Demographics of Melbourne

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Demographic map of Melbourne. Each dot indicates 100 persons born in Britain (dark blue), Greece (light blue), Mainland China (red), India (brown), Vietnam (yellow), Turkey (purple), Italy (light green) and (former states of) Yugoslavia (dark green). Based on 2006 Census data.
Chart of Melbourne's current and projected population growth

Melbourne is Australia's second largest city and has a diverse and multicultural population.

Melbourne has dominated Australia's population growth for the 15th year in a row as of 2017, adding 125,424 people between 2016–2017. It is expected to boom past 5 million people by 2019 and overtake Sydney's declined population growth in the late 2020s or early 2030s.[1] Melbourne currently has over 4.85 million people. By 2018 it should well be over the 4.9 million mark leaving only 280,586 people between Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne closes the gap by roughly 25,000 people on Sydney annually, forecasting to become the largest city in Australia in 11 years.

Melbourne has the 10th largest immigrant population among world metropolitan areas. In Greater Melbourne at the 2016 census, 63.3% of residents were born in Australia. Melbourne is home to residents from 200 countries and territories, who speak over 233 languages and dialects and follow 116 religious faiths.

The earliest known inhabitants of the broad area that later became known as Melbourne were Indigenous Australians – specifically, at the time of European settlement, the Bunurong, Wurundjeri and Wathaurong tribal groups. Melbourne is still a centre of Aboriginal life — consisting of local groups and indigenous groups from other parts of Australia, as most indigenous Victorians were displaced from their traditional lands during colonization – with the Aboriginal community in the city numbering over 20,000 persons (0.6% of the population).[2]

Demographic statistics[edit]

Although Victoria's net interstate migration has fluctuated, the Melbourne statistical division was growing by approximately 50,000 people a year in 2003. Melbourne has now attracted the largest proportion of international overseas immigrants (48,000) finding it outpacing Sydney's international migrant intake, along with having strong interstate migration from Sydney and other capitals due to more affordable housing and cost of living, which have been two recent key factors driving Melbourne's growth.[14][15]

In recent years, Melton, Wyndham, Hume and Whittlesea, part of the Melbourne statistical division, have recorded the highest growth rate of all local government areas in Australia. Despite a demographic study stating that Melbourne could overtake Sydney in population by 2028,[16] the ABS has projected in two scenarios that Sydney will remain larger than Melbourne beyond 2056, albeit by a margin of less than 3% compared to a margin of 12% in 2011. However, the first scenario projects that Melbourne's population overtakes Sydney in 2039, primarily due to larger levels of internal migration losses assumed for Sydney.[17]

Melbourne's population density declined following the Second World War, with the private motor car and the lures of space and property ownership causing a suburban sprawl, mainly eastward. After much discussion both at general public and planning levels in the 1980s, the decline has reversed since the recession of the early 1990s.

The city has seen increased density in the inner and western suburbs. Since the 1970s, Victorian Government planning blueprints, such as Postcode 3000 and Melbourne 2030, have aimed to curtail the urban sprawl.[18][19]

Demographic history[edit]

European settlement and Gold Rush immigration[edit]


The first European settlers in Melbourne were British and Irish. These two groups accounted for nearly all arrivals before the gold rush, and supplied most immigrants to the city until the Second World War.

Melbourne was transformed by the 1850s gold rush; within months of the discovery of gold in August 1852, the city's population had increased by nearly three-quarters, from 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants.[20] Thereafter, growth was exponential and by 1865, Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as Australia's most populous city.[21]

Many Chinese, German and American nationals were to be found on the goldfields and subsequently in Melbourne. The various nationalities involved in the Eureka Stockade revolt nearby give some indication of the migration flows in the second half of the nineteenth century.[22]

Post-war immigration[edit]

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Melbourne experienced unprecedented inflows from Mediterranean Europe and the Balkans, primarily Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, and West Asia, mostly from Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Since the end of the White Australia policy in 1973, the city has received a larger wave of primarily Asian immigration, with China and India the largest sources of immigrants in the 21st century.


Little Italy in Lygon Street Carlton is the cultural precinct of the Italian community of Melbourne

In 2018, the population of the Melbourne metropolitan area was 4,963,349.[23]

Although Victoria's net interstate migration has fluctuated, the population of the Melbourne statistical division has grown by about 70,000 people a year since 2005. Melbourne has now attracted the largest proportion of international overseas immigrants (48,000) finding it outpacing Sydney's international migrant intake on percentage, along with having strong interstate migration from Sydney and other capitals due to more affordable housing and cost of living.[24]

In recent years, Melton, Wyndham and Casey, part of the Melbourne statistical division, have recorded the highest growth rate of all local government areas in Australia. Melbourne could overtake Sydney in population by 2028.[25] The ABS has projected in two scenarios that Sydney will remain larger than Melbourne beyond 2056, albeit by a margin of less than 3% compared to a margin of 12% today. Melbourne's population could overtake that of Sydney by 2037[26] or 2039, according to the first scenario projected by the ABS, primarily due to greater internal migration losses assumed for Sydney.[27] Another study claims that Melbourne will surpass Sydney in population by 2040.[28]

After a trend of declining population density since World War II, the city has seen increased density in the inner and western suburbs, aided in part by Victorian Government planning, such as Postcode 3000 and Melbourne 2030, which have aimed to curtail urban sprawl.[18][29] As of 2018, the CBD is the most densely populated area in Australia with more than 19,000 residents per square kilometre, and the inner city suburbs of Carlton, South Yarra, Fitzroy and Collingwood make up Victoria's top five.[30]

Ancestry and immigration[edit]

Country of Birth (2016)[31]
Birthplace[N 1] Population
Australia 2,684,072
India 161,078
Mainland China 155,998
England 133,300
Vietnam 79,054
New Zealand 78,906
Italy 63,332
Sri Lanka 54,030
Malaysia 47,642
Greece 45,618
Philippines 45,157
South Africa 24,168
Hong Kong 20,840

At the 2016 census, the most commonly nominated ancestries were:[N 2][31]

0.5% of the population, or 24,062 people, identified as Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders) in 2016.[N 4][31]

Melbourne has the 10th largest immigrant population among world metropolitan areas. In Greater Melbourne at the 2016 census, 63.3% of residents were born in Australia. The other most common countries of birth were India (3.6%), Mainland China (3.5%), England (3%), Vietnam (1.8%) and New Zealand (1.8%).[33]

As of the 2016 census, 62% of Melburnians speak only English at home.[33] Mandarin (4.1%), Greek (2.4%), Italian (2.3%), Vietnamese (2.3%), and Cantonese (1.7%) are the most common foreign languages spoken at home by residents of Melbourne.[33]

An Indian restaurant in West Melbourne.

Melbourne experiences comparatively high levels of migrant integration to the other capital cities, however some foreign ethnic groups are associated with the suburb in which they first settled:

The cities of Whittlesea, Wyndham, Hume, Brimbank and Dandenong on Melbourne's fringe are particular current migrant hotspots.[34]

Melbourne exceeds the national average in terms of proportion of residents born overseas: 34.8% compared to a national average of 23.1%. In concordance with national data, Britain is the most commonly reported country of birth, with 4.7%, followed by Italy (2.4%), Greece (2.1%) and then China (1.3%). Melbourne also features substantial Vietnamese, Indian and Sri Lankan-born communities, in addition to recent South African and Sudanese influxes.

Over two-thirds of people in Melbourne speak only English at home (68.8%). Italian is the second most common home language (4.0%), with Greek (3.8%) third and Chinese (3.5%) fourth, each with over 100,000 speakers.[35]

Demographics and Cuisine[edit]

As a result of large migrant populations, Melbourne has a proliferation of areas where restaurants, cafes and services of similar international demographic establish, particularly Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisines. Some of these areas include:

  • Lonsdale Street, top end, Melbourne city – Greek cuisine
  • Lygon Street, southern end, Carlton – Italian cuisine (Little Italy)
  • Johnston Street, western end, Fitzroy – Spanish/Mexican
  • Caulfield & North Caulfield – Kosher Jewish cuisine
  • Oakleigh – Greek cuisine
  • Sydney Road, Coburg/Brunswick – Lebanese and Turkish
  • Little Bourke Street, eastern end, Melbourne city – Chinese and East Asian cuisine (Chinatown)
  • Central Box Hill – Chinese and East Asian cuisine
  • Koornang Road, Carnegie – Korean cuisine
  • Central Footscray – Vietnamese, Chinese and African cuisine
  • Robinson, Walker and Foster streets, Dandenong – Indian (Little India)
  • Thomas Street, Dandenong – Afghan (Afghan Bazaar)
  • Central Springvale – Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian
  • Glen Waverley/Doncaster – Chinese, Malaysian and Sri Lankan cuisines
  • Victoria Street, Abbotsford/Richmond – Chinese, Vietnamese (Little Saigon)
  • Areas notable for large variety of mixed cuisine – Dandenong, St Kilda, Ormond, Brunswick, Melbourne city


St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne (the foundation stone was laid in 1858)

The 2006 Census records show some 28.3% (1,018,113) of Melbourne residents list their religious affiliation as Catholic.[36] The next highest responses were No Religion (20.0%, 717,717), Anglican (12.1%, 433,546), Eastern Orthodox (5.9%, 212,887) and the Uniting Church (4.0%, 143,552).[36] Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Hindus collectively account for 7.5% of the population.


In 1848, the first large group of Buddhists to come to Australia came as part of gold rush. The great majority stayed briefly for prospecting purposes rather than as permanent settlers. In 1856, a temple was established in South Melbourne by the Sze Yap group. The first specific Australian Buddhist group, the Buddhist Study Group Melbourne, was formed in Melbourne in 1938 but ended a short time later during the Second World War.[37]


The largest religious group is Christianity. 64% of people from Melbourne consider themselves Christians but this is subdivided into a number of denominations of which over half are members of the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and the Uniting churches. The city has two large cathedrals, St Patrick's (Roman Catholic),[38] and St Paul's (Anglican).[39] Both were built in the Victorian era and are of considerable heritage significance as major landmarks of the city.[40]


The majority of Australian Hindus live along the Eastern Coast of Australia and are mainly located in Melbourne and Sydney. As a community Hindus live relatively peacefully and in harmony with the local populations. They have established a number of temples and other religious meeting places and celebrate most Hindu festivals.[41]


There are approximately 500,000 Muslims living in Australia with over 100,000 settled in Melbourne. They are noted for their diversity with heritages from more than 60 countries.[42] [43] The first Muslims to settle permanently in Australia were the cameleers, mainly from Afghanistan from as early as the 1860s.


Four out of ten Australian Jews call Melbourne home. The city is also residence to the largest number of Holocaust survivors of any Australian city,[44] indeed the highest per capita concentration outside Israel itself.[45] To service the needs of the vibrant Jewish community, Melbourne's Jewry have established multiple synagogues, which today number over 30,[46] along with a local Jewish newspaper.[47] Melbourne's largest universityMonash University is named after prominent Jewish general and statesman, John Monash.[48]


Sikhism is a small but growing minority religion in Australia, that can trace its origins in the nation to the 1830s. The Sikhs form one of the largest subgroups of Indian Australians with 125,000 adherents according to the 2016 census, having grown from 17,000 in 2001 and 12,000 in 1996[1] [2]. Most adherents can trace their ancestry back to the Punjab region of South Asia, which is currently divided between India and Pakistan. Whereas, as per anecdotal evidence collected by Sikh Council of Australia inc, there are approximately 100,000 Sikhs in Australia and the number of Punjabi speakers is even higher. They are often mistaken for who they are not, due to Sikh men required to wear a "Turban" as one of the 5 articles of faith. The largest Sikh community’s are situated on the Eastern Sea Board, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, followed by Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Cairns, Townsville. Sikh’s also make up a significant population in the town of Woolgoolga near Coffs Harbour, NSW where they own Banana Plantations. There is also a significant Sikh population in Griffith NSW, Renmark SA, associated with Farming. Kahlon Estate’s in Renmark which produce Australia’s Premium Wines are owned by Sikh emigrants


Melbourne, like the rest of Australia, is partially irreligious, with the proportion of people identifying themselves as Christian declining from 96% in 1901 to 64% in 2006 and those who did not state their religion or declared no religion rising from 2% to over 30% over the same period.[49]

Religion[50] Total
of total
1 Christianity 2,231,054 55.8%
2 Buddhism 158,635 4.0%
3 Islam 144,649 3.6%
4 Hinduism 79,757 2.0%
5 Sikhism 49,104 1.2%
6 Judaism 44,561 1.1%
7 Non-classifiable religious belief 34,473 0.9%
8 Irreligion 939,219 23.5%
9 Not stated 323,158 8.1%
10 Total population 3,999,958 100%


Darker green indicate areas of higher household incomes. Suburbs immediately east of the centre tend to be more affluent

Areas within the Greater Melbourne area host varying groups of socio-economic background, inner city areas tend to be more affluent, gentrified or bohemian, suburban areas tend to house middle class residents, whilst outer suburban areas tend to house lower income residents.

Other points of note include increased property prices in public transport corridors, leading to many of these areas, particularly in the inner east, being more affluent.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In accordance with the Australian Bureau of Statistics source, England, Scotland, Mainland China and the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau are listed separately
  2. ^ As a percentage of 4,207,291 persons who nominated their ancestry at the 2016 census.
  3. ^ The Australian Bureau of Statistics has stated that most who nominate "Australian" as their ancestry are part of the Anglo-Celtic group.[32]
  4. ^ Of any ancestry. Includes those identifying as Aboriginal Australians or Torres Strait Islanders. Indigenous identification is separate to the ancestry question on the Australian Census and persons identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander may identify any ancestry.


  1. ^ "Booming Melbourne to surpass Sydney". Retrieved 2017-04-30.
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  4. ^ "3218.0 – Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2012–13: ESTIMATED RESIDENT POPULATION, States and Territories – Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSAs)". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3 April 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2014. ERP at 30 June 2013.
  5. ^ MMBW (ed.). Melbourne metropolitan planning scheme 1954 : planning scheme ordinance p23. Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works.
  6. ^ "Australian Bureau of Statistics 1961". Found in University and State libraries and some public libraries: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Archived from the original on 2008-07-28. Retrieved 2008-10-15. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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  9. ^ Social Atlas/"Supermap" Census Data, 1986
  10. ^ Social Atlas/"Supermap" Census Data, 1991
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  31. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference CP was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  32. ^ Statistics, c=AU; o=Commonwealth of Australia; ou=Australian Bureau of. "Feature Article - Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Australia (Feature Article)".
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  50. ^ Greater Melbourne Religion