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3. Population and ecological groupings

I.H. Burnley and D.N. Parkes

In the previous chapter certain aspects of site, climate, and water supply and demand were discussed, being elements of the settlement ecological setting, and this was followed by some general discussion about the special relations among the arid zone ecosystem, the contained settlement, which in Australia is usually remote, and the impact of urbanization processes, often with their sources in the large metropolitan centres of coastal Australia or overseas. In this chapter population size, change, and composition, as well as a brief description of ecological groupings within Alice Springs will be presented. This ecological background on the demographic and ecological structure of the settlement provides a basis for the interpretation of the empirical studies presented in chapters 4 and following.

In the period from 1961 to 1976 the population of Alice Springs grew from 4,670 to more than 14,700, corrected for under-enumeration in 1971 and 1976, indicating a growth rate of around 11 per cent compounded from 1966 to 1976. This growth was sustained between 1976 and 1979, when the population count rose to 16,200. The population in June 1981 was 18,375. This increase reflected economic developments such as tourism throughout the central Australian region as well as the town's growth as an administrative centre. The population has also been boosted by the development of research facilities related to environmental remote sensing (Federal Department of Science and Environment), arid zone range-land management {CSIRO), and defence and communications (USAustralia at Pine Gap), and the establishment of the Arid Zone Primary Industry Research Institute of the Northern Territory Government.

As late as the outbreak of the Second World War the white population of Alice Springs numbered only a few hundred people with the Aboriginal population only slightly less. Thus over 95 per cent of the growth of the town has occurred since 1947, with most of the population increase coming from migration. Very few of the adults resident in the town during the 1976 census and the sample surveys discussed in later chapters were born in the town or even in the central Australian region or elsewhere throughout the Northern Territory.

Public administration is an important function of the town-37 per cent of the employed population worked for the Federal Government in 1976, and a further 2.7 per cent worked for the Territory administration prior to self-government, about 40 per cent in all.

Only 3.4 per cent were employed in manufacturing. Because it is remote from the main population concentrations of the nation, Alice Springs has not attracted even those industries which, because of weak locational requirements, are often described as "foot-loose." The tyranny of distance, even in the jet and satellite communication age, is still the dominant aspect of geographical setting. Transport and storage are important functions, employing 9.5 per cent in 1976, reflecting the location of Alice Springs at the rail-head from Adelaide and its role as the supply centre for central Australia, especially to the pastoral industry. The transport component in Alice Springs has been further reinforced by the tourist industry, which now provides the dominant thrust for investment decisions on new transport modes and routes.

At the 1976 census 14 per cent of the town's population were nonresidents, a much higher proportion than is normally the case for Australian cities or towns. Most were tourists, the census being taken on June 30 at the beginning of the main tourist season for Alice Springs. It was estimated in the Schrapnel Report in relation to the Pine Gap establishment, on the basis of figures supplied by the Department of Defence, that there were 1,195 staff and their dependents resident in Alice Springs in 1971, or 10 per cent of the population (Schrapnel and Company Report 1969). By 1981, facilities were being expanded, and an additional 80 or so persons were expected to be directly or indirectly associated with the establishment, bringing its total impact-size (i.e., including staff and dependents) up to about 1,200. Similar satellite communication and defence functions are an increasingly prevalent characteristic of the ecology of arid zone regions in many parts of the world, coincident with both military technology and commercial cybernetic revolutions.

Table 3.1 indicates that the proportion of the work-force in building and construction, a sensitive indicator of growth cycles, was 12 per cent in 1976 compared with an average 7.5 per cent in the larger cities of Australia. This reflects the rapid growth of the town's population, shown in table 3.2, and the consequent demand for housing, other amenities, and more diverse investment programmes.

The significance of the tourist industry to this remote urban settlement is absolute. Without it, some other very different settlement would exist. The 7.0 per cent of the work-force in entertainment, notably in hotels and restaurants, is much higher than the Australian metropolitan average of 4.8 per cent. Although there has been a proportional drop from almost 12 per cent in 1966 to 8.3 per cent in 1971, this drop is directly related to structural changes within the industry and in its service supply methods. The multiplier effects of the tourist industry reach into every single component of the settlement's demographic and social morphology, and some insights into its perceived significance as reported by the residents of Alice Springs will be discussed later.

TABLE 3.1. Industrial Structure of the Alice Springs Work-force 1971 and 1976 (percentages)

Sector 1971 1976
Agriculture 1.8 1.2
Mining 1.3 0.4
Manufacturing 5.2 3.4
Electricity 1.9 0.9
Construction 11.0 12.1
Wholesale and retail 15.4 14.6
Transport and storage 11.1 9.5
Communications 1.4 1.0
Finance 4.0 5.5
Public administration, defence 8.2 12.3
Community services 23.5 18.0
Entertainment 8.3 7.0
Other and not stated 6.9 14.1
Total percentage 100.0 100.0
Total employed 4,746 6,672

Source: Censuses, 1971 and 1976.

TABLE 3.2. Population Growth of Alice Springs (refer to Table 6.5 for comparison with Darwin and Tennant Creek)

Year Population
1961 (Census) 4,668
1966 (Census) 6,390
1968 (Estimate) 7,810
1969 ( Estimate ) 8,785
1971 (Census) 11,172
1973 (Field count ) 12,762
1974 (Field count) 13,321
1976 (Census) 14,715*
1979 (Field count) 16,210

* Corrected for under-enumeration. source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Alice Springs is a special-function, community-service, defence, tourist, and transport-based town and is the principal service centre for an area of central Australia the size of Great Britain. The administrative and welfare functions are becoming increasingly important, especially following self-government in 1978. Although Alice Springs is still small compared to many other Australian service centres, its physical remoteness from the main centres of population concentration makes its service role all the more significant. How well it fulfills this role in relation to selected service activities is discussed in some of the following chapters by Burnley and Walker.

The substantial Aboriginal population, residing both within the town and in surrounding areas, stimulates a number of special services and welfare activities which make Alice Springs overwhelmingly a tertiary and quaternary (or information processing) centre. These functions are indicators of high levels of urbanization and associated urban life-styles or urbanism, referred to in chapter 2 in more detail again in later chapters.

The overseas-born component of the population is sub. stantially different from that found in the larger Australian cities. Because Alice Springs is distant from the social networks of communities in the metropolitan cities, which often form the basis for chain migration streams from Europe, and is without the sort of manufacturing base that has attracted migrants to the humid coastal cities, southern European and eastern settlers are proportionately underrepresented in Alice Springs. The British, on the other hand, are a group whose number grew between 1971 and 1976 from 970 to 1,260, and this is not easily explained. But it was the presence of 650 persons born in the USA (5 per cent of the total population) that represented the most marked departure from other Australian metropolitan and nonmetropolitan places. The American-born population, associated in the main with the Pine Gap establishment, were employed predominantly in professional, technical, clerical, and administrative occupations. The British and New Zealanders were employed mainly in professional and managerial occupations, but also in quite significant numbers in building and construction work.

The dominant grouping is the Australian Aboriginal people. Their numbers have grown from an estimated 590 in 1961 to 875 in 1966, 1,370 in 1971, 1,600 in 1973, and approximately 1,900 in 1976. A distinct pattern of internal migration of Aboriginals to Alice Springs from its immediate hinterland has been taking place, and it is estimated that the Aboriginal population in surrounding areas accessible to Alice Springs was about 6,000 in 1976.

FIG. 3.1. Aboriginal Special Purpose Leases and Camping Sites, 1979, Alice Springs {source: Planning Department, N.T. Government Offices, Alice Springs, Trace No. 9/79)

The majority were located in the Amoonguna, Papunya, Warrabri, and Yuendumu government-supported centres or in the Hermannsburg and Santa Teresa Mission Settlements, all within a radius of about 250 km of Alice Springs, especially to the west and north, apart from Santa Teresa, which lies in the ecotone of the Simpson Desert barrier. (Reference back to figure 2.6 will show these geographical locations.)

The number of fringe dwellers in squatter camps on the edge of Alice Springs is about 500, compared to an estimated permanent population of about 270 in 1972. Some of the large number of Aboriginal people in Alice Springs recorded in the census and population counts are temporary, spending varying times, from a few days to a few months, typical of the periodic use behaviour which is traditional and was discussed above. The distribution of special purpose leases and camps is illustrated in figure 3.1, and plate 3.1 illustrates the setting of a temporary day camp.

There are three types of Aboriginal settlement in Alice Springs: the transitory type just mentioned, groups that are permanently or semi-permanently settled in the community with European- or modified European-style housing featuring planned and developed accommodation with "all the usual facilities," and other groups living in a camping situation. The Alice Springs' camping group of Aboriginal people is a structured grouping, consisting of several tribal and linguistic units whose geographical origins lie in different directions around Alice Springs, but as a result of flooding in 1971, local community groups financed the construction of two permanent camps, one of which is on the Charles River, about 1.6 km from the town centre. The second permanent camping area is situated near Heavitree Gap, through the Macdonnell Ranges, to the south of Alice Springs (figure 3.1).

A reason for migration to Alice Springs that appears to be common to all groups of Aboriginal people is access to the retail and other central services which the town offers. On the other hand, the reasons for groups selecting the fringes of the town on which to live, instead of the town itself, are more complex. The reasons and choices differ substantially from those of the community at large. Lack of experience of European-style housing and some discrimination in the past have been involved. Figure 3.1 should be related to figure 3.2(A), which shows CALFORM computer mapped percentages of the Aboriginal distribution from the 1976 census; the camp area south of the Heavitree Gap shows clearly. Also of importance is the concentration of Aboriginal population in Housing Commission estates in the south-east of the built-up area of the town.

The very strong under-representation in the middle and higher income neighbourhoods in the west of the town is also clear. Figure 3.2(B) illustrates income distribution for low annual incomes, below A$7,000 per household (1976). Figure 3.2(C) indicates the distribution of persons over 15 years old in the total population who were not married. These two of the many factors that may contribute to the "marginalization and alienation" of Aboriginal people in respect to the housing markets, described by DrakakisSmith (1979, 1980), are well illustrated. The territorial correlation of these population attributes of racial and income status is well demonstrated in figures 3.2(A) and 3.2(B).

With the Federal Government policy of phasing out formal settlements in rural areas, Aboriginal migration to Alice Springs may increase further, and a major problem of absorption into the social and residential systems of the town may emerge if there is inappropriate management. But there are absolutely no insuperable problems, given appropriate spatial and temporal strategies in land resource allocation, pricing, and use.

As expected from the high rate of population growth, even after allowing for the effects of tourists and transient Aboriginal people, migration into Alice Springs has been the dominant demographic factor in the growth of the town during the past decade. Table 3.3 illustrates the importance of internal migration by using previous residence figures at the 1971 and 1976 censuses. In 1971, 25 per cent had lived in some other state five years previously, and this proportion had increased to almost 29 per cent in 1976. Allowing for population turnover, it is likely that over 40 per cent of the 1976 Alice Springs population had migrated from outside the Northern Territory in the previous 10 years. The in-movement from within the Northern Territory had also increased significantly during this time. Burnley discusses some of the reasons and associated attitudes, origins, and demographic characteristics associated with migration, based on field surveys in 1980, in chapter 5.

FIG. 3.2. Some Examples of Community Ecological Structure in Alice Springs, 1976 Australian Census Data (Maps by CALFORM Mapping Program). A: Percentage of Aboriginals and Islanders; B: Percentage with income below A$7,000; C: Percentage over 15 years of age and never married; D: Percentage resident in Alice Springs, 1971.

Figure 3.2(D) shows the distribution of the population living in Alice Springs in 1976 who also lived there in 1971. The older housing areas to the south-east and Housing Commission areas nearby stand out. For most of the rest of the town there is homogeneity in distribution, but in the new and higher status housing estates on the western perimeter there were relatively few longer term residents, implying that much of the new housing occupied by managers, administrators, and other professional categories has been directly occupied by those who migrated from interstate or occupied soon after the migration had occurred.

TABLE 3.3. Previous Residence of the Alice Springs Population

  1971 Census, 1966 residence number   1976 Census, 1971 residence* number
Same dwelling 1,867 Same dwelling 3,341
Other dwelling, same LGA 1,502 Other dwelling, same LGA 1,899
Other LGA, same state 215 Other LGA, same state 955
Other state 2,751 Other state 3,047
Other and not stated 1,342 Overseas 1,064
Under 5 years of age or not usual
3,502 Not stated 7
Total 11,179   11,795

* Excludes not usual residents.
Sources: Censuses, 1971 and 1976. Figures unadjusted for under-enumeration.

TABLE 3.4. Estimated Net Migration to Alice Springs, 1971-1976, by Age (percentages)

Age Group Males Females
5-9 12.5 8.7
10-14 6.3 6.2
15-19 2.0 10.3
20-24 33.9 36.6
25-29 26.2 15.7
30-34 11.1 5.5
35-39 3.8 4.7
40-44 -0.6 -0.3
45-49 0.6 - 0.1
50-54 0.7 5.6
55-59 - 3.3 2.1
60+ 6.6 5.0
Total percentage 100.0 100.0
Total number 1,028 1,053

In table 3.4 estimates of the age distribution of the net migration gain (in-migration minus out-migration) between 1971 and 1976 are shown. The actual inflow showed an excess of males in the 1971 to 1976 period, but the net migration was balanced in sex proportions. This difference probably reflects the more transitory nature of the in-migration of single men, many of whom join the building and construction industry.

Sex imbalances did occur in the 15 to 34 age group migration, with more females than males in the 15 to 24 age group and more males than females in the 25 to 34 group. The greater proportions of young females in part reflected expansion in the teaching and nursing services, while the inmovement of males in the 25 to 34 age group reflected the movement of defence, building, and construction workers. It was the policy with the defence facilities, however, for married workers with families to be involved. Between ages 30 and 44 at the 1976 census, there were 1,660 males and 1,420 females, an excess of 240 males.

TABLE 3.5.Dependency Ratio, Alice Springs and Major Urban Areas, 1971 and 1976

  1971 1976
urban areas
urban areas
Child-woman ratio 572 402 466 385
Child dependency ratio 1,132 799 1,074 770
Old-age dependency ratio 47 128 51 143

Source: Censuses, 1971 and 1976.
Note: Child-woman ratio = children 0-4 per 1,000 women 15-44.
Child dependency ratio = children 0-14 per 1,000 women 15-64.
Old-age dependency ratio = persons 65 + per 1.000 persons 15-64.

TABLE 3.6. Marital Status, Alice Springs and Major Urban Areas, 1971 and 1976 (percentages)

  1971 1976
Alice Springs Major urban areas Alice Springs Major urban areas
Never married 28.0 25.8 27.6 25.5
Married 63.9 62.4 63.0 61.5
Permanently separated 2.4 2.3 3.7 2.5
Divorced 1.8 2.0 2.5 3.0
Widowed 3.9 7.5 3.2 7.5
  100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: Censuses, 1971 and 1976. Note: Proportion of population aged over 15.

The most striking feature, however, was the youthfulness of the group representing the biggest net migration gains, since 60 per cent of the males and 52 per cent of the females were in the 20 to 29 age group. Families were clearly present in strength in the migration stream. This is further reflected in the child-woman and child dependency ratios at the 1971 and 1976 censuses, which were higher than those of major urban areas of Australia (table 3.5). The old-age dependency ratios, on the other hand, were much lower than in major cities in Australia, and lower again than those of many comparably sized Australian country towns, where aging populations are common. This implies that there will be a strain on school and pre-school facilities in the imminent future, recognized already to some degree in the field research discussed in chapter 4 and more thoroughly by Walker in chapter 7.

As might be expected, because of the recency of settlement of a sizeable proportion of the adult population, home ownership was low in Alice Springs: in 1971, 28 per cent of dwellings were occupied by owner-buyers and in 1976, 31 per cent. In 1971, the private rental market was poorly developedonly 23 per cent of dwellings in this sector compared to 33 per cent renting from the public housing authority. In 1976, the proportion rented in the private market had increased to 31 per cent, while owner-occupancy had also grown to 31 per cent. The state housing authority has been very active in the resettlement programme in Alice Springs: this is in sharp contrast to other country towns and to the 5 per cent of public sector dwellings in larger cities. However, the number of government houses increased only slightly between 1971 and 1976, whereas privately rented dwellings almost doubled in number and privately owned dwellings increased by almost two-thirds. The low ownership levels may indicate that many of the internal migrants to Alice Springs do not intend to put down roots, being transient or temporary residents; perhaps even longterm tourists. Many in public administration and community services are "career transients" moving or being relocated within the Federal public service framework, but the recent autonomy of the Northern Territory (1978) may have modified this pattern somewhat.

With such a high proportion of recent migration and because of the rapidity of growth, it might be expected that social strains would be felt in the Alice Springs community. Certainly the internal migration data suggest this, and the sample survey discussed by Burnley in chapter 5 shows that supportive kinfolk outside the nuclear family were underrepresented in Alice Springs. This might throw some stress on nuclear families, especially those with young children, in the absence of creches and similar facilities. However, table 3.6 shows that the proportion of divorced persons was a little below that of major urban centres. In part this reflects the more youthful age structure and the shorter duration of marriage of the adult population. Nevertheless, there was an excess of males in the 30 to 44 age range, discussed above, some of whom were almost certainly married although their partners may have resided elsewhere in Australia. This may be reflected in the increase in the proportion of permanently separated persons which took place between 1971 and 1976 (as elsewhere in the urban world, of course), with the proportion in 1976 significantly above the metropolitan level. It is not possible at this stage to determine whether more permanently separated persons migrated to Alice Springs or whether the separation occurred locally. The proportions married and never married were very similar to those in major urban centres, the main difference being with the widowed population, which was proportionately less than half that in major centres and much less than that in country towns generally. This reflects high generational homogeneity in the population, and a cohesiveness tempered perhaps by a lack of permanency in locational perferences and aspirations and a potential for higher rates of population turnover.

The next two chapters discuss results of three independent field surveys carried out during the period January 1980 to March 1981. The various settings that have been discussed so far provide a background of information from which evaluation of our findings will be enhanced. Later chapters focus on service provision, and one focuses on health-related issues based on data made available to Dr. Burnley by the Alice Springs regional hospital in August 1980 and February 1981.

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