From the long sandy beaches of Western Australia, to the mangroves and saltmarshes of Arnhem Land, Australians have a profound connection to the coast. For many, it beckons us with the promise of salt spray and beach cricket, and zinc on the nose. For others, our coastline is a place of industry and commerce, providing opportunities across generations as whaling and sealing have given way to oyster farming and tourism. More vitally, it has sustained the world’s oldest continuous culture, supplying food and resources to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who once traded on the northern beaches with those from present day Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and who still use traditional knowledges to fish the coastal waters.

And yet…ours is a coastline that has borne witness to as much tragedy as it has joy. Despite its beauty, the ocean commands our respect. Stand on any headland and it’s easy to imagine foreign ships coming in to view, and the reaction of the people on the land. For all our geographical remoteness, Australia is as connected to the world by our vast ocean barrier as we are isolated by it. Little wonder we remain so outward-looking as a nation, torn between concern and curiosity for what might wash up on the shore.

The works in Coast reflect our deep and enduring relationship with the coastal landscape, and how its central role in Australian life has shaped us as a nation. Here, we see the beauty and the hazards – both natural and manmade.

Carrie McCarthy