Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

6. Tertiary activities and urban growth in arid zone towns

S.R. Walker

The previous chapters have indicated that an important reason for people coming to live in Alice Springs is for employment or job transfer. However, the kinds of employment available in Alice Springs and other arid zone towns vary, and this chapter will first seek to examine the functional bases of arid zone settlements in Australia in the context of urban growth. Several of the towns are characterized by major industrial concerns, but it is also possible that in arid zone towns without a large industrial base, tertiary activities serve as supportive enterprise, in effect to "prop up" such centres. If such towns can develop "growth" sectors of tertiary industry (especially tourism), their prospects for future expansion are increased. However, the nature of the relationship between tertiary activity and urban growth has not been quantified in the Australian context. This study seeks to investigate this relationship, thereby differentiating between types of urban areas.

TABLE 6.1. Centrality and Urbanization: Correlation Coefficients (r)

Variable Recreation¹ Measures of retail centrality² Legal profession³
Road distance to nearest state capital -.084 .036 -.090 -.072
Road distance to the nearest of Sydney or Melbourne -.156* .102 .024 -.145
Road distance to nearest town of the 118 surveyed -.090 .106 -.005 -.135
Population 1976 (census record) - .011 - .012 .160* .036
Population per hectare of town area (1976) .016 -.229* -.125 .164
Percentage change in population 1971-1976 .278* -.171* -.001 -.060
Percentage of the labour force unemployed (1976 census) .430* -.034 .264* -.196*

* Significant correlation at 0.05 level.
1 Percentage of the male labour force engaged in entertainment or recreation occupations (1976).
2 A = retail sales per capita, 1973-1974.
B = percentage of employed females in retailing or finance, 1976.
3 Ratio of solicitors, law professionals, and judges to the population of the town (1976).

Centrality and Diversity

First, it may be proposed that arid zone areas have some advantage as retail centres, since they may have relatively large geographical catchment areas and hence greater centrality. One measure of such centrality is retail sales per capita. Employment data can also be used to assess the extent to which towns concentrate on commercial functions. However, relating these to measures of remoteness (table 6.1), it is found that the more remote towns do not necessarily have greater "retail centrality" than do towns closer to metropolitan centres. Remote areas in this case are neither especially advantaged nor disadvantaged with respect to retail trade. Other urban characteristics are necessary to explain the variation.

However, the data could be employed to suggest that such tertiary activities can be of assistance in maintaining employment and income: the percentage of the female labour force in retailing or finance is significantly higher in towns with high unemployment levels, and retail trade tends to be relatively more important the slower the population growth of a town. Conversely, the legal profession is less represented the higher the level of unemployment in a centre. This is suggestive of some element of "metropolitan dominance" in this service activity, similar to that which occurs in the tourist industry. The reason for the significant negative correlation between employment in recreation activities and distance from Sydney or Melbourne (table 6.1) is the number of resort towns in relatively close proximity to these cities.

Even this brief comment on a few tertiary activities leads to speculation that there is a diversity of functional types of towns (within the tertiary sector). Classifying towns according to function is by no means a new procedure. Smith (1965) broadly classified Australian towns as manufacturing, service, resort, etc., although he recognized the difficulty of referring to single-function towns and the pedagogic nature of his approach. In his classification, arid zone towns are grouped simply as mining towns, or omitted altogether (as for the Northern Territory). Such a procedure is much too broad for understanding differentiation within the single sector of tertiary industry and cannot take into account a complexity of variables simultaneously. An appropriate technique is a form of factor analysis. Moser and Scott (1961), for example, have used principal components analysis for a classification of British towns, and this procedure will also be followed here.

TABLE 6.2. Functional Differentiation of Urban Centres

Variable Varimax rotated factor matrix
(Public utilities) (Recreation) (Public services) (Market centres)
Percentage of the labour force unemployed (1976 census) -.156 535 - .198 .054
Percentage of the male labour force engaged in entertainment or recreation occupations (1976) -.105 .894 .159 .114
Percentage of male labour force employed as production process workers (1976) .072 -.326 -.510 -.094
Porportion of females aged over 15 years in the labour force (1976) .431 -.067 .067 .213
Percentage of employed females in retailing or finance (1976) - .226 .203 - .315 .501
Retail sales per capita, 1973-1974 .084 .008 .166 .817
Ratio of doctors to population (1976) .156 .001 .455 .100
Ratio of teachers resident to population (1976) .033 - .102 .802 - .076
Percentage of total occupied private dwellings with no piped water supply (1976) .714 - .037 .145 - .146
Percentage of total occupied private dwellings with 3 or less rooms (1976) .822 - .115 .073 - .029
Road distance to the nearest of Sydney or Melbourne (Log10) .310 - .094 - .132 .122
Percentage change in population 1971-1976 .308 .314 - .081 - .164

Highest loadings on each factor are underlined.

For the analysis a number of variables measuring different aspects of the tertiary sector were selected. The results are shown in table 6.2; factor scores of certain towns are plotted in figure 6.1. Arid zone towns can be clearly differentiated in terms of service provision from other urban areas. What distinguishes several of them from other towns in the urban system is that they score positively on each of the first three factors: for example, Alice Springs most notably scores relatively highly on the factor indicating remoteness (lack of public utilities, but a high level of female participation in the work-force and population growth), and as well scores positively on the other growth factor (tourism or recreation) and on the public service factor. This combination places Alice within a growth sector of the graph (fig. 6.1). The graph is schematic only, but further illustrates differences in urban growth and related components between the settlements of the Australian arid zones and those in the continental periphery.

Figure 6.1 illustrates that, while there are certain similarities in the growth and service functions of arid zone towns, there are also appreciable differences. Alice Springs appears to have a clear advantage in respect of services, whereas Broken Hill does not, and Mt. Isa is identified as a very specialized, nontertiary industrial centre (and Kalgoorlie to a lesser extent). The latter towns are without the advantages that tourism is bringing to Alice Springs. Alice Springs, also scores higher than other arid zone towns on the public service factor: the provision of professional services is an important part of the town's function (although none of the arid zone towns were characterized by exceptionally high or low levels of provision). Such differences between urban centres in the arid zone do indicate, therefore, that policies aiming to promote growth through the use of tertiary activities may need to differ for each of the centres.

FIG. 6.1. Functional Differentiation between Selected Urban Areas: Factor Scores in a Three-Dimensional Diagram

Urban Growth and Migration

Population growth of arid zone urban areas is not only dependent upon the fortunes of mining but also on the growth of certain types of services, as is clearly demonstrated by Alice Springs. The analysis shows, for instance, that population change relates highly to the first two factors and not to factors three and four relating to public services and retail centrality. Tourist trade rather than rural market/ service centre functions is the growth function. The latter activities do continue to provide an important role for arid zone centres (such as Broken Hill), but are seldom likely in themselves to attract many migrants.

The statistical analysis has suggested that migrants are being attracted to towns that offer better recreational or environmental facilities as well as skilled employment opportunities. To assess whether these were in fact important reasons why people chose to live in Alice Springs, a survey conducted in 1980 and reported by Burnley in chapter 5 asked residents their reasons for moving to Alice Springs (table 5.3). A large percentage (34.5 per cent) of those interviewed and excluding those transferred from other positions by their employer gave employment opportunities as the principal reason. In part this was associated with the prospect of promotion, higher salary, or the chance to save money. Many came on short-term contracts or were transferred (27 per cent of the total). The sample included some of the American families associated with the Pine Gap defence and communication establishment, but even discounting these the proportion who came to Alice Springs on a job transfer is relatively high, implying a fairly rapid rate of population turnover.

Comparison to other remote area studies (Brealey and Newton 1978) shows that the emphasis on financial and employment opportunities is common to such towns (table 6.3), although Alice Springs residents gave this reason more frequently. This may have been due to the type of area studied within the town (with a relatively large number of professional workers), but may also denote the very real opportunities for certain types of employment there. As the town becomes larger and more established, it may well be that more people move there because of family connections (cf. Mt. Isa in table 6.3). However, it is possible that growth of the town would also result in fewer people moving there for environmental reasons, as is implied by the responses on future town size reported by Parkes in chapter 4.

TABLE 6.3. Reasons for Moving to Alice Springs: Comparison to Other Finding for Australian Remote Areas

Urban area (Sample size) Financial or employment Climate or environment Family (Year of survey)
Alice Springs² (82) 78 17 5 (1980)
Mt. Isa¹ (82) 71 11 17 (1971)
Newman¹ (74) 91 9 1 (1972)
Dampier¹ (178) 72 22 5 (1974)
Gove¹ (200) 74 21 4 (1974)
Port Headland¹ (119) 82 12 6 (1976)

Source: 1 Brealey and Newton (1978)
2 Gillen survey, Alice Springs (Gillen is a suburb or district of Alice Springs).

A high percentage of respondents gave as their primary reason for choosing to live in Alice Springs their enjoyment of a vacation spent in Alice. Previous knowledge of an area is of assistance when making the decision to move elsewhere, and although remote area studies have not been conducted on this aspect, other evidence on migration supports this. Donaldson's empirical findings, for example, show that a very high percentage of residential moves are made within the same sector of an urban area; familiarity and propinquity are important criteria in decisions concerning place of relocation (Donaldson 1973). While this may not seem relevant to the present situation because it related explicitly to large metropolitan regions rather than remote areas, it is of some importance also in considering the directional flow of migrants to the town. The Gillen survey found that migrants were attracted principally from Adelaide or the Adelaide area, and the larger surveys by Parkes (chapter 4\ and Burnley (chapter 5), which sampled the whole resident population, confirm this feature. Migration linkages with Adelaide were much stronger (numerically) than with Darwin.

That Alice Springs must provide a substantial attraction as a place of residence (at least for a short-term stay) is reflected in the population growth of the town (chapter 3, Burnley and Parkes). In the Gillen survey no resident was interviewed who had been born in Alice Springs, further supporting the results of Burnley's independent sample, chapter 5. Most adults had moved there in their twenties or early thirties, in the familyforming stage of the life-cycle, or as single persons. Approximately one half of the 20- to 35-year-old group had their first child after settling there, the remainder (except for those unmarried) came to Alice Springs with children no older than 9 years of age. This particular aspect of selective migration is also exemplified in the age structure of the population, which is dominated by young adults and children of primary-school age. This imbalance places special demands on certain urban services.

Tourism and Development

Much of the growth of Alice Springs has been associated with its development as a tourist centre. (The developments at Pine Gap and other research and professional services have been mentioned earlier.) During 1978 and 1979 some 150,000 visitors were estimated to have come to central Australia, of these, 65,000 visited Ayers Rock, for which Alice Springs is the base location. The number of tourists has been increasing rapidly in recent years (table 6.4), with visitors being attracted by the outback and "last frontier" aspects of the environment. This is when the arid landscape and remote environment becomes a positive advantage and Alice Springs' centrality qualities have effect. In a survey of tour operators, nearly 40 per cent gave this as the main reason why people wanted to visit the Northern Territory. A further 22 per cent cited Ayers Rock as the principal reason (Northern Territory Development Corporation).

The promotion of such environmental benefits has undoubtedly contributed to the rapid growth of Alice Springs, at an average annual rate of over 5 per cent since 1961 (increasing to 11.8 per cent during the period 19661971, see table 6.5.)

Whether such growth can be sustained and accommodated, however, is dependent on a number of assumptions. The first is that the town can house not only the tourists but the new residents. Accommodation shortages were among the principal problems residents mentioned for new arrivals to the town. At the time of the 1979 population count in the Northern Territory, there were 288 people resident in caravans, one-third of these caravans being rented. These are used as temporary accommodation by incoming settlers, who are forced into such accommodation because of the shortages elsewhere. In 1980 there were 506 persons on the Housing Commission's waiting list, with a 14-month delay in obtaining a house (8 months for a flat).

TABLE 6.4. Visitors to the Northern Territory: 1975-1980

Year Total visitors to the Northern Territory (Percentage growth) Visitors to the Centre
1975/76 181,738   109,043
1976/77 204,200 (12.4) 122,520
1977/78 225,620 (10.5) 135,372
1978/79 250,438 (11.0) 150,263
1979/80* 267,969   160,782

* Projected.
Source: Northern Territory Tourist Commission, Preliminary Domestic Tourism Figures 1978/79.

TABLE 6.5. Northern Territory Population Change: 1961-1981

Year Population as of 30 June
1961 Census 15,477 4,748 907
1966 Census 21,671 6,390 1,107
1971 Census 37,060 11,179 1,794
1973 Count 42,858 12,762 2,245
1975 Count (September) 34,919 13,073 2,715
1976 Census 44,262 14,775 2,335
1981 Projection (new boundary: Darwin) 53,760 17,630 2,710
  Average Annual Increase (percentage)
1961-66 6.9 6.1 4.1
1966-71 11.3 11.8 10.0
1971 -76 4.0 5.5 5.5
1976-81 (projected) 3.5 3.5 3.0

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Darwin, August 1977 Report.

The pressure on the Housing Commission for accommodation has been considerable, for reasons not only relating to the rapid population growth. In Alice Springs, Housing Commission dwellings are available without the means-test restrictions placed on applicants for equivalent housing in New South Wales, and despite the lack of air-conditioning in these dwellings, there is clearly considerable demand from middle-income households. The relatively large numbers of public servants in the town also contribute to this pressure: certain government departments require such housing for employees, and persons on short-term appointments may prefer to rent accommodation. External influences have also had their effect on the town, following the Darwin cyclone in December 1974, not only was there an increased need to house some of these people in Alice Springs but a redirection of finance towards housing in Darwin and a redirecion of labour towards Darwin also occurred.

The principal barriers to tourist development in the Northern Territory have been identified as lack of accommodation (mentioned by 17 per cent of the industry) and high transport costs (15 per cent, see Northern Territory Development Corporation, p. 22). Other problems included the poor standard of service (9 per cent), insufficient marketing (8 per cent), and other transport problems (15 per cent). Changes in the Northern Territory are currently taking place which suggest that the former two problems are being tackled, although lack of accommodation is still seen by operators as a limit to growth.

The other assumption which is made by those promoting tourist development is that residents are prepared to meet this change. Possible opposition from Aboriginal groups must first be emphasized since promotion of tourism may take place at the expense of sites important to some communities. Opposition among most nonAboriginal residents is almost non-existent by comparison. In the Gillen sample survey, residents were asked if they favoured or did not favour the development of tourism in Alice Springs. Less than one quarter did not wish to see further growth; 76 per cent welcomed such development, mainly because of the financial benefits they perceived it would bring to the town (and indirectly, to themselves). Those who were opposed to further development did so principally on three grounds: that it would benefit only a few wealthy individuals; that the influx of strangers increased the incidence of diseases in the community; and that there was a lack of appropriate accommodation. Even some of those who supported tourism gave qualified answers to this effect: that their support was conditional on improvements to facilities and accommodation. However, overall, the general consensus was favourable-especially among the long-term residents. These results should be compared again with those in the two samples undertaken by Parkes and reported in chapter 4, suggesting validity for the results.

Despite certain limitations, it is evident that some arid zone urban areas have considerable potential for growth as centres of tertiary activities. Not as market centres in the traditional sense of providing goods for the surrounding region, but as centres for tourism, recreation, and professional services. Gottmann (1970) has described these activities as "quaternary"-a sector of activities dealing in abstract transactions rather than the physical transfer of goods. This is a sector currently associated with growth, and its development may provide an attractive alternative to the vicissitudes of single-function towns, especially when they are located in remote areas.

Contents - Previous - Next