Population and Environment

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 151–190 | Cite as

Tracing the Density Impulse in Rural Settlement Systems: A Quantitative Analysis of the Factors Underlying Rural Population Density Across South-Eastern Australia, 1981–2001

  • Neil M. Argent
  • Peter J. Smailes
  • Trevor Griffin
Original Research


Rural population density has a very significant independent influence over important socio-economic and demographic characteristics of developed world rural communities. Additionally, it is a fundamental variable in public policy and planning, both expressing and influencing the relative cost-efficiency of servicing populations. Yet density is itself produced by more fundamental qualities (e.g. environmental resources, nature and time of colonisation) which may themselves change over time. Treating rural population density as a dependent variable produced by a wide variety of factors, we build and test two causal models that attempt to explain the observed pattern of rural densities across south-eastern Australia (n = 414 communities). We distinguish between a “productivist” model—applicable for most of white Australia’s history—and a consumptionist model that takes account of recent counter-urbanisation trends. These models are applied to the entire study area and, in recognition of the study area’s internal heterogeneity, to five clusters of communities. In the drier inland and remoter zones, the productivist model exhibits the greatest explanatory power, while in the more accessible and well-watered “multifunctional” zones, an expanded model that incorporates a measure of “amenity” produces the best results. The research finds that simple environmental factors, coupled with relative location within the national space economy, act as dominant controls over rural population density in early 21st century Australia.


Amenity Australia Cluster analysis Multifunctionality Productivism Rural population density. 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil M. Argent
    • 1
  • Peter J. Smailes
    • 2
  • Trevor Griffin
    • 2
  1. 1.University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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