Housing: mirror and mould for Australian society
This is the third in a series of essays based on data from the 2006 Census, produced in cooperation with the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Australian society is changing in response to social, economic, demographic and policy processes that affect all dimensions of life, including housing. These changes raise important questions about how Australians see themselves both at home and abroad and how we think of our housing.
Public representations of Australia are no longer solely focused on the perhaps mythical ‘quarter acre block’, as reflected in popular television programs such as ‘The Block’ and, to a certain extent, ‘Big Brother’. At the same time, home and housing continues to occupy an important place within the national psyche with home renovation/lifestyle programs and magazines such as ‘Renovation Rescue’, ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ dominating both the print and television media. Indeed, Fiona Allon at the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney has suggested that we have become a ‘Renovation Nation’2. Even in the midst of global economic turmoil we cannot escape the fact that the business of buying, selling, renovating, demolishing and building homes has a prominent place within Australian society. The stimulation of housing markets through the doubling of the First Home Owners Grant has been an important part of the Rudd Labor Government’s response to crisis in the world’s financial markets. A whole new lexicon has been invented over the last decade to describe new ways of dealing and operating in the housing market: a home to be demolished and replaced with a more expensive property is now a ‘knockdown’; the process of reconfiguring the home is called a ‘renno’; while the real estate industry now offers ‘executive apartments’ or ‘luxury executive apartments’ – never apartments3 – and ‘lifestyle concepts’.