realised, a watering hole where we’d happily spend the rest of our lives. But then came Baxter Inn – swapping peanuts for pretzels, taxidermy for prize-fighter portraits and upping the ante with a dramatic hidden entrance down the back of a grotty CBD laneway, an awe-inducing 650-strong whisky collection and a level of service that set a new standard. Less than a year after opening, the underground drinking den landed at number seven on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars, thrusting Sydney’s bar scene onto the international stage, cementing the Swillhouse Group as one of the city’s sharpest operators and ushering in a new era of hidden bars, top talent behind the stick and seriously good drinking. Matty Hirsch

A TV milestone brings Redfern to the screen – in all its glory

Let’s face it, our harbourside city looks pretty glorious on screen. But not every corner has had the privilege of telling its stories on TV. Redfern Now premiered in 2012 and showed urban Aboriginal Australia as it had never been seen before. The Indigenous-led series was spectacular drama thanks to its willingness to dive headfirst into a tangled web of real communities. And it really was about Redfern now and acted as a kind of time capsule for Redfern’s Indigenous communities in 2012 – before the worst of gentrification struck. The series featured unforgettable performances from acting greats Wayne Blair, Deborah Mailman, Ursula Yovich and Leah Purcell alongside a cast of rising stars who would go on to define Indigenous storytelling on our city’s stages and screens in years to come. Best of all? Redfern Now left a legacy in its wake of TV series in which Indigenous artists took the reins of their own narratives: Cleverman, Mystery Road, Black Comedy, to name just a few. Ben Neutze

Goodbye monorail! A legend of Sydney's transport network is finally farewelled

“I hear those things are awfully loud? It glides as softly as a cloud!” It opened in 1988, and like many other things about Australia’s bicentennial year it was mired in controversy. Conceived to link the CBD to the newly developed Darling Harbour area, the monorail was a dinky little slice of faux futurism that was less about public transport than it was about giving tourists a short elevated ride from Pitt Street to the Convention Centre and back – with fares priced accordingly. In 2012 the state government acquired both the light rail and the monorail from Metro Transport Sydney and announced the latter’s cessation. Services ended in July 2013, and by April 2014 the thing was demolished. “The monorail is not integrated with Sydney's wider public transport network,” premier Barry O’Farrell had said, “and has never been truly embraced by the community.” And he was absolutely right. Nick Dent

Sydney gets locked out – and a siege sends ripples around the world

For many Sydneysiders, the O’Farrell government’s lockout laws are the defining story of the 2010s in our city. The night-time economy already had its fair share of challenges to contend with – tough regulations, soaring property prices and technology creating more and more compelling reasons to stay at home – but the February 2014 legislation was a significant blow. If you were in your prime clubbing years in the middle of the 2010s, you’ll remember just how much you had to change your partying practices to make sure you made it into your chosen destination by the 1.30am lockout and were properly lubricated by 3am last drinks. While we lost some beloved venues, our city’s culture has proven pretty resilient, and we’ve found creative solutions to keep our night time pumping. But the 2020s are a new decade, and they look set to start off with a bang: the lockouts are due to be scrapped on January 14. As the city reshifted to make way for lockouts, a tragedy unfolded on December 15 that brought terror into Sydney’s heart: the Lindt café siege. The actions of a lone gunman horrified the city and brought us closer to the international reality of terrorism than we’d ever been. Ben Neutze

Adam Goodes leaves the AFL for good in a sour and sorry ending to a brilliant career

Perhaps May 24 of 2013 – when a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter called Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes an “ape” and was subsequently ejected from the stadium – was the catalyst for this divisive and disgraceful stretch of Sydney’s, and the nation’s, sport history. In 2015, the four-time All-Australian and Australian of the Year was regularly met with a loud chorus of boos at nearly every match, and everyone from shock jocks to pundits to then-prime minister Tony Abbott (remember him?) weighed in with an opinion in a seemingly never-ending media storm. Was Goodes a villain? A hero? A tall poppy? A victim of casual racism? The pot came to a rolling boil in May when the Swans star performed an Indigenous war dance after scoring a goal against Carlton, only to be thrust into the spotlight yet again as the subject of ferocious public debate. It prompted Goodes to take indefinite leave from the game in August, and he retired for good that September. In April of this year, the AFL and all 18 clubs issued a public apology, vowing to “continue to fight all forms of racism and discrimination, on and off the field”. May we continue to call it out and learn from our mistakes. Matty Hirsch

Sydney storms gave our beaches a beating while Coogee was decimated by ‘backpacker Christmas’

Sydney’s beaches are revered all over the world; the salty air and blue waters that surround our cosmopolitan oasis are a real drawcard (and one of our main bragging rights over Melbourne, let’s be honest). The little sister to Bondi Beach, Coogee, is one of Sydney’s most popular seaside hangs. However, on Christmas Day 2016, a disgraceful event dubbed ‘Backpacker Christmas’ marred this stretch of sand and the surrounding parklands so deeply that to this day, alcohol is banned from the area. An estimated 10,000 revellers took the beach that day, leaving a reported 15 tonnes of garbage in their wake. The alcohol ban was enforced a few days later and was initially slated to last until the end of the summer, but with the support of concerned locals, it became a permanent prohibition, as well as a reminder for beachgoers to respect Sydney's natural beauty and pull their heads in. Mother Nature had already given Sydney’s coastline a beating earlier in 2016, with intense storms lashing the NSW coast in June, causing significant erosion along the Northern Beaches with Narrabeen and Collaroy worst hit. Homes were left teetering on eroded coastlines and some were completely washed away, and some people lost their lives. Alannah Maher

Sydney (and Australia) says ‘I do’ to marriage equality

Whenever I’d explain the unfolding same-sex marriage debate to people back in my native UK, they’d often gasp in disbelief: “Doesn’t Australia already have marriage equality?” This incredulity wasn’t all that surprising. The land of Priscilla, Kylie, Dame Edna, and Mardi Gras seemed to all the world to be a tolerant, inclusive society. So, it’s not a stretch to assume Australia would be ahead of the curve when it came to something as inarguable as the right for two consenting adults to get hitched, regardless of gender. And yet, as Australia was asked in 2017 to vote on whether all its citizens deserved equal dignity, the outcome was far from certain. A bruising three-month campaign, in which the LGBTQIA community were smeared and vilified by anti-equality groups, culminated in an agonisingly ponderous announcement of the vote on November 15. All over the country, the community came together, ready to celebrate or else be there to console one another; “At least we’ll all be together,” a friend told me. In Sydney, that vital gathering took place in Prince Alfred Park, and as the result of the $122 million postal survey revealed 61.6 per cent of the country shared the belief that love is love, our city erupted with cheers – of joy, of relief, and of the desperate, crushing anxiety that was finally released. Rainbow flags have long flown on Sydney’s streets, but by the end of 2017, their colours were shining a little more brightly. Maxim Boon

Triple J acknowledges that January 26th isn’t for everyone

Smell that? It’s the sweet aromas of snags sizzling on January 27th. Triple J's decision to move the date of its Hottest 100 might seem like a small one on paper, but it sure made a massive statement. Our city’s relationship with Australia Day is complex. There’s the huge and passionate Invasion Day rally that pounds through the streets every year, there are the revelatory performances by First Nations artists at Yabun festival, and there are the flag wearers who have totemic reverence for thongs and zinc on lips. Triple J did a very 2018 thing and took call-outs, criticism and concerns seriously. After the station polled 64,990 listeners, it found that 60 per cent of those participants supported removing the Hottest 100 from January 26th, so the station planted it on a day that was more inclusive – a weekend that wasn’t Australia Day. Sure, lots of people got angry. Sure, lots of people felt they needed the sounds of an indie pop and rock countdown to soundtrack their Australian flag bunting-adorned barbecue. But some of those people also realised that the date is controversial and that we should talk about it more. Talking about it more is what Triple J gave to Sydney barbecues that year. It might not be much, but it’s something. Claire Finneran

As Sydney and the world burns, the kids go on strike for the climate

This year, the children truly led the way and gave us at least a little hope for the future. In 2019, we saw the Earth’s lungs burning in the Amazon and in our own backyard, with a haunting smoky haze making its way across Sydney as a result of catastrophic bushfires burning throughout NSW. We are currently living in an unprecedented climate emergency, and at the end of the year, the city – and dare we say, the world – is looking not to global leaders, but to pint-sized protesters for salvation. Global teenage champions like Greta Thunberg started a movement that marched around the world, demanding political and practical action on climate change and encouraging young activists to band together for the sake of the planet. In Sydney, it started with around 30,000 school students and uni kids downing pens on March 15 to rally and sing their climate chorus in a march from Town Hall to Hyde Park (as well as international contingents in 100 other countries). It then grew to a traffic-halting group of about 80,000 Sydneysiders convening in the Domain on September 20 for another global strike, and then a series of protests again demanding action from the Australian government as the bushfires raged on. The fires are still burning and there are some massive hurdles to leap over in the fight for climate action, but just remember: no one is too small to make a difference. Olivia Gee.

What were the most read stories of 2019? Find out here.

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