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From 5-Million To 25-Million Population

From 5-Million To 25-Million Population
February 6, 2023 Propertyology Head of Research and REIA Hall of Famer, Simon Pressley

Australia’s population increased by 20 million over the last 100-years. It is currently ranked the 56th largest population in the world.

In 1921, just 5.5 million people were living in this big country Down Under.

Today, almost the same number of people are crammed into just one of Australia’s 400 individual townships.

Construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was still 2-years away from commencing when the Sydney population was 899,000 in 1921.

Sydney was Australia’s most populated city 100-years ago, as it still was at the last official population count in June 2021 (population 5.3 million).

Over the last 100-years, Newcastle and Hobart have slipped from being Australia’s 6th and 7th largest cities to 15th and 11th, respectively.

In 2021, the nation’s capital was Australia’s 7th largest city (population 453,000), whereas there were more paddocks than the mere 1,150 people who lived in Canberra in 1921. And only 1,400 people lived in Darwin.

For perspective, the population of various other Australian townships in 1921 includes 4,800 people in Geraldton WA, Wagga Wagga NSW had 8,000, while 11,000 people lived in Maitland NSW. The population of Warrnambool VIC was 16,000, Townsville’s QLD was 21,000 and Launceston’s TAS 24,000. Broken Hill was bigger than all of them with 31,000 people.

It took 40-years for the national population to increase from 5 million (1918) to 10 million (1958). The next 5-million population milestone was reached 23-years later (in 1981), and 20 million was surpassed in 2004.

52 percent of Victoria’s total population in 1921 lived in Melbourne (766,000 people). Over the subsequent 100-years, that ratio progressively increased to 74 percent.

41 percent of the country’s total population in 1921 lived in Australia’s 5 biggest cities. That concentration had increased further to 63 percent by 2021.

Even though density of Australia’s big cities significantly increased over the last century, there has been a contrasting very strong appetite for lifestyle and / or employment hotspots in various parts of regional Australia. Over each of the last 20-years, more Australians relocated away from capital cities than those who moved to them.

The population of capital cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart in 2021 was circa 5-times more than in 1921. Ditto can be said for many regional locations, including Albury-Wodonga, Armidale, Byron, and Orange.

Other locations that now have populations which are circa 10-times greater than 100-years earlier include Townsville, Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Geelong, Dubbo and Kempsey.

The current population of plenty of other locations increased by 20-times (or more), including Cairns, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Mackay, Busselton and Ballina.

Between World War 1 and WW11, Australia’s population growth was largely dependent on birth rates exceeding deaths.

The threat of future attacks on Australia produced a complete rethink of post-war population policy.

Strong overseas migration since 1945 has been instrumental in Australia’s population growth rate consistently being one of the highest in the world.

High demand for skilled labour is another motivating factor for overseas migration.

55 percent of Australia’s population increase over the 20-years since 2001 came from overseas migration.

Of the 25.7 million people living in Australia in June 2021, 1 in every 3 were born overseas.

Overseas migration ceased during COVID-19.

Accordingly, Australia’s population only increased by 16,900 in 2021. That was the lowest in more than 100-years (since World War 1, when the national population declined by 51,500 in 1916).

Australia’s population in 2021 was less than half that of England’s, although the ‘Mother Country’ is still well down the global rankings in 26th place, while Brazil is 7th (251 million).

The two big global giants are China (1.42 billion) and India (1.41 billion) with more than 4-times the population of third placed, the US (338 million).

Australia’s median age increased from an incredibly youthful 25 in 1921 to 38 in 1921.

Improved quality of life means that we are now living much longer. Life expectancy from the start to the end of the last century increased from 60 to 85 years.

At the time of completing the 2021 Census, there were 8,262 Australians aged 100-years or more. That’s a similar number of people to fill an entire town the size of Forbes, Yeppoon, Kyabram or Glen Innes.



Australian housing styles began to change during the 1920’s, from smaller Federation-style cottages to larger California bungalows.

To accommodate the extra 20 million people over the last century, the volume of residential dwellings increased from 1.2 million to 10.85 million.

96 percent of dwellings in 1921 were detached houses. 100-years later, the same national ratio had reduced to 72 percent.

The cost to rent a very basic, 3-bedroom, uninsulated timber house in most capital cities in 1921 was 10-Shillings per week ($42 per week).

Records for property values prior to the creation of computers are very scarce, but there is some suggestion purchasing a basic house in 1921 would cost in the vicinity of $6,000.

In 2021, the density was greatest in locations such as Gold Coast (only 48 percent are detached houses), Sydney (49 percent) and Darwin (51 percent).

Homeownership rates were significantly better in Australia in 2021 than 1921. 48 percent of households in 1921 were rented compared to 29 percent in 2021.

A sharp increase in homeownership rates occurred after World War 11.

The so-called ‘baby boom’ generation was born during an era made famous for aspiration attitudes, incentivised high birth rates, high overseas migration, large scale housing construction and aggressive homeownership initiatives.

Real estate prices increased significantly in the post-war period.

But all-time record volumes of households were able to become homeowners due to supportive credit policy, accelerated housing supply and a population who were actively encouraged to pursue goals.

Accordingly, the portion of Australian households that were rented reduced from 42 percent in 1947 to 29 percent in 1961 – it subsequently hovered at this level for the next 50-years to now.



Australia’s heritage is rich in farming, natural resources and blue-collar skills.

These qualities were just as valuable in 2021 as they were in 1921, although Australia’s improved economic diversity is far more advanced now than 100-years ago.

The 20th century had a very high reliance on hard labour to make and distribute products.

Conversely, the 21st century is a digital world that depends more on machinery to make stuff, technology and a variety of fast transport options to deliver things, and human capital to provide consultations and general services.

Of the 2.316 million Australians employed in 1921, it’s incredible to think that 23 percent were in agriculture and forestry. In 2021, just 2.3 percent of our workforce produced the food for the nation’s 25.7 million population along with sending 70 percent of what we produce overseas.

Increased investment in white-collar skills over the last century means that health, education, finance and insurance, science, technical and other professional services represented 36 percent of Australia’s workforce in 2021.

Roughly 1 in every 10 jobs in Australia in 2021 were with governments.

One of the biggest changes is the transition from a very high portion of households with 1-income to a much higher portion now earning 2-incomes (and fewer children to support).

In 1921, 80 percent of the total jobs in Australia were filled by males whereas, in 2021, 51 percent were male and 49 percent female.

In addition to producing its lowest population growth rate in more than 100-years, homeownership activity in Australia over the last 3-years ending 2021 was the highest ever on record.

Despite this, Australia ended the last 100-years with its worst ever shortage of rental accommodation.

This collection of fundamentals suggests that another property boom is inevitable.

(Feature image by State Archives and Records Authority of New South Wales, used under CC BY 2.0)

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