The great Australian dream of owning a backyard is dead, but it can be resurrected

While the Australian dream is no longer a house with a big backyard, an endeavouring few have a plan to bring it back. All that’s needed is a couple of bold voices in parliament. 



With rocketing capital-city property prices and the reluctance of families to venture beyond the comfort of indoors, it seems the Australian Dream of owning a backyard is dead.

The traditional quarter acre block (1000sqm) is fading into obscurity in urban Australia according to data from the Housing Industry Association. The new median home lot is closer to 441sqm now, with some developments as little as 80sqm such as those on the Sunshine Coast and in Perth.

The Australian backyard is a casualty of the majority’s choice to live in units and townhouses as long workdays and slow commutes become the norm. 12% of new homes were apartments a decade ago, a number which has more than doubled to 30% and shows no slowing down.

Further, the cost of residential land has risen exponentially; a square metre of land would’ve set you back about $327 in Sydney circa 2001, compared to $1047/sqm today. For some, purchasing the home they want is all that is possible – a backyard is unattainable. 


The Australian backyard is a casualty of the majority’s choice to live in units and townhouses as long workdays and slow commutes become the norm.


“There is a demographic shift away from the traditional house-and-land package,” HIA chief economist Tim Reardon told The Australian. “Workers in metropolitan areas aren’t going to shift out of apartments in the city and relocate to the fringe in order to purchase a new home.”

For families that haven’t given up on the idea of backyard cricket, gardening and slip and slides, making more of less outside space is the goal. The Barnes family resides in Ingleburn, Southwest Sydney. Despite their castle being squeezed onto a 430sqm lot, their home boasts a deck where they are able to watch their 3 children play. “I’m forever kicking the kids outside,” said Ms. Barnes. “It’s (the) school holidays, so they are always out there. If they weren’t, they would be inside on their devices.” Even still, the family’s goal is to eventually trade up to a bigger property with more outdoor space.

Phasing out the backyard has come at the cost of our physical and mental health. Those residing in cities are 40% more likely to develop depression, over 20% more anxiety, and are at double the risk to develop schizophrenia compared to their rural counterparts. Modern city planning is retiring one of the most effective retreats from the intensity of city life. Open space coupled with privacy and security may just be the antidote city populations need to cope mentally and physically with the stressors of metro life. 

Linley Lutton, a Senior Teaching Fellow in Urban Planning and Design at the University of Western Australia, says that the answer is simple: project homes need to be built smaller with large backyards open to the sky, following a more European model. Change is needed to halt the march of the compact city being pushed by planning bureaucrats, but Australia might not have a politician courageous enough to drive it.




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