Sustained observations allow for the tracking of change in oceanography and ecosystems, however, these are rare, particularly for the Southern Hemisphere. To address this in part, the Australian Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) implemented a network of nine National Reference Stations (NRS). The network builds on one long-term location, where monthly water sampling has been sustained since the 1940s and two others that commenced in the 1950s. In-situ continuously moored sensors and an enhanced monthly water sampling regime now collect more than 50 data streams. Building on sampling for temperature, salinity and nutrients, the network now observes dissolved oxygen, carbon, turbidity, currents, chlorophyll a and both phytoplankton and zooplankton. Additional parameters for studies of ocean acidification and bio-optics are collected at a sub-set of sites and all data is made freely and publically available. Our preliminary results demonstrate increased utility to observe extreme events, such as marine heat waves and coastal flooding; rare events, such as plankton blooms; and have, for the first time, allowed for consistent continental scale sampling and analysis of coastal zooplankton and phytoplankton communities. Independent water sampling allows for cross validation of the deployed sensors for quality control of data that now continuously tracks daily, seasonal and annual variation. The NRS will provide multi-decadal time series, against which more spatially replicated short-term studies can be referenced, models and remote sensing products validated, and improvements made to our understanding of how large-scale, long-term change and variability in the global ocean are affecting Australia's coastal seas and ecosystems. The NRS network provides an example of how a continental scaled observing systems can be developed to collect observations that integrate across physics, chemistry and biology.