Our love affair with the coast

Historian Ian Hoskins lives in Sydney’s inner west but he shares something most of us have in common – a fascination with the coast.

And it’s that relationship with the NSW Coast that inspired his latest book Coast: A History of the New South Wales Edge.

And the author says nowhere epitomises our love for coast more than our very own Currarong, his favourite place on the NSW “edge”.

“I had imagined that it was at one time a little fishing village,” he said. “But it was actually born as a holiday destination.

“To me, Currarong really epitomised our 20th century relationship with the coast.”

He said Currarong also featured a number of indigenous sites, again making it something of a microcosm for large parts of the whole of the NSW coast.

While researching his 2009 book, Sydney Harbour: A History, Hoskins noted that our coastal obsession was relatively recent.  

“When I did that book I became aware that white Australians or European Australians had neglected the maritime aspect of their history and culture throughout the 20th century,” Hoskins said. 

“That side of Australia’s identity was the great unknown.

“There were 57 million sheep in Australian by 1886, way more than 10:1 people. The inland was where it was happening in colonial Australia for writers, artists, journalists ... and that really got me wondering what, in fact, was going on.”

 The resulting book Coast: A History of the New South Wales Edge is the first history written of the NSW coast starting “millennia ago when Aboriginal people feasted on shellfish and perfected the art of building bark canoes”.

“I wrote the book knowing that so many people in NSW spend holidays on the coast,” Hoskins said.

“The statistic is that 80 per cent of people in NSW live on the eastern seaboard. They might not all go to the beach every day but a lot of people have some affinity with the coast and we have taken for granted a little bit that it has always been like this.” 

Hoskins said with so much focus now on the coast in terms of real estate and leisure, it was timely to look at its past in terms of its future.

“I touch on sea level rise in the book,” he said. “That’s the great unknown.

“But when you look at the East Australian current – made famous in Finding Nemo – it’s such a prominent current. It is so important biologically.

“More warm water will push further south. They are already finding NSW species as far south as Tasmania.”

 Coast: A History of the New South Wales Edge is out through New South Books.

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