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Geography and Population in Australia: A Historical Perspective



In contemporary Australia concerns about the future population have seen the creation of a federal ministry on population for the first time. One of the unique dimensions of the population (and immigration) debate in Australia compared with North America and Europe is a strong concern with the environmental implications of growth. The discourse around these issues has been strong in Australia from the colonial period and in the last century geographers have been among the social and physical scientists who have not only provided an empirical basis for the discussion but have been significant protagonists in the debate. This paper surveys the debates around Australia's population since the early years of European settlement and discusses the involvement of geographers. It argues that there is a great deal of continuity in the population debate and that it is important that the lessons of their history inform the contemporary discussion. There is both the need and opportunity for Australia to develop a coherent, holistic, sustainable population policy. It is important that contemporary geographers emulate their forebears and add their knowledge and expertise to the national discussion.