Canberra is changing, although census data shows the divide between northern and southern suburbs remains
The latest census contained a surprise: Canberra was growing much faster than anyone had imagined.
There were nearly 22,000 more people in the city than officially estimated.
However, this growth has been uneven: the city bulges to the north, but not to the south.
This graph shows exactly where the people of Canberra and Queanbeyan live and where they have lived for the past decade. (Use the controls – and the right mouse button if you have a keyboard – to switch views.)
You can see that Gungahlin has exploded, as can areas near the light rail track.
Belconnen town center has also grown rapidly. In fact, it was home to the most densely populated area of Canberra on census night: the Republic tower block of flats.
Yet the south has not changed much except for the Kingston foreshore and the new Molonglo Valley.
And Tuggeranong’s population barely grew in a decade – just 2.9% growth – while the ACT as a whole grew by 27.2%.
The power of the census
This detail – of who lives where – is why the census is so important.
It helps governments plan for the future, businesses find customers, and researchers better understand society.
However, this article is not intended to be helpful.
Instead, we used the census to answer a very trivial question that has long plagued Canberranians: are there any real differences between northerners and southerners?
The answer is an emphatic yes.
In fact, our statistical model easily separates northern from southern suburbs based on a few skerricks of information (with the exception of one suburb – more on that later).
Let’s dive into this mathematical magic trick.
Five Clues Leading to Canberra’s Holy Grail
We analyzed every Canberra suburb with at least 500 people (53 in the north, 50 in the south).
After pouring the census data into our computer, it spat out exactly what we were looking for: evidence of the north-south divide – the holy grail of ACT pub anecdotes.
If you were a stranger to Canberra trying to guess where a suburb was, the census actually provides dozens of statistically significant differences that would help you guess correctly.
However, we’ve whittled these indices down to just five, which together can almost perfectly separate the northern suburbs from the southern ones.
Here we reveal what we will call the Lake Burley Griffin equation.
1. Vietnamese-born Canberrans live in the north, not the south
The most statistically significant difference between the northern and southern suburbs of Canberra is the number of people in each suburb who were born in Vietnam.
Yes, that also surprised us.
The ACT does not house a particularly large number of Vietnamese-born residents; just over 4,000 live here.
Nonetheless, it is the strongest predictor of which side of the lake a suburb is on.
Florey has the highest concentration of Vietnamese-born residents (3.2%) but, in general, they tend to be spread across the north, not the south.
2. The Inner North is largely ungodly
One of the key findings from the latest census is that Australians are less and less likely to worship a god.
In Canberra, it’s tied to where you live.
People who have a religion tend to live south of the lake. Think of its waters as a divine watershed.
The five most secular suburbs are all in the inner north, led by Dickson (61.5%) and Braddon (60.9%).
By now we have already explained most of the differences between north and south.
Using just two factors – the number of Vietnamese-born and secular residents – our model can accurately classify 87.4% of suburbs into the north and south.
But we want to make it better.
3. Fountain of Youth
The second most useful index for sorting north from south is the age of the inhabitants of each suburb.
Simply put, if many people in an area are under 25, it’s probably in the North.
And suburbs with lots of older residents tend to be in the south.
Campbell is particularly crowded with young people (including many Australian Defense Force Academy cadets), as are the northernmost suburbs of Gungahlin.
4. Riches of the Inner South
Few Canberrans will be surprised to learn that the south-central suburbs have the highest proportion of high-income residents.
Places like Forrest, Barton, Deakin, Yarralumla and Red Hill had particularly high levels of people earning $3,000 or more per week.
However, Symonston had the highest proportion of residents (33.6%) reporting this income.
That leaves only one clue to finish solving this geographic riddle.
5. Chinese students near universities
Canberra has more than 12,000 Chinese-born residents, and they are more likely to settle in the north.
Which makes sense, since many are enrolled in an educational institution in the north.
A large number live in Civic (16.2% of CBD residents) as well as Lawson (13.8%) next to the University of Canberra.
This completes the equation. Let’s see his almost perfect results:
When all five factors are taken into account, our model easily discerns the location of 102 of Canberra’s 103 suburbs.
However, he cannot quite understand Theodore. The residents of the suburb of Tuggeranong are young, and quite a few more were born in Vietnam than you might think.
In other words, it’s a northern suburb in the wrong place.
So there it is: statistical proof that the people of northern Canberran are different from the people of the south.
Of course, their similarities are far more obvious than the handful of differences discussed here.
Still, it’s worth exploring what underlies the two great Canberran tribal stereotypes – as long as you don’t take it too seriously.