Cairns August 2018

The month in review: Cairns

By Herron Todd White
August 2018

Cairns 50 years ago was a mere shadow of the city that it is today. Back in 1968, Cairns had a population of somewhere around the 30,000 mark, no high rises, no units to speak of and absolutely no traffic lights. It was very much a regional frontier city, at the very end of the Bruce Highway from Brisbane. Although the highway had been sealed since 1962, in those days it was still subject to frequent interruptions and closures, especially during the wet season.

Cairns since 1968 has expanded considerably in both area and population, with one of Australia’s highest population growth rates. Former satellite towns such as Edmonton and Gordonvale have now been engulfed into suburbia with Cairns now supporting a more than five-fold increase to a population of base of just over 160,000 today. In addition or in response to commensurately higher levels of urban infrastructure and services, housing styles have also changed considerably over the period.

The standard Cairns housing of the 1960s was a Queenslander style timber dwelling, raised on stilts for ventilation purposes and vulnerable to extreme weather events such as cyclones. Now aided also by the advent of air conditioning, the standard house is a slab on ground, rendered masonry block home, with considerably greater amenity and improved cyclone resistance. Land sizes have shrunk from typically 1,000 square metre blocks in 1968 to an average new block size of around 600 square metres in the current market. Units and apartments have burst onto the scene, from almost nothing in 1968, to now account for around 28% of the total Cairns housing supply. Apartment development initially took place in near-city suburbs, before gravitating to also encompass the northern beaches and only over the past twenty years, the Cairns CBD. Apartment developments have also experienced a considerable change of emphasis, from basic residential six packs in the early stages to higher quality resort style and high rise apartments with greater liveability in more recent times.

In terms of prices, the Cairns median house price was somewhere around the $8,000 mark in 1968, compared to a median house price of over $400,000 today. In other words, there has been a more than 50-fold increase over the 50 years.


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