Australia's population tide turns to the north

Australia's population tide turns to the north, by Andrew Stevenson
26th April 2004
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Australia's population centre is following the sun ever northwards as the pendulum swings from Victoria - once the nation's most populous state - to Queensland.

But NSW is not immune to the impact of thousands of itchy feet.

Contrary to perceptions it is NSW, rather than Victoria, that suffered the biggest outflow of population in the five years to 2001, with a net migration of 66,500 people, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Queensland picked up more than 90,000 and Victoria broke even.

In those five years, more than 40 per cent of Australians moved house. Most stayed in the same state, but more than 750,000 people moved interstate.

Marrickville (second) and Canterbury (fifth) were among the local government areas suffering the largest population declines, while Brisbane and the Gold Coast grew fastest.

Clyde Wild, the head of the School of Environmental and Applied Sciences at Griffith University's Gold Coast campus, said that south of Brisbane remained the focus of growth.

"It was a sunset area but no longer. They're coming at all ages. The number of young people going into secondary and tertiary education as a proportion of the population is about the same as Australia as a whole," he said. "I think it's one-third of the way to a sea change. They're not brave enough to go to a little coastal village, but they'll go to what's becoming a major city.

"They'll miss some of the cultural things the capitals offer but I think people leave that behind for the sake of what they think is a simpler life - and certainly a warmer life if they're coming from Melbourne."

This "urge to change, but not too much" had already pushed the Gold Coast population to 370,000, Associate Professor Wild said. "We're looking at doubling the population in the next 15 years - we may be at 1 million by 2020," he said.

That growth trend is predicted to push Victoria into third place among Australian states - a come-down from its No. 1 status, held from the gold rush until 1886. The bureau's population projections suggest Queensland's population may overtake that of Victoria within 25 years, assuming high levels of fertility and both interstate and overseas migration.

Graeme Hugo, the head of the Department of Geographical and Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide, said the apparent stability of the population centre masked major changes.

"The basic structure of population distribution in Australia was decided in the late 19th century, when you had most of the arable land settled. Since then, what we've done is intensify the existing settlements and there have been no new areas of major population growth in the last 100 years," he said.

But the cities were changing. "In all the big cities for 40 years after World War II, you had 'doughnut development', with heavy growth on the periphery and a decline in the inner city," Professor Hugo said.

"Now you're getting a bipolar pattern - with growth on the fringe but also in the centre, with more housing stock available, the process of gentrification and the replacement of older people with families."


Official websites

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Queensland Government

Tourism Queensland


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