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The heart of Australia: tracking the centre of our population

By Mark McCrindle - posted Friday, 20 April 2012

Within a few months Australia's population will hit its next demographic milestone: 23 million. It was October last year that the global population hit its most recent milestone of 7 billion. Interestingly it was in 1966 that the population of both Australia and the world were half their current populations (11.5 million and 3.5 billion respectively). So not only has Australia's population doubled with that of the world in less than half a century, but our population growth rate of 1.4% currently exceeds the global growth of 1.1%. Small in percentage terms perhaps, but this is one new Canberra per year, or a new Darwin every 16 weeks!

Yet the population growth and spread is not uniform and a good measure of this is the centre of population. This can be thought of as the heart of Australia - the geographical point that is centre of the entire population, and so it marks the point that is the shortest distance to every person in the population. In other words there are as many people to the west as to the east of that point, and similarly, there are as many north as south of that point. Australia's centre of population currently lies in the Central Darling area, near Ivanhoe; a small town of 265 people in North Western NSW...but it's on the move.

From five years ago we have seen the centre of population move 12km north-west, slowly making its way towards Wilcannia. The journey North West is hardly surprising, with the two speed economy also fuelling two-speed demography and a shift to the West and to the North. Western Australia is fastest growing state (growing at 2.7% per year) with Queensland second (at 2.3%).


Despite the population expansion in Western Australia and Queensland, NSW continues to be Australia's largest state, with Sydney the fastest growing city in Australia in terms of total numbers, accommodating 1 in 5 Australians and almost 2 in 3 NSW Residents. Sydney also has the nation's highest population density of 380 people per square kilometre which is the same as that of all of the other Australian capital cities combined!

The centre of population for Australia's largest state, NSW, is currently located near South Maroota in the Hills Shire, north of Sydney and not far from the Hawkesbury River. This location highlights the current population dominance of the North Coast over the South Coast but the NSW centre is shifting South-East as Sydney, and the coastal cities generally continue their growth.

This growth and our next million milestone will again raise the questions about "big Australia", and what growth rate is sustainable. Our recent studies show that more than half of all Australians (52%) are concerned about our rapid growth rate and only a third (36%) felt that we are growing at the right rate. For most Australians, population planning is not about a target number or a growth rate but ensuring that the infrastructure, housing and services can cope with the growth that is occurring now. It is personal experience not policy that drives their views. Growing commute times, crowded public transport, long waiting times when taking a family member to the emergency department- these are the daily situations that raise the question of population size.

Our recent National Barometer showed that Australians have embraced cultural diversity and 4 in 5 state that Australia's cultural diversity has enriched our society. However population growth does raise misinformation about immigration and particularly refugee numbers. Almost 1 in 3 Australians (32%) believe that our humanitarian intake is the biggest contributor to population growth in Australia. However the current humanitarian intake actually comprises less than 5% of Australia's total population increase. In fact Australia's humanitarian intake is only 14,000 of the annual permanent immigration program of around 200,000 per year. And new births in Australia currently exceed 300,000 per year.

The challenge for those in political leadership and social influence is to deal with the rightful concerns Australians have about the growing population, respond to the growth, plan for the future, and communicate with the community effectively. Otherwise the heart of Australia will become merely a marker, not a metaphor.

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About the Author

Mark McCrindle is the principal of McCrindle Research and the author of three new books on emerging trends and social change: The ABC of XYZ:Understanding the Global Generations published by UNSW Press, Word Up: A Lexicon and Guide to Communication in the 21st Century published by Halstead Press and The Power of Good published by Hybrid Publishers.

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