A gallery of 2021’s good bits. Image: Archi Banal
A gallery of 2021’s good bits. Image: Archi Banal

SocietyDecember 23, 2021

It wasn’t all bad! Ten good news stories that lifted the spirits in 2021

A gallery of 2021’s good bits. Image: Archi Banal
A gallery of 2021’s good bits. Image: Archi Banal

There were some headlines that didn’t immediately travel to the gloomy pit of your stomach. Toby Manhire lifts the mood.

At this time five years ago we were busy bemoaning 12 months from hell, pointing and screaming at Donald Trump, creepy clowns and David Bowie dying. Ah, what innocents we were then, viewed from the standpoint of 2021, a year which brought us – just to scratch the surface – the storming of the US Capitol by worm-brained insurgents, weather extremes presaging the global climate inferno and, of course, a stubborn, savage, still-mutating pandemic.  

As ever, however, a slug of perspective is helpful. In the interests of good spirits and optimism, or simply to give you a brief respite from despair, we present 10 jolly good news stories from 2021.

1. The Covid response

This might seem a strange one to open proceedings, given a grinning death imp called omicron is thudding away at the door. But there is a lot that we can be thankful for: scientific brilliance that developed fast, safe and effective vaccines and spectacular new treatments, extraordinary dedicated work in communities to get those vaccine rates up, a health workforce, from hospitals to contact tracers to people poking swabs up noses day in day out, dedicated to keeping us well and safe.

We can and should decry those who allowed disinformation to circulate, the neglect of the developed world in vaccine provision and, in New Zealand, treaty and equity failures. At the same time, those of us in Aotearoa need just look around the world and ask: two years on, with more than 90% of the eligible population vaccinated and fewer than 50 people having died, where would you rather be? 

2. Ruby Tui and New Zealand at the Olympics

It was a tremendous Olympics for Aotearoa, and a lot of fun to watch despite the crowd-free Tokyo stands. Laurel Hubbard did us proud. The rowers were O for oarsome; in the kayak Lisa Carrington shone bright gold in triplicate. The Sevens players were sublime, with gold for the women. But the brightest point, the best of Aotearoa, was in the grin and gab of Ruby Tui, with Michaela Blyde alongside her, in the most wairua-boosting interview you’ll ever see.

Ruby Tui and Michaela Blyde being interviewed by Rikki Swannell for Sky Sport at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

3. Cervical cancer, get the hell out

In a year that new cabinet minister Kiri Allan underwent treatment for stage three cervical cancer, funding was provided for a new test allowing women to self-screen for cervical cancer. Meanwhile, a study suggested the HPV vaccine is reducing the chances of a cervical cancer diagnosis by as much as 90%, while a global push to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem was launched.

In other inarguably cool legislative changes at home, a law was passed to provide paid leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth, a Ministry for Disabled People was created and no doubt a bunch of other stuff that escapes me for the moment. 

4. You can get the hell out, too, death penalty 

Around the world, the struggle to eradicate capital punishment inched forwards. The death penalty was abolished in Sierra Leone. And in Kazakhstan. Across most of the states of America, there was a marked decline in capital punishment.

5. Wellington judged city best prepared for climate change

The mighty capital of Aotearoa is the best placed city in the world to respond to the climate emergency, according to a ranking by the Intelligence Unit of the Economist. Wellington topped the “environmental security” table thanks to its green planning, air quality and urban tree cover. In other good Wellington headlines, the stolen yellow bucket from the bucket fountain was found. A council spokesperson said the suspected bucket burglar was being dealt with “by way of the restorative justice process”, which should be a good night. There was no other Wellington news in 2021.

A fountain made of buckety things. Photo: Matt Boulton via Flickr/Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.0

6. Oxygen created on Mars

Struggle as we might to save our own planet, humans are working wonders on another. In March, Nasa’s Perseverance rover conjured up oxygen on the red planet. About five grams of the gas was created out of the carbon dioxide atmosphere using the rover’s Martian assistant, called Moxie, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment.

7. Māori Language Moment

In September, despite the lockdown rumbling on in Tāmaki Makaurau, more than a million people signed up for the Māori Language Moment, to celebrate te reo and mark the 1972 presentation of the Māori language petition to parliament. It won an international award, too. Next year is going to be off the chart. 

8. Malaria can also piss right off, thank you 

The approval of a vaccine – a “major milestone in public health” – encouraged hopes the disease might be conquered in the developing world. China, meanwhile, which had 30 million cases in the 1940s, was officially declared malaria-free.

The City Mission’s new Homeground building on Hobson Street. (Photo: supplied.)

9. Ribbon cut at new Auckland City Mission HQ

Just this week, mana whenua formally blessed the Auckland City Mission’s new Homeground development. The City Mission returns to Hobson Street to deliver housing, detox facilities, kitchens, meeting rooms and a beautiful garden to the people who need support in Tamaki Makaurau. Since we’re on the subject, if you’re able, consider giving something to those who need it via the Mission. Click here to make a contribution and unlock the best available Christmas feeling. 

10. The massive potato

Last but the very opposite of least is the massive potato shared with the world by Colin and Donna Craig-Brown in October. Weighing in at 7.9kg, this colossus of a vegetable was ugly to some. To me it was as good as Rodin’s The Thinker, just with a fat, sleepy beaver instead of a Frenchman and higher in carbohydrate.

Rodin’s Le Penseur (left) and the Craig-Browns’ massive potato (right)

Colin explained: “I said to Donna, ‘it’s a potato,’ and she went, ‘no.’ I said. ‘yeah, it is’!” They built a cart to tow it around. Colin also said: “We put a hat on him. We put him on Facebook, taking him for a walk, giving him some sunshine.” They called him Doug. 

I checked in with the couple (triple?) yesterday, and they tell me they’re currently going through the process with the Guinness Book of Records, so the potato’s planned transformation into a true spirit is paused. “No vodka until we know Doug’s fate,” said Donna.

Thank you Colin, thank you Donna, thank you massive potato. This story, more than any in 2021, made me feel, after all, everything is going to be OK.

Keep going!