It was Prime Minister E. G. Whitlam who brought the issue of the disparity of population distribution into the sphere of federal politics during the life of his government, 1972-1975. Part of his vision for a new Australia included attention to the problem of our overcrowded and rapidly growing cities. He used the phrase - "Australia is one of the most urbanised nations on Earth" - and he created the Department of Urban and Regional Development to address the issue of population distribution. These activities generated a new social awareness of the nature of the distribution of the Australian population and the consequences that this might have. That awareness largely focussed on the social consequences. This Chapter examines the geographic consequences - what have been the changes in landcover associated with the expansion of Australian cities?
The key word is continuing. The Urbanisation of the Australian population has been and continues to be a monotonous increase. The proportion of the population that is urban increases as does the general population. This means the proportion of the population that is rural is steadily declining.
One of the great demographic changes that has occurred in modern Australia has been the transformation of a rural society to an urban society. A little over a century ago during the 1861 census, more than 60% of the nation were rural dwellers and lived outside the towns. In 1961, a century later, the proportion had fallen to 18%, with 82% of the population residing in the capital cities or other urban areas. It is a truly dramatic reversal.
If we focus on the period used for this book, there are census figures for 1971, 1976, 1981 and 1986. During this period the proportion of the Australian population living in the major urban centres remained reasonably constant at ~ 86%, but the total number of people increased from 10.9 million to 13.3 million, an increase of 2.4 million or 15% of the total population of Australia in 1986.