It’s been twenty years since 9/11 and I can still remember where I was when it happened. I was eight years old and my family were living in New Zealand. We were getting ready for school and the small television in our loungeroom was playing cartoons. My Dad probably told us to change the channel because what I saw next was foreign, in every sense of the word.
I distinctly remember looking at these two tall towers shrouded in smoke, wondering what I was even looking at. I remember my parents fixating on the television in disbelief, telling me that this was a big deal. Both of my parents had visited New York in their youth, so with hindsight I realise it would have been a shock. Little did eight year old me know how much this event would shape our politics, international relations, and life as we know it for the rest of my youth.
Our perception of world events, and their place in history, is usually shaped by our recollection of how we found out about them. It’s what we talk about when we reflect on the event, maybe because it gives us a sense of collective experience.
As big as it was, 9/11 is not the only event I remember learning about so distinctly.
When Steven Irwin died, I was in grade eight, so I was thirteen years old. I remember standing at my locker and packing my things away. It must have been the end of lunch or the end of the school day because the corridor was filled with students. A boy in my grade, Tim, was standing near me when he shouted down the corridor “Steve Irwin’s dead!” I can’t remember what happened after that, but I remember it was Tim who let us all know.
When Obama won the 2008 Presidential election, I was now in grade ten, fifteen years old. In the lead up to the election I remember there being a picture of Obama from a magazine in the girls’ bathroom. There was no need to campaign to Australian teenage girls, but maybe someone was just excited. After it was clear he had won the election, I distinctly remember my home group teacher blasting Viva La Vida by Coldplay. It had been released only a few months prior and felt like a fitting soundtrack.
I can’t remember how I learned about the death of Michael Jackson, but I will never forget what happened that night. It was the senior school social, a dance if you will, and the theme was broad enough for me to dress up as a fairy. In between taking photos with our point and shoot cameras, we danced to many, many Michael Jackson songs. Thriller, Bad, Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, Want you Back, they didn’t stop. Accusations aside, it felt like a fitting tribute, even for a generation of kids that would have never seen him live.
When Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister, I was in my final year of high school, seventeen years old. I was in “Maths Studies” and if I was on the school ground now I could point out the exact classroom I was in. This time it was a girl in my year called Alexandra who broke the news. She wasn’t even in my class, she just came bursting into the classroom and proclaimed like a town crier, “Julia Gillard is Prime Minister!” I wrote it straight into my diary in big block letters, not leaving any room for me to write my maths homework. A woman was now in charge, and it probably gave me a little bit of hope.