Unsettling Australia: new forms
of urban diversity
As we explain in chapter 2, Australians have long shown a preference for urban life. Today, the vast majority of Australia's 18 million citizens live in the coastal metropolises that ring the island continent (Table 3.1). In 1996, four out of 10 Australians resided in the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Cities provide the centre stage for Australian cultural and economic life.
In recent decades Australian cities have been transformed by a variety of local and international forces. Political observer Paul Kelly has described the 1980s as ‘the end of certainty’ for Australia. Another influential commentator, the social psychologist Hugh McKay (1993), believes that Australia, like other Western nations, entered in the 1980s an ‘age of redefinition’, a time when established sociocultural institutions became ambiguous for many Australians. Kelly agrees, observing that the 1980s witnessed ‘the collapse of the Australian Settlement, the old protected Fortress Australia’ (Kelly 1992: 13).
Kelly here stresses various axes of political-economic change that combined to enhance the economic diversity of Australian society. Just as profound were the deep transformations that enhanced Australia's cultural diversity. In particular, the shift in the 1970s from assimilation to multiculturalism as policy ideals in official immigration and cultural programs was a profound source of social change. Other sociocultural shifts deeply affected gender roles, sexual expression and identity, and spiritual and ecological values.
Kelly's story of the 1980s charts a transition, beginning in the 1960s, from a relatively stable, homogeneous society towards a more volatile, more sophisticated, and certainly more diverse social formation. It would be wrong to portray pre-1980s Australia as a simple, homogeneous