Early one afternoon in late November 2019, I left Canberra as it was bathing in a sepia haze of bushfire smoke to drive back towards my home on the south coast of New South Wales. As I headed east, past dried-out farm country with paddocks the colour of sand and stands of brittle eucalypts throwing bark, a fierce wind whipped up a fog of dust and smoke so thick I needed headlights. The smoke could have been coming from anywhere – there were more than 60 fires burning across NSW that week.
In Braidwood, a country town about halfway between the national capital and the coast, I pulled over because I had an appointment to do a phone interview for a story I was working on for this magazine. I was writing about the extraordinary bushfire season already unfolding, one that had started unseasonably early, in Queensland in late winter, before moving into northern NSW in spring, with devastating consequences.
Dealing with sea-level rise when private property is at stake
Around 10 years ago, upon retirement, Dr Brett Stevenson started spending less time in Sydney and more in a house he owned in a town 200 kilometres south – the beginnings of the classic Australian sea change.
The region he came to is called the Shoalhaven, the kind of place where if someone says they live a stone’s throw from the coast they’re probably not exaggerating. Nearly every town there starts adjacent to a beach or clings to the edge of an estuary – evidence of the Australian ethos that the closer we live to the coast, the better.
Stevenson wanted to contribute to his new community, so he volunteered to sit on some of the local council’s natural resources and coastal management committees. He’d spent more than a decade working in policy for the New South Wales department of the environment, and before that with the state’s Environmental Protection…