Survey confirms multicultural magnet and love of the laidback 

CDU demographer Tom Wilson is busy interpreting the data of a survey conducted late last year to determine attitudes to the Territory and the reasons why people come and go

Only 18 per cent of the current non-indigenous population were born in the Territory, and most people like living there because of its laid-back, casual lifestyle.

These are two of the results of a survey conducted late last year by researchers from Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research to determine attitudes to the Territory and the reasons why people come and go.

The survey was conducted as part of a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council in association with the Northern Territory Government and Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Just over 1500 Territorians were phoned by professional interviewers and asked to volunteer their views on aspects of life in the Territory, with 83 per cent of those contacted agreeing to participate – a very high success rate.

Among the findings was that:

  • Only 18 per cent of the non-indigenous population was born in the Territory
  • 60 per cent were born in other states
  • 22 per cent came from overseas.

The survey found that the largest group of overseas-born came from England, followed by New Zealand and then the Philippines. The survey counted 56 different countries of birth, ranging from Argentina to Zambia.

The survey revealed that about 40 per cent of the Territory’s non-indigenous population moved here in the last 10 years.

‘What our results indicate is the transient nature of a significant segment of the Territory’s non-indigenous population,’ says CDU demographer Tom Wilson, who is busy interpreting the data.

‘However, our results also reveal that a substantial proportion of the people who come to the Territory stay for a long time.

‘About 60 per cent of non-indigenous people born elsewhere have lived in the Territory for 10 years or more, with 25 per cent having lived here for 20 years or more.’

In an effort to find out more about the transient nature of the population, those born outside the Territory were asked how long they intended to stay. The survey found that 59 per cent arrived in the NT with the intention of staying for a certain period of time; 25 per cent intended to stay less than 3 years; and a further 13 per cent said they would live in the NT for between 3 and 5 years. Only 13 per cent arrived with the aim of settling in the Territory indefinitely.

‘Of course, intentions can change over time and how long people actually stay can be different,’ says Dr Wilson. ‘What our figures confirm, however, is the expectation of fairly short-term residency for many people moving in.’

The survey found that more than 60 per cent of people moved to the Territory for work reasons, while only 6 per cent were first-time visitors who simply never left.

‘As expected, work reasons dominated for people not born in the Territory, though reasons such as lifestyle, climate and needing a change were cited by quite a number of survey respondents.’

To the question, ‘What do you like most about living in the Territory?’, 53 per cent cited the laid-back, casual lifestyle. This was followed by weather/climate (34 per cent), people/friendliness (29 per cent), fishing/sailing/camping/sports (15 per cent).

The things people liked least about living in the Territory included: the build-up/humidity (26 per cent); remoteness/distance to places (16 per cent); cost of living (12 per cent); and cost/choice/timing of airline flights (10 per cent).

‘The vast majority of people appear to be happy living in the Territory,’ says Dr Wilson. ‘It should be remembered that this survey is representative of current residents, and not everyone who has ever lived in the Territory. Most people dissatisfied with the Territory life will have already moved away.’

Despite the fact that most people were born elsewhere, when asked if they considered themselves to be a Territorian, 76 per cent of them said they did.

‘The survey results show that there are no great differences between Australian-born residents and those born overseas in this regard,’ says Dr Wilson.

‘The crucial determinant is the number of years spent in the Territory. The cut-off point appears to be about four years, with more than half those not born in the NT identifying as a Territorian after four years.’

Asked if they will move away in the future, 37 per cent said they would move away at some point, 55 per cent indicated they would stay permanently and just 8 per cent did not know what they would do in the future.

In contrast, of those born in the Territory, most indicated they would move away at some point.

Asked what might encourage them to live permanently in the Territory, 36 per cent of respondents mentioned pay and work opportunities, with 15 per cent mentioning better education.

Media note: Demographer Dr Tom Wilson will be available for comment from 12 noon on Thursday 8 February on 8946 7202.

A complete summary of the preliminary findings can be found on the CDU website at