National and NSW Coastal Conference 2023
It has been a huge privilege and pleasure to regularly meet like-minded folk at coastal conferences. In NSW we hold a conference each year at a regional location with a link to one or more local councils with the support of the NSW Government. This practice has continued for 30 years. Since 1994 there have also been 15 biennial national conferences referred to as “Coast to Coast” (C2C), initially supported by the Commonwealth Government and more recently by the Australian Coastal Society (ACS). In 2023 we combined the two conferences at Newcastle (October 31 to November 3).
This is the first time that NSW has hosted a national conference by itself. In 2002, NSW co-hosted C2C with Queensland at Tweed Heads. Newcastle City Council (NCC) agreed this year to serve as host along with ACS. Three other local councils joined Newcastle for the conference (Maitland, Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie) along with staff from Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), the University of Newcastle and me forming the organising committee. We received incredible support from the great team at East Coast Conferences.
For just on a year we operated as a committee in an extraordinarily collaborative way to plan the four-day event. It was held at the Newcastle Exhibition Centre (NEX). I am very grateful for all who took part in the organisation and delivery of the conference.
The theme for this year’s conference was “one coast, one community”. We tried to capture the national embrace of diverse coastal interests building on the fact that around 80% of the population live in coastal locations and share large parts of their lives and livelihoods in coastal spaces. Our conference participants represented a broad cross-section of those with professional endeavours and responsibilities. In coming together the conference offered them all an opportunity to listen and exchange information and to learn more about different activities across levels of government, the work of consultants and academics, and community groups. All this was assisted by contributions from sponsors and trade exhibitors. NSW state government agencies and the Australian Government used the opportunity to launch guidelines and hold workshops/roundtable. We were very grateful to NSW Crown Lands who sponsored the casual evening at Merewether Surfhouse to use the occasion to release the long-awaited Crown Lands coastal policy. The conference was also an opportunity for ACS to promote itself as a key player in supporting the National C2C conference.
An essential part of any conference are the plenary sessions. At the opening plenary, the Welcome to Country by local elders was followed by welcomes from NCC, ACS, and two ministers: Senator the Hon Jenny McAllister for the Commonwealth and the Hon Penny Sharpe for NSW. Sharon Molloy spoke for NSW Department of Environment and Planning as the major conference sponsor. Associate Professor Hannah Power eloquently covered the challenging topic of coasts for the future. On other days we heard from Professor Jan McDonald on Australian coastal adaptation law, Teagan Shields on indigenous knowledge, Roger Christie on social media and Alexa Stuart on engaging youth voices. Concurrent sessions covered several themes including: the knowledge we need for the coast we want; coastal governance, economics and funding; community collaboration; restoring and protecting coastal habitats; building resilient coasts; estuary health and hazards; coastal blue carbon ecosystems; and connecting with Country. There were also poster sessions held during the breaks. It was a delight to hear from students on these occasions.
No coastal conference can be successful without field trips and good weather. This year we had both. It was agreed early in our planning that we had to devote a full day for field trips and they would be used to showcase the wonders of the region. All four councils were involved along with community representatives and staff and students from University of Newcastle and staff from DPE. A diverse array of subjects were covered by the trips including wetland restoration, coastal geomorphology, integrated lake management, cultural and environmental heritage and coastline management of Newcastle’s beaches and seascapes. Sadly the swell was too strong for participants on the Stockton trip to see “rainbowing” of sand from offshore to the beach as part of the Stockton renourishment program.
Another conference highlight was the dinner kindly sponsored once by Royal HaskoningDHV. The theme was the 80s and amazingly many took up the challenge and dressed accordingly with prizes for the best dressed. Our marvelous duo of Neil and Marc captured the spirit of the evening as MCs. I had the privilege of presenting the NSW coastal awards with the Ruth Readford Lifetime Achievement Award this year going to Bruce Coates. There is no national conference award process. However, as Patron of ACS I thought it appropriate to present to Professor Nick Harvey a gift in recognition of his role as former President of the Society in organising the 14th National C2C Conference in Cairns under very trying circumstances.
I greatly enjoy the camaraderie of the coastal conference. We face huge challenges with all sorts of pressures bearing down on precious coastal lands and waterways. “One coast, one community”, our conference theme, collectively defined that we are not alone in addressing these pressures. In the minds of some, these constitute “wicked problems” involving compromises and frustrations as we address growing populations and development pressures. The new climate era looms large as the known-knowns of sea level rise continues to bite. But through conferences such as this one at Newcastle we can connect with each other, listen, learn and develop strategies that mitigate against harm to lands, water and people in the years ahead. Thanks so much to all who accepted our invitation to the 30th NSW Coastal Conference and the 15th C2C.
Note 1. Attendance at the conference by state: NSW 300; Vic; 34; Qld 20; ACT 15; SA 11; WA 8; Tas 6; International 3.
Note 2. More information on this conference and previous NSW conferences can be obtained from eastcoastconferences.com.au
Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2023. For correspondence about this blog post please email email@example.com