Population milestones – or millstones?

Population milestones – or millstones?

A few years ago the ABS estimated the population of the Shire of Melton to be 100,000.  Not 100,001 or 99,999 – exactly 100,000.  Now of course it was a preliminary estimate which has since been changed, but it did get me thinking about population milestones.  This blog will highlight some of the population milestones that have been reached in the last 5 years, but also look at the reverse situation – population millstones – where a population has fallen below a particular benchmark.


Note that the reference periods used here are year ended June 30th and that the 2011 rebased ERPs are used.

Australian States and Territories

In 2009, two States reached milestones –  the population of NSW reached 7 million, and that of Tasmania reached 500,000.

At the State and Territory level, it is unlikely that any other milestones will be reached in the near future.  The population of Victoria surpassed 5.5 million in 2011, but forecasts produced by .id (yet to be published) indicate that 6 million people will not be reached until 2017.

Local Government Areas – the big ones

The population of Local Government Areas (LGAs) varies widely across the country and in some States (notably Western Australia) there are a number of very small LGAs that have been in existence for some time and hence have some historical significance, even if their populations are less than 1,000 people!  LGA boundaries may not be static over time and in some States, notably NSW and Queensland, there have been LGA amalgamations in recent years.  Even where this does occur the ABS will still produce population estimates for the new boundaries so it is still possible to look at population change over time.

Some of the larger LGAs in the country reached significant milestones in recent years.  The population of Brisbane City Council reached 1 million in 2007, and Gold Coast City Council reached 500,000 in 2009.  Queensland is somewhat peculiar in its LGA structure in that the south east has some of the largest LGAs in the country but some of the inland LGAs are very small in population.  Sunshine Coast Council reached a population of 300,000 in 2009, while a population of 150,000 was reached by Toowoomba Regional Council in 2006, City of Ipswich in 2008 and Cairns Regional Council in 2009.

The largest LGA in NSW, Blacktown City Council, surpassed 300,000 people in 2010, and in the same year Wollongong City Council reached 200,000.  North of Sydney, the City of Newcastle and Wyong Shire reached populations of 150,000 in 2009.  Notably, Campbelltown City Council also reached this figure in 2010, but for the second time in the last decade.  Previously, the population of Campbelltown reached 150,000 in 2003, but then recorded some decline, falling to 147,440 in 2006 before the population started to increase again.  Located on the outskirts of Sydney, Campbelltown was largely developed in the 1970s and 1980s and some parts of the City are now ageing rapidly and undergoing suburban regeneration, resulting in a new wave of population growth.

In Melbourne, the rapidly growing City of Casey on the south eastern fringe reached 250,000 people in 2010, and inner northern Moreland City Council reached 150,000 people in 2009.  Over in Perth, the City of Stirling surpassed 200,000 in 2009, and the City of Wanneroo reached 150,000 in 2010.

Local Government Areas – the not so big ones

Many LGAs reached a population of 100,000 between 2006 and 2011.  These include the City of Swan (2007), City of Gosnells and Rockdale City Council (2008), City of Rockingham (2009), Holroyd City Council and the aforementioned Melton (2010), and the City of Melbourne (2011).  Melbourne stands out here as an inner city municipality that has seen rapid population change since the late 1990s, reversing years of decline.  The development of Docklands and the construction of apartment blocks within the CBD, in Southbank and Carlton have resulted in strong population growth, particularly young adults and overseas students.  In fact, Melbourne’s population has almost doubled since 2001.

As we move down the milestone ladder, more regional towns start to appear.  For example, Cessnock City Council and Devonport City Council reached 50,000 in 2008, and this figure was also surpassed by Clarence Valley Council in 2006.  Clarence Valley is located on the north coast of NSW and its largest town is Grafton.

LGAs that reached 25,000 people between 2006 and 2011 include the City of Mount Gambier and the Town of Kwinana in 2007, Armidale Dumaresq Council and Griffith City Council in 2008, and Surf Coast Shire in 2009.

Population millstones?

The milestones, when applied to populations that are declining, might be called millstones.  It is perhaps a slightly faecitious term, because population decline is a concern for many parts of regional Australia and the associated issues can be just as challenging as those LGAs recording rapid growth.  Most places that reached a population “millstone” were in fact very small, and have been recording population decline for many years, if not decades.

Possibly the most notable place to fall below 20,000 people was Broken Hill City Council (2007), and its population has continued to decline since, reaching 19,125 in 2011.  This decline is a long standing trend and is linked to the fortunes of the mining industry.  It is somewhat ironic given that the mining boom in northern Western Australia has resulted in very rapid population growth in that part of the world, yet in contrast to the early 20th century, Broken Hill has not shared in this economic success.  Is this a precursor to a possible population future in northern WA?

Glenelg Shire Council, located in the south west corner of Victoria, also saw its population dip below 20,000 people in 2011.  Its population was relatively steady over the years 2001-2010, hovering just above 20,000, and in fact it was only the rebasing of the population which saw its population decline below this benchmark.  Previously the population of Glenelg had been estimated by the ABS to be increasing over the period 2006-2011, but the rebasing process eliminated this growth – see this blog for more insights.

Other places to reach notable millstones between 2006 and 2011 include Warrumbungle Shire Council, which fell below 10,000 in 2011, whereas Cobar Shire Council fell below 5,000 in 2010 and West Coast – not the football team but the Tasmanian LGA, fell below 5,000 in 2011.

What is Australia’s smallest LGA population wise?  This could be a question at your next trivia night – so read on.  Well that honour belongs to the Aboriginal Council of Maralinga Tjarutja in outback South Australia, which had a population of 80 in 2011.  There are also two very small LGAs in outback Western Australia – the Shires of Sandstone and Murchison, with 2011 populations of 113 and 123 respectively.

Access the new sites and other population statistics for Australia, States, Capital Cities, Local Government Areas and suburbs at .id’s demographic resource centre.



Simone - Myth Buster

Simone has a rich background in human geography, demography and urban planning – a background that was useful in her previous roles in the Commonwealth and State Governments, and now as part of the forecast team at .id. From the Queensland coast to the southern suburbs of Perth, Simone produces population and dwelling forecasts that help local governments make informed decisions about future service and planning needs. She is a regular contributor to .id’s blog and has spoken at several conferences on how our cities and regions are changing. She is a big advocate of evidence-based planning and how Census and other data can inform this. Outside of work Simone is a keen traveller and photographer – interests that tie in well with her professional life and help her to understand “place”.

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