Good Weekend's 40 Australians Who Mattered: Social media

Jimmy and Jane Barnes, Sam Neill and Tina Arena

This unlikely quartet achieved two seemingly impossible goals this year. One, they made us feel better about life during coronavirus. And two, they did it via that most potentially soul-destroying of all social media platforms: Instagram. They sang, they danced, they discussed pet ducks and red lippie.

As Jimmy Barnes tells Good Weekend: “I’ve been inspired by the courage and the strength of the human race in the face of this horrible outbreak.” Barnesy belted out more than 140 songs with Jane and his family during the lockdown, utilising Facebook as well as Instagram and attracting an audience of half a million.

Sam Neill gave us snippets of what Clive James once called his “richly sane” life (jazz jams with Jeff Goldblum, poems in his Otago, New Zealand backyard, reflections on life with Charlie, his beloved white duck); and Arena’s “QuaranTina Arena” shows were a combination of iso-relevant reassurance, reflections on her 40-year career, and heartwarming (albeit technology-plagued) interviews.

Sam Neill gave us snippets of his life in New Zealand.

Sam Neill gave us snippets of his life in New Zealand.Credit:Lawrence Smith

“Nostalgia for pre-internet times is often used to argue against the march of technology,” says cyber psychologist Jocelyn Brewer. “But [this year], digital devices and social media platforms showed us their power to connect, share and unite. Celebrities like Arena, Barnes and Neill replaced misinformation and news-bingeing with humour, nostalgia and emotional resonance.”

And we’re still feeling the love. Barnes has recently released yet another book (Killing Time: Short Stories from the Long Road Home), is working on a cookbook and at least two new albums (one with Jane based on the lockdown shows), and his 2021 tour begins in March.

Arena, who had considered quitting music altogether pre-COVID, now has a new tour planned for May, perhaps including material written during Melbourne’s lockdowns. “I guess I wasn’t ready to disconnect,” she says. “I’ve been pretty prolific, actually.” As for Sam Neill, you can always buy a bottle of his Two Paddocks pinot online.

Nat has shown that his powers for low-key good and unexpected kindness extend far beyond the kitchen.

Nat has shown that his powers for low-key good and unexpected kindness extend far beyond the kitchen.Credit:James Brickwood

Nat of Nat’s What I Reckon


Nat (surname undisclosed) is tattooed from the neck down and has long, surprisingly shiny hair. His ridiculously rude, funny cooking videos have been viewed more than 100 million times, reminding us all that a) most cooking isn’t complicated, b) most cooking shows are full of pointless advice, and c) most of us are “more talented than we think”. In clips with titles like “End of Days Bolognese”, he gives us new culinary rules to live by. “Chop all the shit up and put it in a bowl,” he says. Also: “There is no zucchini in bolognese.”

Nat – who’s actually a comedian with a big back catalogue of videos about everything from boat shows to burnouts – has also shown that his powers for low-key good and unexpected kindness extend far beyond the kitchen. He’s open about his battle with mental illness. “Is it shit dealing with depression and anxiety?” he asks in one clip. “Yes it is. But what is not shit is the strength it took you to survive today. You’re a champion!”


“Nat is a genius,” says commentator Jenna Price. “He turned on the stove burners for a whole generation of those addicted to takeaway and packet sauces. No lecturing or hectoring, just jokes, imprecise measurements and sharp knife skills. Glugs, slurps and good times in the kitchen. Also, milk in bolognese! Who knew?” Nat’s also published “a book of unhelpful advice” called Un-cook Yourself: A Ratbag’s Rules for Life, and his sell-out national tour starts this December.

Celeste Barber raised a record $51.3 million (she’d hoped for just $30,000) for Australian bushfire victims.

Celeste Barber raised a record $51.3 million (she’d hoped for just $30,000) for Australian bushfire victims.Credit:Nic Walker

Celeste Barber

Celeste Barber is one of Australia’s Instagram darlings: 7.4 million followers, and the likes of Tom Ford and Kris Jenner among her admirers. In January, she showed exactly what this kind of power can do, raising a record $51.3 million (she’d hoped for just $30,000) for Australian bushfire victims.


Alas, she then became embroiled in a court case over the distribution of this enormous windfall. She’d hoped various charities, including the Australian Red Cross and animal welfare group WIRES could also benefit, but in May, the NSW Supreme Court ruled that only the NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades Donation Fund – the groups she’d originally nominated – could receive the funds.

Still, Barber maintained her sense of humour. “[It] turns out that studying acting at university does not make me a lawmaker,” she said. And, as WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor puts it, “Celeste brought local and global awareness of the people, the environment and the animals that were so badly affected by these devastating fires. She deserves our congratulations and appreciation.”

Since then, Barber has supported an inquiry, and a bill in the NSW Parliament, to enable donations to be more broadly distributed. She’s also gone back to doing what she does best: fighting the good fight against online body-shaming and celebrity excess. Not quite saving lives, but certainly rescuing our social media sanity.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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