Urban population change over the 10 years to the 2006 Census was examined using the ABS Urban Centres and Localities series. Like all data-based studies, the devil is in the detail and for 2006, ABS changed the basis for reporting this data. Where previously ABS counted persons resident on Census night, they now report on the more useful basis of usual place of residence. The key impact of this change is winter resort areas such as Dinner Plain and Marysville appeared to have suffered strong falls in population.
The research included all towns and cities in regional Victoria and grouped them by size. Overall, more towns increased rather than lost population. From 1996 to 2001, the total growth was slightly stronger than in the following five years, yet for those towns that lost population the decline was stronger in the earlier period.
Over the 10 years, the total population living in 312 regional cities and towns rose by 139,100, with 221 towns gaining population of 145,100, while the 91 towns that lost population lost 6,000 persons. The lowest annual growth rates were in towns with a population of between 200 and 250 persons where population declined by 0.7% per annum, then 800 and 1,000 persons with growth of 0.6% and then 2,000 to 5,000 persons with 0.8% growth. The stronger growth was seen in towns with 500 to 600 persons (3.1%) and 1,200 to 1,500 persons (2.3%). The big cities of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo grew at a rate of 1.5% per annum.
Morwell (-424) and Stawell (-395) were the towns that lost the most population over the 10 years, while Torquay (3,867) and Lara (3,187) in Geelong’s hinterland had the most growth. Notable population declines were in the apparently successful tourist centres of Beechworth (-308), Daylesford (-205) and Lorne (-115).
The Statistical Districts with the lowest growth in urban populations were in the Wimmera, where town and cities lost 1000 persons, East Gippsland which gained only 900 persons, and the Western District (2,600). The strongest growth in urban populations was in the Central Highlands, with an urban population gain of 18,800, Barwon 15,300 and Goulburn 9,900.
Overall the very small towns remain at risk, but growth has been quite strong in most urban areas.