Thursday, April 01, 2010

New England demography 1 - rise of the coast

It is a while since I did a demographic update on New England.

On Tuesday 30 March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest population regional population estimates. Because this included local government area estimates, I was able to select LGAs (41 in all) within the broader new state New England to generate total population numbers. The numbers include some territory to the west and south west that has often been classified as part of the North, but was in fact subdivided by the 1935 Nicholas boundaries. However, this does not affect the overall pattern.

As at 30 June 2009, the estimated resident population of New England totaled 1,371,611, around 19.23% of the total NSW population including New England, 6.25% of the total Australian population. Just to put these numbers in perspective, at the start of the twentieth century, New England's share of the NSW population was around 25%, a bit over 10% for Australia as a whole.

Between June 2001 and June 2009, the estimated residential population of New England grew by 107,875 or 8.5%. This growth was just fast enough to maintain New England's share of the total NSW population (19.22% vs 19.23%). However, this growth was entirely concentrated on the coast. 

Zone 2001 2009 Change % change










In historical terms, the huge relative decline of inland New England is a key feature, especially over the last thirty years of the twentieth century.

This helps explain why the separatist cause was such a high stakes game for inland areas, although this was not completely clear at the time. As late as 1974, official NSW Government population projections were showing that the New England-North West, a major part of inland New England, would grow to 238,708 people by 2001. Neither the subsequent collapse in inland population growth nor the acceleration in population growth on the coast were foreseen at the time.

Had self-government been achieved with Armidale as capital, then the transfer of administrative functions would have created a growth node similar if on a far smaller scale to the role played by Canberra in the south. The ripple effects would have spread widely across New England.

The following table shows the top ten towns in New England in 1964 by population as compared to the top ten LGAs today. The figures are affected by the changes to the LGA boundaries in recent years that actually make life quite difficult in analytical terms.

Top Ten 1964 Population Top ten 2009 Population
Newcastle & suburbs 219,300

Lake Macquarie


Greater Cessnock 34,700



Maitland 28,100 Tweed


Tamworth 20,530

Port Macquarie-Hastings


Lismore 19,110 Coffs Harbour


Grafton 15,730



Armidale 13,840

Port Stephens


Taree 10,470

Tamworth Regional


Toronto 8,515

Clarence Valley


Inverell 8,450



As it was in 1964, the lower Hunter remains the biggest population centre in New England. However, the rise of what were outrider areas - Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens - is striking.

You can also see the shifting balances elsewhere along coast.

In 1964, Lismore was still ,as it had been for many years, the fifth largest town in New England. Today it is outside the top ten. Grafton, once New England's second largest town after Maitland, still ranked six in 1964. Today, the entire Clarence Valley just gets in at number nine. The places of Lismore and Grafton have been taken by Tweed (population in 1964 below 6,000), Port Macquarie (6,590 in 1964) and Coffs Harbour (7,188 in 1964).

Inland, Tamworth stays in the top ten in part because of the extension of boundaries to create the regional Council. The city itself has fallen outside the top ten rankings. And poor old Armidale that so long ranked in the top six or seven,is now down to fifteenth place even on extended boundaries. Inverell, number ten in 1964, now ranks nineteenth, again with extended boundaries.

These are actually very big demographic shifts in a very short time. They have transformed economic, cultural and political dynamics within New England.

In my next post I will look at more of the detail of the demographic changes that have taken place.

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