Melbourne’s population has been booming for a decade, but not like this. In the year to last June, the Bureau of Statistics estimates that almost a third of Australia’s population growth crowded into this city – 108,000 more people – with another 16,000 settling in the regional towns and cities within commuting distance.
No Australian city has experienced growth on this scale before. The closest thing in the past was 50 or 60 years ago, when Melbourne and Sydney were the dual epicentres of the post-war boom in European migration, boosting each city’s population by up to 75,000 a year. That migration boom became a transformative experience: it changed not only the scale of the two cities, and their problems, but also their food, their culture, and their sense of themselves.
If today’s Melbourne were to grow for 25 years at the pace it has over the past decade, let alone the past year, by 2042 it would have 8 million people. That, too, would be a very different city.
Apart from the first years of World War II, when it became the defence headquarters of a nation at war, Melbourne has never dominated Australia’s population growth like this. Last year this city’s population grew by 2.4 per cent – twice the pace of the rest of Australia, which grew 1.2 per cent.