Last Update: Saturday, December 30, 2006. 3:31pm (AEDT)
2006 Year in review
The earth moved, winds blew, fires burned and rains failed as climate change fears, worsening drought and raging bushfires scorched Australia during 2006.
It was also a year scarred with increasing conflict as more Australian defence forces were deployed to troubled regions across the world.
But there were great stories of courage and compassion as Australians rose to the call to help as natural disasters ravaged neighbouring countries.
The debate about Australia's role in helping war-torn nations remained in the spotlight, amid continuing calls from opposition parties and groups to bring troops home from Iraq.
As the conflict in Iraq continued, ousted dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death after being found guilty of crimes against humanity. He was executed by hanging on December 30. The war itself spiralled into a quagmire teetering on the brink of civil war. A damning report called for the US to revise its troop strategy in Iraq and address the "grave and deteriorating" situation in the country.
Australia recorded its first death in the Iraq conflict after soldier Private Jake Kovco died in an accidental shooting. But the Government was left red-faced after the repatriation of Pte Kovco's body back to Australia was bungled. His grieving family also expressed their disbelief and outrage after an inquiry found Pte Kovco was responsible for his own death.
It was a year where conflict continued to plague the Middle East, which reached a new boiling point as Lebanese and Israeli tensions exploded in July. Hundreds of Australians were urgently evacuated of from the region.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued to rumble. It was exacerbated by Hamas winning control of the Palestinian Parliament in February. Subsequent factional violence among the Palestinians themselves intensified the crisis in the region.
North Korea flexed its strategic muscle in its first underground nuclear test in October, ignoring international condemnation and threats of more sanctions.Pressure continued on the Federal Government to help South Australian David Hicks, who has marked his fifth year in December in US detention in Guantanamo Bay. He is still awaiting a trial for alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
Closer to home, violence broke out in East Timor in April, as troops and police fought among themselves in the streets of the capital Dili. Twenty-one people were killed and thousands of terrified residents fled their homes.
While preparing for possible evacuations of Australians from Fiji, a Black Hawk helicopter carrying a crew of 10 crashed into the sea after miscalculating the landing on HMAS Kanimbla. Black Hawk pilot Captain Mark Bingley was killed, eight soldiers injured and SAS trooper Joshua Porter lost at sea, presumed dead.
International air travel became more stringent after the Heathrow Airport shut down in London in August because of a suspected serious terrorist threat. It caused chaos and resulted in new restrictions to hand luggage on flights.
The Bali nine lost their appeals against 20-year heroin-smuggling convictions, with some sentences increased to the death penalty.
Natural disasters hit South-East Asia, striking the Indonesian island of Java twice. In May, an earthquake killed more than 4,600 and in July, a tsunami killed more than 650 on the island. A landslide buried an entire village in the Philippines in February, and tens of thousands were evacuated amid the erupting Mayon volcano in the Philippines in August.
Back home, cyclone Larry smashed the far north Queensland coast in March, with its destructive core flattening Innisfail, south of Cairns. cyclone Glenda stormed across Western Australia in March and cyclone Monica battered remote communities in the Northern Territory in April.
As the most bushfire prone place in the world, authorities feared the worst bushfire season yet for south-eastern Australia. Firefighters have already tasted what may be in store for the tough bushfire season ahead, as they battled massive blazes in Victoria and Tasmania during December.
The Australian Government was cleared of any wrongdoing in the long-running Cole inquiry into AWB kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime. Commissioner Terence Cole recommended a task force be established to look into possible charges against several former AWB executives.
The Stern report on global warming released in the UK in October put the effect of climate change in economic terms, making governments around the world stand up and take notice. But Prime Minister John Howard downplayed its findings, telling his Coalition MPs not to be mesmerised by just one report.
The nuclear energy debate intensified after a report by Dr Ziggy Switkowski recommended a rethink on uranium mining and alternative energy industries.
Labor won four elections in South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria, fortifying the party's hold in the state political arena across Australia. But growing dissatisfaction with Kim Beazley within the Federal Opposition's ranks led to Kevin Rudd becoming the new Labor leader in December, with Julia Gillard as his deputy.
As Prime Minister John Howard celebrated 10 years in office in March, he disappointed Treasurer Peter Costello who said the Prime Minister promised him 12 years ago to hand over the leadership crown to him before two terms were up. To rub salt into Mr Costello's wound, Mr Howard announced he would stay on to lead the Liberals for next year's federal poll.
In the second-biggest share offer in Australian history behind the T2 sale seven years ago, the Federal Government finally gave the green light for the third sell-off of Telstra shares. The Government raised $15.5 billion from the final public offer of Telstra shares, almost doubling initial expectations. T3 shares began trading on the Australian Stock Exchange in November. The Government parked the remaining 17 per cent of Telstra stock into the Future Fund to sell down over time.
Australia's media ownership landscape is changing after the Federal Government's overhaul of media laws was approved by Parliament in October. Soon after the legislation passed through the House of Representatives, Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Fairfax Media, and Kerry Stokes's Seven Media Group announced various billion-dollar deals.
Australia reeled with shock as it lost two icons in the same week in September - conservationist and self-proclaimed "wildlife warrior" Steve Irwin and motor racing legend "king of the mountain" Peter Brock.
Steve Irwin's memorial service was beamed across the globe from Australia Zoo in south-east Queensland and his eight-year-old daughter Bindi amazed the world with her strength and passionate vow to carry on her daddy's work.
Celebrities, friends and family mourned the death of actress Belinda Emmett, wife of entertainer Rove McManus, who lost her long battle against cancer in November.
Her funeral included condolence messages from John Howard and world-famous entertainers like Kylie Minogue, U2's Bono and actor Russell Crowe.
Australians marvelled at the incredible survival of two miners, Todd Russell and Brant Webb, trapped for 14 days in May in a steel cage after a mine collapse in Beaconsfield in northern Tasmania.
But the rescue was tinged with sadness by the death of third miner, Larry Knight. The story took another tragic and ironic turn as television journalist Richard Carleton died at the scene covering the event for the 60 Minutes program.
As usual, the rich and famous grabbed their share of memorable moments in 2006.
Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman and country music superstar Keith Urban said "I do" in Manly in Sydney in June, before her ex-hubby Tom Cruise and new love Katie Holmes did the same in November at a lavish affair staged in Italy.
Kiddies and parents around the world paid tribute to Yellow Wiggle Greg Page, who had to hand his skivvy over in November to his understudy, Sam Moran, after being diagnosed with a chronic heart condition.
And in the sporting arena, you can find out ABC Sport Online's top 10 moments in a year of great highs and dismal lows for Australia on the international stage.