Rising sea level in the coming century is of significant concern, yet predicting relative sea level change in response to eustatic sea level variability is complex. Potential analogues are provided by the recent geological past but, until recently, many sea level reconstructions have been limited to millennial scale interpretations due to age uncertainties and paucity in proxy derived records. Here we present a sea level history for the tectonically stable “far-field” Great Barrier Reef, Australia, derived from 94 high precision uranium–thorium dates of sub-fossil coral microatolls. Our results provide evidence for at least two periods of relative sea level instability during the Holocene. These sea level oscillations are broadly synchronous with Indo-Pacific negative sea surface temperature anomalies, rapid global cooling events and glacial advances. We propose that the pace and magnitude of these oscillations are suggestive of eustatic/thermosteric processes operating in conjunction with regional climatic controls.