When preparing my last blog “Perth’s population – a story of economic boom”, I initially made a statement which I’ve long believed, though I forgot where I heard it. That is the “fact” that Perth is the most remote city of more than a million people on Earth. It seems right (certainly a long flight from Sydney or Melbourne and then it’s the Indian Ocean for many thousands of km in the other direction!) It’s been quoted about the place, and I’ve always taken it at face value.
So I checked it. Turns out, it’s false.
This Wikipedia article states that this meme came from Bill Bryson in his book Down Under, but says that it was originally about cities of more than 500,000, which isn’t how I originally heard it, it was definitely a million.
The nearest city of over 1 million (or 500,000) to Perth is Adelaide, which is 2,104km away as the (Adelaide) crow flies.
If you use 1 million population as the criterion, the most remote city in the world is actually Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland is 2,153km from Sydney, and with no other million cities in New Zealand, Sydney is the closest to Auckland. This is 49km further than Adelaide to Perth.
If you use 500,000 people as the criterion, which the original statement apparently did, then Honolulu, population 953,000 in the 2010 Census wins hands-down, having about three-quarters of the population of Hawaii and being 3,841km from San Francisco the closest large city. Not only that, Honolulu’s population is rapidly growing towards the 1 million mark, and then there can be no argument.
Maybe Bill Bryson was referring to road distance, in which case it’s about 2,600km from Adelaide to Perth. But in that case, it’s hardly fair to Honolulu or Auckland which you can’t drive to from the next equivalent size city.
Maybe it’s all about a feeling of remoteness? Certainly Perth feels more remote than Auckland, which has many other significant sized centres in New Zealand within a few hundred km, while most of the other centres in WA require a flight to reach from Perth, or a very very long drive.
As always, definitions of these things are tricky – while these sort of demographic statements can ring true, it doesn’t mean they’re always correct – anyway I won’t be using that particular meme again!
2011 Census data will be released on 21 June 2012. Do check out this space or join us on twitter @dotid if you would like to receive more updates about the Census or information about demographic and economic trends. You may also like to visit us at id.com.au where you can access our demographic resource centre.