At last week's closed door meeting with assistant defence minister Matt Thistlethwaite, one attendee remarked that defence in the Illawarra is a bit like riding a rollercoaster.
Looking back on the last year since former prime minister Scott Morrison announced Port Kembla as a shortlisted site for the east coast base for the AUKUS nuclear submarine fleet, surely right now we must be at the bottom of the loop.
Eight years ago, the cart began the slow tick up with the release of 'The Jewel of the East Coast' report, which made the case for the relocation of the navy's Garden Island base in Sydney to the Illawarra.
While Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the report, which was developed by local governments along with a who's who of peak bodies in the region, disappeared into the ether at the time, looking back, that document began years of back room lobbying for Port Kembla to be considered in future navy base plans.
After this reached its peak in Mr Morrison's March 2022 announcement, the election of the new Labor government in May led to the speedy decline. After pushing back an announcement to not before the next election, followed by the Defence Strategic Review recommending a decision be made later in this decade, Mr Thistlethewaite made it clear to those in the room last Friday that any decision by a Labor government on a future east coast base was not a priority.
While this is understandable at a national and strategic level, what does this mean for the Illawarra?
For industry, in lieu of targeting contributing to a potential submarine base, the focus is on the implications of the Defence Strategic Review. While the report indicated a $19 billion increase in total defence spending, the review also flagged cuts to major projects, including some short range artillery and land combat vehicles and the government has embarked on a review of the structure of the navy's surface fleet.
In the past, the Illawarra has seen a lack of a prime defence contractor in the Illawarra as an impediment to defence and wider industry in the region, but in light of these cuts, the region would be glad to not be in the place of a similar cities such as Geelong, which saw the orders for military vehicles to be made there cut considerably.
Instead, the manufacturers, researchers and professional services firms based here that feed into a number of defence platforms can recalibrate, as Bianca Perry, CEO of i3net points out.
"The Illawarra really is positioned for lots of great investment to come our way," she said. "Obviously we've got the steelworks, but also the industrial capability in supporting industries."
Besides the submarines, the DSR flagged a significant increase in local capacity to manufacture missiles, which would draw on Australia's nascent space industry. Here again, the Illawarra would perhaps be wise to avoid angling to be the prime location for the assembly of these missiles, but instead take a closer look at another part of the announcements that went along with the DSR, that of an innovation accelerator. Stepping away from the language of "sovereign capability" which was the catch-cry of the previous government, Mr Thistlethwaite indicated that the government was interested in procuring "in a quicker, more agile and more efficient manner".
Translated, that means rather than trying to set up a local, mirror image of capabilities that are produced elsewhere, as seen in the plans for local manufacturing of the French Attack-class submarines, Defence will procure platforms off-the-shelf and where a unique, local solution is being developed, pick it up and run with it.
"We can identify new innovative opportunities that have been developed here in Australia and try and fast track them into commercialisation and development in partnership with the Australian Defence Force," Mr Thistlethwaite told The Mercury.
This, Ms Perry said, is where the Illawarra comes in.
"Innovation is in our region's DNA because we've gone through hard times, and we've always come through to the other side through innovation," she said.
"We're in a great place to contribute to that."
For the coalition of groups that have emerged in opposition to basing nuclear-powered submarines in Port Kembla, the dip in the defence roller coaster comes with its own recalibrations.
The day after Mr Thistlethwaite met leaders in Wollongong, a Port Kembla community forum was held to discuss plans to stop the base. As Alexander Brown, member of Wollongong Against War and Nukes points out, there was a key difference.
"Our meeting was open to anyone who wanted to come, not just a few invited individuals," he said.
"There were about 100 people in Port Kembla, and there were a lot of strong emotions in the room saying we don't want this and people indicating they're willing to really come together and fight, if need be, a long term community campaign against that."
While campaigners are chalking up the delayed time frame as a win, it's a bittersweet victory.
"It's an indication that they've realised that this was not welcome, and that they're going to have a lot of trouble pushing such a base onto the community," Mr Brown said. "Now they're walking it back, but it's not welcome, because it means the threat still hands over us."
What was initially thought to be a last stand against the potential for a base in Port Kembla has now turned into what Mr Brown calls a "celebration", with the unions' May Day march this weekend shifted from Wollongong to Port Kembla in opposition to the submarine plans.
For what the future holds, if the approach successive Australian governments has taken to nuclear waste is any guide, no decision may ever be made, as in the case of what to do with the nuclear waste from the Lucas Heights reactor. No permanent nuclear waste dump has ever been built in the 65 years since Lucas Heights opened, and a proposal to build a nuclear waste dump in Kimba, South Australia is currently being challenged in the courts.
"We're facing what is potentially a long, long struggle to make sure this doesn't sneak in," Mr Brown said. "They're waiting until when we let our guard down."
As that Illawarra defence roller coast starts to climb back up again, one thing is for sure, we're not getting off any time soon.