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November 29, 2021

Gallipoli’s long shadow on Aust population

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Gallipoli left an indelible mark on Australia’s population records.

The war years of 1916 and 1917 are the only time since Federation that Australia’s population actually went backwards.

World War I would also alter Australia’s demographic mix for generations.

‘There were booms and busts before then but the war really was a double whammy with (low) fertility and no migrants coming,’ explains University of Adelaide population expert Dianne Rudd.

‘And soldiers going overseas and not returning.’

In 1915, Australia’s population was just short of five million.

This has risen every year – to more than 23 million today – with the exceptions of 1916, when total population declined by 42,400, and 1917, down another 2,400 people.

The loss of so many young, mostly male, lives and the war’s disruption to ordinary family life set the population growth on a different, and lower, trajectory.

The Great Depression (1929) that followed also put population growth into a funk that it did not recover from until the late 1940s.

‘After the war we had these ideas of `Australia Unlimited` and the government being very concerned about population and the emptiness of Australia,’ Dr Rudd said.

‘Then we struck the depression by the end of the 20s and fertility also had a hammering.
The women didn’t all get married either because of a lack of men returning from the war.

World War I also contributed to a fundamental shift in the make-up of Australian society.

Dr Rudd said Australia generally had a “good surplus” of men during its early and pre-war years, though this would be reversed in some key cohorts.

In 1933, there were 98 men for every 100 women aged 35 to 39.

Australia’s marriage rate declined from the early 1920s to early 1930s, and the impact can traced through to more modern times.

‘In the 1980s and 1990s … it was much more notable, as among those aged 70-plus there was a high proportion of never married women,’ Dr Rudd said.

‘A lot of that came from the war and depression years.

Australia will mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli on April 25, 2015.


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