The year that tested Gladys
The Australian Women's Weekly|May 2021
The NSW Premier has steered her state through fires, floods and a pandemic, and had a secret relationship publicly outed. Gladys Berejiklian suffered some chinks in her armour, but The Weekly finds she’s still standing resolutely and defiantly strong.
SAMANTHA TRENOWETH

Shane Fitzsimmons tells a story from the hideous black summer of 201920. He and the NSW Premier were visiting a community just south of Batemans Bay. “As we were leaving,” the former NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner recalls, “a lady came up to the Premier and said, ‘We’ve got no communication here and I have family who will be worried about me,’ and while she was speaking, others standing around said that they were in the same situation too.” So Gladys collected their phone numbers, and “as soon as we got back into mobile range, there she was in the back seat of the car and you could hear her on the phone: ‘Oh hello, it’s Gladys Berejiklian here. Yes, I am the Premier, but I’ve just been with such-and-such and they wanted me to give you a call and let you know that they’re doing okay.’”

Shane chuckles with genuine affection. It was a classic Gladys moment – calling into play the winning combination of diligence and concern that earned her the trust of the state during that terrifying fire season and then the pandemic.

“There were,” Gladys says with characteristic understatement, “a lot of difficult days that summer,” driving up and down the coast, looking trauma in the eye, sweating on the lives of firefighters, farmers, people in blazing towns.

“There would be times when Commissioner Fitzsimmons would let me know that there were fire crews missing or people in houses who weren’t accounted for,” she remembers. “There were some frightening moments. The first day of the year was confronting. Commissioner Fitzsimmons and I went to Malua Bay and there were people who had fled for their lives just hours before and gone to the evacuation centre. It was chaotic.”

Then there was the rebuild, which is immense and ongoing. It will, Gladys says, take years. She recently visited fire-affected communities again, more than a year on, and says that “for those people who have been impacted, it’s still very real, very raw. It’s like losing a loved one – everyone else moves on and you’re still grieving.”

Gladys will never forget a certain date: January 25 last year. The smoke had barely cleared from the summer’s firestorms – in some places it hadn’t – when Australia’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Victoria. Again, the level-headed Premier rallied. She put a crisis team in place because “as horrible as the bushfires were,” she says, “they’d taught me the importance of having a whole-of-government response.’”

Those were testing times. Initially, fears the virus would take hold as fiercely as it had in Europe looked set to be realised. The Ruby Princess was inexplicably allowed to dock in Sydney Harbour and release its passengers on March 19 – an event ultimately linked to almost 900 cases of COVID-19 and 28 deaths. Then COVID ran rampant through NSW nursing homes, killing 28 elderly residents – it was nothing like Victoria’s 655 aged care deaths, but it was heartbreaking for the families involved, as was the separation of the elderly from their families during lockdown. During the statewide lockdown, Gladys fronted the cameras daily. Small, wiry, wide-eyed and determined, even when she had bad news to deliver, she gave the impression that the state was in safe hands.

She knew that every decision she made would be critical but she didn’t flinch, and at the end of the day, her own conscience was her toughest critic.

“I made a decision to say: this is life and death; I don’t really care what people think; I’m just going to do what I know is right … Everybody has an opinion, everyone is telling you how to do your job. I knew the people I could trust and should take advice from, and I thought, ‘The buck stops with me’ … You know the saying, dance like nobody’s watching? I wanted to lead like nobody was watching. I didn’t want to look back and regret any decision I’d made based on fear or what people might say.”

Behind the scenes, Gladys had personal worries too: for friends and family living in Armenia who’d contracted the virus, and for her mother, Arsha, who is 81, and her father Krikor, 88.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S WEEKLYView All

“I might die, and you're the only one I can tell...”- Sharon Stone

The Hollywood star reveals the harrowing details of the night family and friends rushed to her bedside as doctors fought to save her life.

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

How we stay married …Peter & Bridget Helliar

The comedian may have written a show about maintaining a long-lasting relationship, but it’s his wife Bridget whom he credits with teaching him how to keep the marital magic alive.

9 mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

The year that tested Gladys

The NSW Premier has steered her state through fires, floods and a pandemic, and had a secret relationship publicly outed. Gladys Berejiklian suffered some chinks in her armour, but The Weekly finds she’s still standing resolutely and defiantly strong.

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

The cult of wellness

The “wellness” industry generates trillions of dollars but is it making any of us well, or just an unregulated, untested con?

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

Could she be innocent?

She has been called Australia’s worst female serial killer, but now some of the world’s most brilliant scientific minds say Kathleen Folbigg’s four children could have died of natural causes.

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

Nowhere to run

People living in remote Australia are 24 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family and domestic abuse

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

Carla Zampatti 1942 - 2021 Family always came first

Just before Christmas, Carla Zampatti invited The Weekly into her Sydney home for a deeply personal photo shoot with her daughters and five of her grandchildren. No one could have imagined that this joyous day would be the iconic fashion queen’s last major interview.

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

Who was that girl?

When she arrived in New York on her 18th birthday carrying $600 and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for something. One month later, she’s an unidentified murder victim. But who was she?

9 mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

How To Start A Kindness Revolution

The worst times often bring out the best in human nature, so don’t waste what you have learned in this global crisis.

5 mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021

The Duke of Edinburgh 1921 - 2021 Prince among men

He was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, became a brilliant British naval officer, but chose love and a life of unfailing public service as the Queen’s devoted consort.

10+ mins read
The Australian Women's Weekly
May 2021
RELATED STORIES

THE LYMAN MUSEUM

Taking in the Splendor and Intriguing History of One of the Top 10 Best Mineral Collections

4 mins read
Rock&Gem Magazine
September 2020

Secrets of a super-ager

We’ve all heard the saying “age is just a number” – and it’s true. Jo Hartley meets the “super-agers” to uncover how to stay fit, sharp and strong into our 80s and beyond.

6 mins read
Australian Women’s Weekly NZ
January 2021

LA PANDEMIA NO LA PARA

IRÁN CASTILLO estrenará La mexicana y el güero, pero también tiene proyectos a la par, que aquí nos revela

5 mins read
TVyNovelas
Agosto 32 - 2020

Un mejor consuelo

¿Cómo apoyar a quienes pierden a un ser querido? No siempre sabemos cómo acompañarlos en el proceso. Dos expertos nos comparten su visión para ser más empáticos y ofrecer confort.

5 mins read
Vanidades México
Junio 12 - 2020

Never too late FOR LOVE

Gladys had opened her eyes in more ways than one, but would she heed her advice?

9 mins read
WOMAN'S WEEKLY
May 12, 2020

LAS OFICINAS AMIGABLES

Las compañías que han adaptado sus espacios laborales a un modelo de oficinas abiertas mejoran la comunicación de sus equipos, pero tienen el reto de evitar distracciones que afecten su productividad.

3 mins read
Forbes Centroamérica
Abril - Mayo 2020

Ndabezitha Madiba

“If there is one thing I will fight you for–it is my respect.”

2 mins read
Leadership
March 2020

Las minas de sangre de Maduro

Las enormes reservas de oro, bauxita, coltán, diamantes, cobre y hierro venezolano fueron ignoradas durante décadas, opacadas por la fiebre del petróleo. Sin embargo, tras el colapso de los hidrocarburos, el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro se ha volcado a la explotación de esos minerales, pero no lo ha hecho bien. En lugares como Tumeremo la autoridad no es más fuerte que los grupos criminales y guerrilleros que explotan y pelean el control de las minas. Se calcula que en 2018 la extracción ilegal de oro ascendió a 2 mil 800 millones de dólares.

10+ mins read
Revista Proceso
April 05, 2020

2:01:39 - La Marca A Vencer

Durante la 45 edición del BMW Maratón de Berlín, los atletas kenianos brillaron nuevamente en ambas categorías. El récord varonil volvió a romperse, vía Eliud Kipchoge, y en mujeres, Gladys Cherono también impuso marca para este gran evento.

6 mins read
Runner's World México
Septiembre 2019