Meet The Women Of The Year
Marie Claire Australia|December 2020
Whether leading with courage, fighting for change or making us smile, these inspirational women have risen to the challenge in 2020. A round of applause for the game-changers and hope-makers
Sarah Grant, Kathryn Madden And Alley Pascoe

HEALTHCARE WORKERS ON THE FRONTLINE OF COVID-19

Healthcare workers are not heroes. Such is the stance of medical professionals across the globe as they fight COVID. Healthcare workers are not superhuman; they’re real people with real pain, fears, and emotions, who’ve been thrust onto the frontline of a deadly pandemic. And we salute them.

It’s been nearly 300 days since Australia reported its first case of the novel coronavirus, which was found in Melbourne. Since then, the women pictured here – nurses at The Royal Melbourne Hospital – have worked in a pressure-cooker environment. They’ve endured grueling hours, PPE shortages, and periods of separation from loved ones, and they’ve watched patients suffer and die without family at their bedside. At the time of print, Australia’s death toll was 905.

The personal health risk has also been immense. “I was one of the first few staff members who caught COVID at the start of [Victoria’s] second wave,” says Michele Wigg, a nurse in the Acute Medical Unit. “I believe I caught it from an elderly gentleman; I knew there was a risk in nursing this patient. I was not able to physically distance from him due to the type of care he required, but I had to give him the same care that I would give any other patient. He tested positive at the end of my shift and died four days later.”

Wigg, who isolated in a hotel, was just one of the thousands of infected hospital workers. As of October 14, 3500 health care professionals in Victoria had reportedly tested positive for COVID. Between July 1 and August 31, RMH identified 262 positive cases among staff.

But 2020 has also brought moments for pause and faint silver linings. “As the demand placed on our intensive care services grew, so did our camaraderie,” says ICU nurse Laura Gordon of her intense year. “We came together in the face of adversity to support each other through the toughest days and nights.” Adds Susan Harding, nurse unit manager in the emergency department, “We’ve learned the value of celebrating the simple things. Never before have family and health been more important.”

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN

For NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, 2020 has been defined by both political plaudits and personal anguish. She’s led her state through fire, flood, and plague, and found herself entangled in a headline-grabbing corruption scandal. And it’s been her most revealing year yet.

Berejiklian can remember the moment the new year ticked over. “I was expecting to host my extended family at home, but spent the whole day at Homebush at the RFS [Rural Fire Service] headquarters … But in a strange way, the bushfires prepared me for COVID. I had the benefit of experience.”

Her pandemic response was quick, cool, and calm, though intensely taxing behind the scenes. “Putting NSW into lockdown was tough,” she recalls. “At the beginning, I don’t know if any of us thought we would cope with the restrictions. Especially around Easter; I’d never spent Easter by myself before.” And yet, despite a few scares, the premier and her team have managed NSW’s outbreak thus far.

She’s one of a group of global women lauded for her leadership in 2020. “I don’t think it’s a change in how women have responded [to a crisis], it’s a change in how society is responding to female leaders,” says Berejiklian.

That said, the premier’s leadership was called into question in October when it emerged she’d had a five-year relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, the subject of a corruption investigation. While she admitted she’d “stuffed up” in her private life, she’s remained steadfast that the relationship did not impede her professional integrity – and has been overwhelmed by public support.

“I haven’t really let myself process everything yet, [I’ve been] in action mode,” says Berejiklian of the past 12 months, adding that she’s looking forward to a day when she can “just lie by a pool”. But she affirms 2020 has been a year of great personal growth. “When any of us go through a difficult time, you change or grow as a person,” she says. “I care far less what people think about my decisions.”

HANNAH CLARKE

When Hannah Clarke and her three children were killed by her estranged husband on February 19, the nation mourned. The Brisbane mum was driving Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, to school when they were ambushed by Rowan Baxter, who doused the family in petrol and set them alight.

The horrific act of domestic violence devastated Australians, while Hannah’s parents, Lloyd and Sue Clarke (pictured), we're left grappling with grief that felt insurmountable. But they have managed to find some comfort in realizing the impact of their daughter’s incredible bravery.

“Though she had burns to 97 per cent of her body, Hannah still managed to give police a clear and articulate statement,” says Sue. “Afterwards, she passed out, but when she came to for a brief period, she pushed herself to repeat it. The police were in awe. It was truly to make him pay – she didn’t know he was dead. She was going to fight for her babies to the end.”

The ambulance officers who took Hannah to the hospital told the Clarkes that her final heroic act had been life-changing. “Because Hannah was so brave, they told us that it had made them stronger too; it’s changed them for the better,” says Sue.

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