Book dives into history of NSW coast

IT'S summer and those of us lucky enough to live on the coast perhaps sometimes bemoan sharing it with visitors.

But, according to historian Ian Hoskins, our fascination with the coast is a 20th century phenomenon.

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 Australia by 1886. 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.

"This book was written for anyone who is lucky enough to live on the coast, have a coast home or visits the coast. 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 lives in Sydney's inner west but holidays on the coast and said the seed for the book was born in 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 began 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.

Hoskins said as well as the opportunity to physically visit as many of the places he wrote about as he could, he said one of the standout facets was researching the history of Eden's killer whales and their involvement with humans - European and indigenous - to hunt.

"It was amazing to realise that Aboriginal people on the South Coast [who believed the whales were relatives] had already had a relationship with the orcas," he said.

"I am not the first person to document the whale-human relationship by any means, but to learn about the Aboriginal relationship pre-contact was astounding."

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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