1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2001   
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Anthony King, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute

The past 100 years have seen a massive increase in the Australian housing stock. In the period from 1911 to 1996 there was a fourfold increase in the Australian population - from 4.5 million to 17.9 million. The housing stock did not just keep up with this rapid rate of population increase; it increased at almost double the rate. From just under a million dwellings in 1911, the Australian housing stock had grown to over 7 million dwellings by 1996. The outcome has been a marked decline in the average number of occupants of each dwelling - from around 4.5 in 1911 to around 2.5 by 1996.

There have also been changes in the structure of the Australian housing stock. While the great majority of the population has been housed in private dwellings throughout the period, the proportion has increased - from 91% in 1911 to 97% by 1996 - with a corresponding decline in the share of the population living in ‘non-private’ dwellings. In 1911, 8% of the population lived in non-private dwellings, most notably boarding houses and hotels. The corresponding proportion for 1996 was just over 3%, and now the most prevalent forms of living in non-private dwellings are homes for the aged and educational institutions. A further feature has been a considerable increase in the unoccupied share of the housing stock - from almost 4% in 1911 to over 9% by 1996. This reflects the shift from a period of housing shortage to one of housing affluence, with many of the 680,000 unoccupied dwellings identified at the 1996 Census being second or holiday homes.

The quality of the housing stock has improved markedly. The average size of dwellings has increased; coupled with the increase in the number of dwellings mentioned above, this has given rise to far more dwelling space per person now than 100 years ago. We can directly compare information on dwelling construction materials over the period. Timber or brick constituted the main material of the outer walls of 80% of private dwellings in both 1911 and 1994, though the balance between the two has been reversed (see graph 20.14). Most dwellings in 1911 had wooden walls, while today two-thirds have more solid and durable brick walls. After timber and brick, the next most common materials in 1911 were stone, ‘calico, canvas and hessian’, and iron. In 1994 timber and brick were followed by fibro cement and concrete.

In 1911, almost 40% of the Australian population and and the housing stock were located in the metropolitan areas of the six State capitals. This concentration has increased, rising to over 60% by 1996. These metropolitan populations are, of course, now accommodated in a much larger area. There has been a ten-fold increase in the metropolitan area of the six State capitals since 1911. This has been accompanied by a decline in the overall population density for the six State capitals, but little change in their overall dwelling density - from around 110 dwellings per square kilometre in 1911 to 120 dwellings per square kilometre in 1996. There are different stories for each city - Sydney and Melbourne, for example, experienced marked declines in dwelling densities - and for particular parts of each city, but the overall pattern of different paths for population and dwelling densities is a further reflection of the striking decline in average occupants per dwelling over the period since 1911.