ACT News


Census 2016: ABS reveals Canberra's most religious and most godless suburbs

High rise apartments and hipster cafes have made Canberra's inner-north a haunt for some of the city's youngest and wealthiest. Their arrival may also be driving religion out from the trendier suburbs.

Once a home for larger church communities peopled by older home owners in Ainslie, Hackett, Dickson and Downer, the inner suburbs north of the lake have become less holy since waves of younger families and workers began replacing them 20 years ago.

Census 2016 showed those who have since moved into the inner-north's units and houses were more likely to report having no religion than elsewhere in Canberra.

In Braddon, where for many yoga followed by brunch at Lonsdale Street is more the weekend ritual than a church service, 51 per cent said they weren't religious while only 26.5 per cent said they were Christian. Only Acton (24.6 per cent), Civic (22.8 per cent) and Lawson (23.2 per cent) had fewer believers.


Ainslie Church of Christ pastor Ken Perrin meets a congregation of about 30 people on Sundays. With 35 per cent of residents saying they were Christian, his suburb identified as less religious than others.


Mr Perrin said numbers had dropped as the population grew more transient, Sunday shopping and sports emerged, and a tendency grew in post-war families to let kids decide on faith themselves.

Church-goers had become older. But people who weren't religious did not necessarily shun spirituality, and inner-north Canberrans were looking for a space they could feel enriched in spirit, he said.

"There's a searching for things of faith," Mr Perrin said. People wanted to find a place they didn't feel judged.

Christian groups had to open their doors to them, but sex abuse scandals had influenced many people's understanding of churches. Mr Perrin admits it's hard to know how to proceed. He offers one answer: "Love those who come in".

The relatively small attendance at Ainslie Church of Christ's Sunday service is dwarfed by the numbers stopping to chat with the parish at its op shop, a space Mr Perrin says lets people make friends, and discuss what they want without having religion rammed down their throats. About 90 came one weekend in early July.

Further west in O'Connor, where 32.5 per cent identify as Christian and 52.4 per cent have no religion, priest at St Philip's Anglican Church Martin Johnson said his 120 parishioners took a more liberal view than other congregations.


While he stayed out of politics, some parishioners felt strongly about asylum seeker policy, a topic he encouraged them to discuss in terms of theology. Supporters of climate change action might also find echoes of their views in Christian ideas that humans should steward the earth.

"The Bible doesn't provide us a hard and fast blueprint on these matters, and that's why we need to engage in discussion," he said.

Census numbers showed Canberra's Christians tended to live more in the outer suburbs. Tuggeranong is home to many of the city's more evangelical, pentecostal churches, and also its highest rates of people nominating as faithful.

Macarthur is Canberra's most Christian suburb, at 58.6 per cent. Conder (55 per cent), Monash (53.9 per cent), Gilmore (56 per cent), Fadden (57.4 per cent), Chisholm (54.6 per cent) and Oxley (55 per cent) make Tuggeranong a beltway of Christianity in the ACT, if it has one.

ANU demographer Ann Evans said the figures were influenced by older populations in the outer suburbs. While high for Canberra, they were low compared to other parts of Australia. The ACT was less religious, she said.

"Canberra is an area that's fairly evenly distributed. It's only now we're starting to see some differences in different parts of the city," Dr Evans said.