Australian census results show wealth is moving away from urban centres to remote, thinly populated towns


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The Independent Online

Australia’s most affluent citizens used to occupy grand Melbourne residences or palatial houses overlooking Sydney Harbour. Now they live in far-flung mining towns, often surrounded by desert and hundreds of miles from city amenities.

According to analysis of a recent census, the nation’s wealth has moved from the urban centres of south-eastern Australia to the west, which is the focus of an unprecedented mining boom. The 13 richest towns, based on average personal income, are all in the remote, thinly populated – and resource-rich – state of Western Australia.

A trio of tiny towns which many Australians have never heard of, much less visited, constitute the country’s wealthiest postcode. Residents of Onslow, Cane and Peedamulla, situated in the Pilbara region, nearly 1,400 kilometres north of Perth, earn on average A$104,000 (68,500 pounds) a year, compared with a national average income of A$71,285.

When it comes to household income, too, WA dominates, according to the study by CommSec, a large stockbroking firm. Top of the league is the Pilbara port of Dampier, built in the 1960s to service railways transporting iron ore from the interior. Nearly one-quarter of households there earn more than A$208,000 before tax. Number two is Karratha, a neighbouring port, which also exports iron ore, mainly to China.

It is China’s appetite for Australia’s raw materials – required for its rapid industrialisation – which is fuelling the mining boom. Japan, Korea and India are also major customers.

The Pilbara is where Gina Rinehart, the mining magnate recently crowned the world’s richest woman, has made her billions.

In Dampier, many husbands and wives both work in the mining industry. According to the West Australian newspaper: “New boats and high-end four-wheel-drives can be seen on many driveways in Dampier and many families rent out investment properties for up to $3,000 a week.” Such towns are home to many “fly-in, fly-out” mining workers based in Perth and elsewhere.

Traditionally affluent city neighbourhoods such as Sydney’s Point Piper – said to be Australia’s most expensive address, and whose former residents include the actress Nicole Kidman – have dropped down the rich list.

Meanwhile, the mining boom has also transformed demographics, with WA and Queensland – another mineral-rich state – experiencing big population increases. WA’s population has risen by 14.3 per cent since the last census in 2006, while Queensland’s has jumped by 11 per cent.