Friday, May 22, 2020

Australian Cities and Towns: Prime Minister's warning #throwback


Sydney Opera House under construction c.1971 (DL Eime)

Ever-growing capitals of an urban nation

"I am not a believer in dumping people into any of the great cities," declared Billy Hughes, then Prime Minister, in 1920. "That will not help us. What has enabled France to bear a burden many many times greater than that which we have had to bear? It is the fact that 70 or 80 per cent of her population are on the land. Until we are able to so adjust matters that we can say that at least 60 per cent of the people of Australia are on the land we are living in a paradise of fools."

He hoped people would listen.

But the Prime Minister's warning was not heeded. In the seven years from 1947 to 1954, the populations of Australia's six capital cities increased by 24 to 28 per cent. Their combined population in 1954 was about 4815000 out of a total Australian population of about 9 million

More than 53 out of every 100 Australians lived in one or other of these six cities, all of them on or near the sea. Darwin, with a population increase of 217 per cent, was easily the fastest-growing city in the Commonwealth, Canberra came next, with 68 per cent.

In the year ended 30 June 1976, Sydney was Australia's biggest city, with a population of 3094400 an increase of 381,790 since June 1969. Melbourne, with a population of 2672000 had increased by 299,560, while Brisbane's population rose by 152,500 to 985,000.

Adelaide in the 1960s. King William St facing south from Victoria Square.

Populations of other capital cities were: Adelaide, 912,200; Perth, 820,100; Hobart, 164,500, and Canberra, 201,800. Darwin, to, in spite of Cyclone Tracy, could number its citizens at 50,000. Newcastle and Wollongong in New South Wales were the biggest cities outside the capitals, with populations of 370.500 and 218,900 respectively. Next came Geelong in Victoria, with 135,600. The Gold Coast, though lacking some features of a normal city, could certainly claim to be an intensive centre of a growing population, with no less than 122,200 as permanent residents. There were also projected areas for population growth: Albury-Wodonga on the Victorian-New South Wales border, and Bathurst-Orange in central New South Wales for example.

Albury street scene in the 1960s. From a postcard.

Satellite towns also widened the horizons of Australia's cities, with some as long-established as Adelaide's Elizabeth, or as recent as Melbourne's Sunbury. What had once been country hamlets, found themselves transformed into places of importance, their former rustic peace shattered by the advance of trucks and earthmoving equipment.

Originally published in
'Australia's Yesterdays'.
Readers Digest. 1979.

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