Monday, June 14, 2010

People - The population of Australia

The population of Australia at 6:33 p.m. on January 22, 2010, was estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to be 22,124,694 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009, “Population Clock”). This number is based on a formula that one birth occurs in Australia every one minute, 55 seconds; one death occurs every three minutes, 57 seconds; and the net gain from migration is one person every two minutes, 38 seconds. The total population increase is one person every one minute, 33 seconds (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009, “Population Clock”). For a landmass approximately the size of the continental United States, a population of just over 22 million people would seem to be low, and the population density is one of the lowest in the world, at about 7.5 people per square mile (2.6 people per sq. km). But according to some of the world’s leading scientists, Australia is already overcrowded, and substantially so! Jared Diamond cites an estimate that Australian soil and water resources are enough to support a population of only about eight million (2005, 398).

Although throughout the 20th century the most significant cause of this population growth was natural increase, making up “67% of the population growth between 1901 and 1994” (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006), immigration has in many years been a far more important factor. For example, in 2006–07 the net increase from migration was 155,600 people, representing 56 percent of the overall population increase in that year (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007, “Migration”). This feature of Australian society is nothing new. In such boom years as those that followed the gold rush of 1851 and the postwar “populate or perish” years starting in 1945, migration provided many thousands more Australians than did natural increase. During World War I, World War II, and the depression in the 1930s, however, immigration nearly ceased.

The United Kingdom has been the most consistent source of Australian migrants over the past 200 years. Even during the peak of postwar migration, when displaced persons from Europe flocked to Australia by the tens of thousands, the United Kingdom provided the largest number of migrants. As late as 2006, 23 percent of the country’s overseas-born population hailed from there (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007, “Migration”).

Because of this overwhelming majority in the early days, the popular image of Australia is of a largely homogeneous Anglo population prior to the start of European migration in the late 1940s; however, this image is not entirely accurate. The country’s Aboriginal people have always constituted a small percentage of the population. In addition, even in the days of the First Fleet in 1788, immigration to Australia was never entirely English or even British. The First Fleet carried people of English and Scottish nationality but also Germans, Norwegians, and both black and white Americans to Australia’s shores. Irish convicts arrived in 1791, and that country has continued to be an important source of immigrants, so much so that the dominant population in Australia is usually referred to as Anglo-Celtic rather than simply Anglo or English. Significant numbers of Chinese, Japanese, and Malays from Indonesia resided in the Northern Territory long before there was any large-scale European immigration to that region; in 1888 the Chinese population of the Northern Territory was seven times larger than the white one (Thompson 1994, 37). The gold rushes of the 1850s also drew people from all over the world to Australia’s shores, as did the scores of inland expeditions in the decades that followed. Although small in number, Australia was also home to a population of Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India starting in the 1860s; the country’s first mosque was built in Renmark, South Australia, in 1861 and the second in that state’s capital, Adelaide, in 1889 (Islamic College).

Since the influx of European migrants after 1945 and the dismantling of the white Australia policy in the final quarter of the 20th century, Australia has become increasingly diverse. In 2006 the next largest migrant populations after the British and New Zealanders were Italians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Greeks, South Africans, Germans, and Malaysians (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008, “Country of Birth”). Although smaller in number than the Italian or Chinese populations, Australia’s Greeks are so numerous that Melbourne is the world’s thirdlargest Greek city after Athens and Thessaloniki (City of Melbourne 2004). Furthermore, in the past decade increasing numbers of Africans from Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia have made their homes in some of Australia’s largest cities and some selected provincial towns such as Warrnambool and Shepparton in the state of Victoria.

Australia’s large migrant population, where 24 percent of the current population was born overseas and another 26 percent had at least one parent born overseas, means that at least 200 languages and dialects are spoken in the country’s 8.1 million households. While English is the national language, 16 percent of the population speaks another language at home, with Italian, Greek, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese the most common (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008, “Country of Birth”).

This great diversity of people lends great religious diversity to the country as well, with 6 percent of the population adhering to a wide variety of non-Christian faiths, including Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, and another 31 percent professing no faith at all. Of the Christian faiths, the largest percentage are Roman Catholic, at 26 percent; followed by Anglican, 19 percent; and others such as Greek and Russian Orthodox, Uniting, and Baptist, 19 percent (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, “Religious Affiliation”).

Since the landing of the First Fleet in 1788, Australia has been a predominantly urban society. As the food historian Michael Symons notes, “this is the only continent which has not supported an agrarian society” (1982, 10); Aboriginal hunting and gathering quickly gave way to processed and preserved imports. Rather than small, familyrun farms on which a majority of people lived and worked, from the beginning white Australia supported a small number of large, industrial- scale sheep and cattle stations while the majority of people lived in and around the continent’s coastal cities and towns. Today about 88 percent of the Australian population lives in urban areas, with 64 percent living in the capital cities alone, which is double the rate of the United States (Clancy 2009). For the historian Geoffrey Blainey, this strong centralization is the result of Australia’s “tyranny of distance”: The vast distances and high cost of transport within the country have made decentralized settlements unviable from the earliest days of white settlement (1966). In addition, the arid nature of most of the continent and the extreme heat and humidity in the far north have made large-scale settlement in these regions next to impossible. As a result, 85 percent of the continent’s population lives in what Blainey calls the Boomerang Coast, a stretch of land from Adelaide in the south through Brisbane in the north and including Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, and Canberra (Nicholson 1998, 52–53). Altogether, this territory makes up less than a quarter of the country’s landmass.

In addition to their centralized settlement pattern, Australians enjoy one of the highest qualities of life on Earth; in 2009 Australia ranked second on the United Nations’s Human Development Index (HDI) behind Norway (United Nations Development Program [UNDP]). Rather than looking strictly at gross domestic product (GDP) or other economic factors, the HDI combines income purchasing power (purchasing power parity, or PPP), life expectancy, and educational attainment (United Nations Development Program 2008, 7). Australia ranks just 22nd in the world on the income measurement, at U.S.$34,923 per person, but first in educational attainment and fifth in life expectancy, at 81.4 years (UNDP). In comparison, the United States is 13th on the HDI overall: ninth in purchasing power, 21st in educational attainment, and 26th in life expectancy at 79.1 years (UNDP 2). Additionally, the Economist magazine ranks Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, as the world’s second most livable city after Vancouver, Canada, while Perth, Adelaide, and Sydney, the capitals of Western Australia, South Australia, and New South Wales, respectively, also make the top 10 at fourth, seventh, and ninth (Economist Intelligence Unit 2008).

Despite the relative livability of Australia, the country’s population does not share equally in the benefits of good health and well-being, high educational attainment, or income distribution, setting it apart from the other countries with very high HDI rankings. For example, in terms of income inequality, Australia resembles the United States, at 13th on the HDI, far more than it does Norway. In Australia the lowest 10 percent of income earners make just 45 percent of the national median, while the highest 10 percent make 195 percent of the median; the comparable figures for the United States are 38 percent and 214 percent, and for Norway 55 percent and 157 percent (Smeeding 2002, 6). In other words, Norway’s richest and poorest people are more like each other in terms of purchasing power than those in Australia or the United States.

While poverty, lack of education, and poor health care can be found in small pockets throughout the Australian population, on average the least-well-off group are the approximately 2 percent who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, who together make up the country’s Indigenous people. As a result of harsh and discriminatory laws that have impeded self-determination for more than 200 years, this population in 2001 had a life expectancy that on average was 18 years less than that of other Australians, a household income rate only 62 percent that of non-Indigenous Australians, an unemployment rate more than three times the national average, and much lower educational attainments (Australian Human Rights Commission 2006). Another repercussion of generations of repression and this vast inequality is that Indigenous people, while constituting a tiny proportion of the general population in Australia, made up 22 percent of the prison population in 2005; some 6 percent of the Indigenous male population between 25 and 29 were imprisoned, compared to only 0.6 percent of men that age overall (Australian Human Rights Commission 2006). While some efforts have been made at both the federal and the state/territory levels to deal with this inequality, far more needs to be done to right the wrongs of the past 220 years.

Like its land and people, Australia’s history is one of diversity and great contrasts. On the one hand, Australia is home to the oldest surviving culture on Earth, where for between 45,000 and 60,000 years countless thousands of generations lived and died but left relatively few markers behind through which we can understand their long history. On the other hand, Australia’s non-Indigenous population can be dated back only as far as 1788, 168 years after the landing of the Mayflower pilgrims in the United States and 224 years after French Huguenots landed in Florida. In the approximately 220 years between 1788 and the present, non-Indigenous Australians have transformed their culture and territory so thoroughly that very little of the original remains. It is with this process of transformation that this book is primarily concerned.