Perth is Australia’s 4th largest city, and contains the bulk of Western Australia’s population. Perth is a very remote city, at over 2,000km from Adelaide and over 3,000km from the east coast, and in many ways is quite different to the rest of Australia.  This post looks at Perth’s 2011 population, how it has changed, where it has grown and what the future holds.

What is Perth’s population?

The official population of Greater Perth is currently (June 2011) estimated at 1,738,807 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is a preliminary estimate which may be revised after the Census data comes out, but nevertheless is likely to be close to the mark.

This is about 7.7% of Australia’s population but 74% of Western Australia’s population. Though Western Australia has the largest geographic area of any state/territory, it also has the highest proportion of any state’s population concentrated in its capital city.

Perth is booming – driven by the WA mining boom and associated economic development, it has been the fastest growing capital in the past 10 years and continues to pick up pace. Since 2001 Perth has grown by 346,000 people, or 25%. Even in raw number terms, this is comparable to Sydney’s growth of 499,000 over the same period, in a city one-third the size. In the last year, Perth recorded 2.5% growth, the same as WA overall (meaning the regions are growing fast too), and much higher than Sydney (1.3%), Melbourne (1.6%), Brisbane (1.7%), or Adelaide (1.1%).

The ABS is redefining the areas of all Greater Capital Cities, and from this year’s Census release, Perth will be redefined to include the Mandurah and Peel region. This is one of the fastest growing areas currently outside of Perth and will give another kick along to the population growth.

It hasn’t always been this way. Perth was a very small, isolated city for many years. Prior to 1900 it was a small town, which grew only with the WA gold rush. Most of the city grew after World War II, so it doesn’t have a dense Victorian core like the eastern cities, and only in 1980 did it overtake the population of Adelaide (it’s now got more than 500,000 more people than Adelaide).

The mining boom of the last decade has spurred Perth along. In recent years it has been getting a larger share of overseas migrants, mostly arriving on skilled migration visas. More than any other city in Australia, it attracts migrants from the UK and South Africa. People from the UK make up 12% of Perth’s population (5% Australia-wide), and South Africa makes up 1.3% (0.5% Aust-wide).

Where is growth occurring?

Like Melbourne’s growth, Perth’s growth in recent years has been concentrated in the outer suburbs.

None of Perth’s 30 Local Government Areas had population decline between 2001 and 2011, and all those with greenfield land available are growing quite strongly. This chart shows the percentage population growth by LGA over 10 years:

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2010-11 (3218.0)

Perth City Council had the highest percentage growth over 10 years (142%), but this is on a tiny base population (7,688 in 2001, up to 18,616 now), and when all the inner suburban areas are included, the growth rate is actually below the metropolitan average. The city centre of Perth still has a low population compared to that of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane centres.

Perth sprawls a long way north to south. With the logical inclusion of Mandurah in the Perth metropolitan area from this year, this city of 1.7 million people extends from Two Rocks, 61km north of Perth, to Dawesville, south of Mandurah and 89km from Perth, making 150km of contiguous urban coastal strip. However for most of this distance it only extends a few km inland, the the furthest suburbs east of Perth are in the Shire of Mundaring, only 30km from the CBD.

Much of the growth remains in these coastal areas (or at least not far inland). The City of Wanneroo, which takes in the outer northernmost part of the metro area, grew from 84,000 to 156,000 people in 10 years, almost doubling (86%), and has plenty of room for more growth. Most of the other high growth areas were in the southern coastal areas, including Rockingham (46%), Kwinana (40%) and Cockburn (36%). Further out than this, and not in the chart because they’re not yet included in Perth’s population, are Mandurah (52%) and Murray Shire (42%) in the Peel region, soon to be included with Perth for future datasets.

The South-Eastern corridor is also growing strongly, with Serpentine-Jarrahdale (57%), Gosnells (31%) and Armadale (23%) all showing strong growth. Armadale is an interesting one, because the population barely changed between 2001 and 2006, but since then it has been the 5th fastest growing area in Perth.

The 4th main growth corridor of Perth is the East, and most of this growth falls into the City of Swan (19.1%), with other areas mainly built out (Belmont, Bassendean) or attracting smaller numbers of lifestyle tree-changers (Mundaring, Kalamunda).

The lowest growth in Perth is in the established suburbs, particularly the very affluent inner and western areas such as Claremont (6%), Nedlands (6%) and Subiaco (9.8%).

What will Perth’s population look like in the future?

So what of the future? .id don’t currently have forecasts for the whole of Perth, but many of the Local Government Areas in Perth do subscribe to forecasts, and these show continued growth into the forseeable future. In particular, from 2011-2031, we are expecting major growth in:

Wanneroo – To double to over 300,000 people by 2031.

Swan – Up to around 200,000 people, a 90% increase to 2031.

Armadale – More than doubling in size to around 140,000 by 2031.

Rockingham – Up by another 50,000 to 164,000 people.

Cockburn - Will grow by a relatively modest 35,000 people as the remaining greenfield areas fill up.

Perth – Also close to doubling in size, but still with a relatively small fraction of the population, at about 33,000.

The WA State Government does produce population projections for the entire state. They only go to 2026 (not 2031) and contain a series of scenarios depending on high or low birth and migration assumptions. Their mid-range projection has the population of the Perth metropolitan area (not including Mandurah) at 2,277,000 in 2026, an increase of nearly 550,000 or 31% from 2011 levels.

Even the lowest projection shows Perth growing by about 400,000 people in the next 15 years, so it would appear that the boom city will continue to boom for a while yet.

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Glenn is a Census data expert, having worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 10 years and at .id fo...

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