Prior to 1900 Perth was a small town which grew only with the WA gold rush, when the discovery of gold near Kalgoorlie attracted a rush of eager migrants keen to make their fortunes.

Most of the city grew after World War II, so it doesn’t have a dense Victorian core like the eastern cities, and only in 1984 did it overtake the population of Adelaide (it’s now got more than 560,000 more people than Adelaide).

Although population forecasting is a tricky act, the Stephenson-Hepburn report in 1955 – a planning framework that has left a lasting legacy on Perth – allowed for 1.4 million residents of the Perth metropolitan region in 2000 and this turned out to be almost exactly on target.

The average annual rate of population growth for Perth was 1.8 per cent between 1991 and 1996 and 1.6 per cent between 1996 and 2001 and between 2001 and 2006, but has increased in recent years, with growth averaging 3.1 per cent between 2006 and 2011.

The latest estimates showed that growth lifted to 3.4 per cent between 2011 and 2012. Even in raw terms, the population increase of 66,400 is comparable to growth in Sydney, a city 2.5 times the size of Perth.

Perth’s population is split into six planning subregions (Central, North-East, North-West, South-East, South-West and Peel). The Central subregion’s population increased at less than 0.6 per cent per annum during the 1990s compared to growth of 4.7 per cent per annum in Peel. Meanwhile, the South-West and North-West were the second and third fastest growing subregions throughout the 1990s, with average annual growth rates of 3.5 and 3.3 per cent, respectively.

In the second half of last decade, populations south of the river in Perth grew at a faster pace than the North-West and North-East subregions. The populations of Peel and the two southern subregions increased at an average annual rate of 4.3 to 4.4 per cent between 2006 and 2012, compared to growth of 3.2 per cent in the northern subregions and 2.4 per cent in the Central subregion.

The Bureau of Statistics gives us an even closer look at where population growth is most prevalent. The Statistical Areas that grew the most were Baldivis and Ellenbrook, with population increases of more than 2,100 persons per annum. Other fast growing areas include Harrisdale/Piara Waters, Butler/Meriwa/Ridgewood, Perth City and Darch/Landsdale, with population increases of more than 1,500 persons per annum.

An alternative way to view population growth is to look at population relative to the existing population five years ago. The table below lists the top 10 fastest growing Statistical Areas between 2007 and 2012. The top areas include suburbs that are relatively new urban development areas.

The immigration boom

Population growth can occur as a result of natural increase (i.e. births exceeding deaths), internal migration or overseas migration. Unfortunately, ABS only publishes a decomposition population which includes these components at state level. However, considering Perth dominates Western Australia’s population growth, the pattern between WA and Perth is likely to be similar.

The natural increase was relatively steady throughout the 1980s and 1990s and up to 2005, with an average annual increase of 14,400 persons. The natural increase subsequently lifted to 20,300 persons in 2012. Over the second half of the last decade, migration, however, has become a larger component of Western Australia’s population growth. The strength of migration over the last five years has been driven by the WA mining boom and associated economic development. Net migration – the balance of people migrating here minus people migrating overseas or interstate – reached not only a record 1,200 people each week during 2012, but also a record proportion of our population increase (75.5 per cent) – surpassed perhaps only by the gold rush era in the 1890s.

Population snapshot

ABS Estimated Resident Population (ERP) figures indicate that the population of Perth as of June 2012 was 1,900,000, up 66,400 (or 3.6 per cent) from one year earlier. The city’s population grew faster than every other Australian capital city and more than twice as fast as the Australian average of 1.7 per cent.

More than half of Perth’s population live within the Outer and Peel subregions and the remaining 42 per cent live in the Central subregion. Within the Outer subregions, the North-West contains the greatest population, while the other three subregions each contribute between 10 and 13 per cent. The Peel region is home to 4.8 per cent of Perth’s population.

The largest populations are spread between central, coastal areas and development hotspots in the Outer subregion. The most populous Statistical Area in 2012 was Perth City with 29,095 residents, followed by Ellenbrook (26,837) Dianella (25,464) and Wanneroo (25,299).

Based on the 2011 Census of Population and Housing, other geographies are available, namely suburbs. The most populous suburb in 2011 was Canning Vale with 30,665 residents, followed by Thornlie (22,964), Dianella (22,520) and Morley (20,301). The average population size across the 362 residential suburbs in Perth was 4,776 persons and the median was 934. Some of Perth’s suburbs, such as Alkimos and Eglinton in north-western Perth, were not developed as of the Census but have since grown rapidly as dwellings were delivered.

The North-West corridor contains an almost continual stretch of residential development extending to Butler in the City of Wanneroo. In contrast, the South-West corridor regions of Cockburn, Kwinana and Rockingham contain large areas of land with low population density—some of these are industrial areas, while others are undeveloped bushland and wetlands.

Population Densities

The population density of an area is dependent on housing density, average household size and the amount of non-residential land in an area. Unsurprisingly, the densest parts of Perth are located within inner Statistical Areas such as Vincent and Subiaco. Both of these have traditionally been high density, with many of the older apartments and townhouses still being used today and now accompanied by newly built or gentrified housing.

Using Census estimates of population density can provide a more disaggregated perspective. The densest suburb in 2011 was Highgate, with more than 5,000 persons per square kilometre. Besides Victoria Park, the rest of the densest suburbs in Perth were located north of the river.

Outside the Central subregion, there are a number of relatively dense suburbs in Perth. Tapping and Kinross in Perth’s north-west and Atwell in Perth’s south-west have a population density in excess of 2,400 persons per square kilometre.