A GREAT deal is made of Melbourne's much-vaunted ''liveability'' and Sydney's glam harbour-side lifestyle.
But for families who grow weary of the rat race, it seems the sedate Tasmanian city of Launceston is the country's most family-friendly place.
New research that compares Australia's most populous 30 cities on indicators such as access to schools, health, childcare, income and housing, found Launceston came out on top.
The lucky children who live there attend the least-crowded schools, with about 320 students per school, compared with places such as Coffs Harbour, which has 1521 per school, according to the report from Suncorp Bank.
It also has a low crime rate, affordable housing and good childcare availability.
Canberra was second - boosted by high disposable incomes and good childcare - but Melbourne ranked 14th and Sydney 23rd, behind the other state capitals Adelaide and Perth (equal fifth), Hobart (seventh) and Darwin (equal eighth).
Half of the top 10 family-friendly cities were smaller, regional centres - Victoria and New South Wales' top entry was the twin-cities of Albury-Wodonga, which did well on housing affordability, health and a sense of community.
Regional cities had a better balance of job opportunities, income, school sizes and lower crime rates, said Suncorp Bank head Craig Fenwick.
''They're certainly showing up our international hubs like Sydney and Melbourne, which fall short on many of these measures,'' Mr Fenwick said.
Sisters Agatha Filippides and Anna Datoy - who were picnicking on the lawn at the Royal Botanic Gardens on Tuesday with their children - said Melbourne was a well-resourced city in which to raise a family.
While the city's poor housing affordability and traffic congestion were a concern, the range of cultural centres, beaches, kid-friendly museums and art galleries compensate, they said.
The top ranking of Launceston and Canberra did not surprise Melbourne University's associate professor in urban planning Carolyn Whitzman. Both had lots of green spaces and a strong sense of community, she said.
But cities such as Melbourne were guilty of two-track development: while inner suburbs were well-resourced, the so-called affordable housing areas on the fringes lacked infrastructure, Dr Whitzman said.
''Sometimes these city-wide indicators miss a lot of complexity, so living in inner Melbourne would be a different experience to living in some of its outer suburbs,'' she said.
Rob Chippindall, 30, has lived in Melbourne and Sydney but moved back to his home town of Wodonga four years ago to raise his first child Hannah, who is now three. He said Albury-Wodonga offers all the opportunities in the world for his daughter.
''I just thought, yeah, I may as well move back here and raise my daughter,'' he said.
''I loved it as a kid. It was good. Just playing with mates, down at the creek, we used to take our inflatable boat down there and float down the creek. I didn't really like the city and liked the smaller-type country towns.''
Albury mayor Alice Glachan moved back to her home town in 2001 after a stint in England because her family wanted to live in a city that offered opportunities but still had a community feel.
Many Australian Defence Force soldiers requested to come back to the region to settle with their families, Cr Glachan said. "Lots of people request to get their second or last posting here before they retire.''
Wodonga mayor Mark Byatt said the report showed that governments needed to put more into regional cities. ''It supports an increased focus on developing and growing and indeed investing in regional cities as part of the population growth of the nation.''
With TAMMY MILLS