Stimulating economic and population growth in northern Australia has been a long-term pursuit for the Australian Government, where the north has historically been the focus for centrally derived regional development policies. Most refer to untapping the purportedly vast opportunities of the resources and tourism sectors, and growth in the Asian middle-class in Australia’s proximate north. In 2015 the Australian government detailed an ambitious policy for ‘developing the north’ during the period 2015–60. This includes targets to dramatically grow the population and a list of five industries with ‘bright growth prospects’. However, regional develpment literature underscores there have been many impediments to generating sustained growth in northern regions of developed countries. This study is the first to evaluate baseline conditions and progress towards the aims and targets in the Australian regional growth policy. We develop key analytical indicators and provide analysis by 11 subregions within Northern Australia to ascertain the extent and implications of indicator diversity. The results highlight challenges for the policy’s aims as well as regional differences in the compositions of economies and populations. In demonstrating the incorrect and implied assertion of regional homogeneity, and by demonstrating that some targets were destined to fail from inception, we underscore the importance of knowledge about localized demographic and economic conditions in policy formulation. This brings into play the important question of whether high-growth policies for northern regions is desired by the longer term resident population, and most particularly the relatively large population of Indigenous northern residents.