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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1994  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/05/1994   
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Contents >> Population >> Population Composition: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Population Composition: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

At the 1991 Census 265,459 Australians identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is recognised as a socially and economically disadvantaged group within Australian society and is the focus of much social research, government policy and political debate. Provision of reliable national data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is an important priority for government and has led to improvements in census coverage and collection methodology, and to the development of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey.

At the 1991 Census, 265,459 persons, representing 1.6% of the population, identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. Of these 26,884 stated Torres Strait Islander origin and 238,575 stated Aboriginal origin.



ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER POPULATIONS, 1991


NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

Aboriginal people
65,133
13,739
55,474
14,640
41,003
7,621
39,285
1,680
238,575
Torres Strait Islanders
4,886
2,996
1,650
1,592
776
1,264
625
95
26,884
Total indigenous population
70,019
16,735
70,124
16,232
41,779
8,885
39,910
1,775
265,459
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
Proportion of total indigenous population
26.4
6.3
26.4
6.1
15.7
3.3
15.0
0.7
100.0
Proportion of total State population
1.2
0.4
2.4
1.2
2.6
2.0
22.7
0.6
1.6


Source: Census of Population and Housing.
Census counts

Counts and estimates of the indigenous population have been made in every national census since Federation (1901). However, in keeping with Section 127 of the Constitution, which was repealed in 1967, counts of full-blood Aboriginal people were not included in the official count of the Australian population until the 1971 Census.

Until 1966, indigenous people who lived in remote areas were not counted but estimates of their numbers were provided by welfare authorities. Since 1971 improvements in census procedures have been progressively implemented to improve the accuracy of the counts of the indigenous population and to enable collection of data from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which are as comprehensive and as reliable as the data collected from the rest of the Australian population.



Geographic distribution

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprised only a small proportion of the population in all States except the Northern Territory where more than one in five were Aboriginal. However, the numbers of Aboriginal people were larger in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia than in the Northern Territory, while over half of all Torres Strait Islanders were counted in Queensland.

27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in towns and cities of more than 100,000 people (major urban areas), compared to 63% of all Australians. About 32% lived in rural areas, compared to less than 15% of all Australians.

With the exception of the Northern Territory, the majority of indigenous Australians lived in urban centres with populations greater than 1,000 people; 41% lived in urban centres with population between 1,000 and 100,000 people compared to 22% of all Australians. In the Northern Territory 65% lived in rural areas; 26% in localities with a total population of between 200 and 999, and 39% in communities of less than 200 people.



GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION, 1991

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Geographic area
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Major urban
37.7
44.6
23.7
41.2
24.5
20.7
. .
88.4
26.7
Other urban
44.3
41.0
43.4
28.7
42.0
48.1
34.6
. .
40.9
Rural locality
5.6
2.5
17.1
14.9
15.0
9.5
26.3
. .
13.7
Other rural
12.4
11.9
15.7
15.2
18.6
21.6
39.1
11.6
18.7
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0


Source: Census of Population and Housing.


Mobility

At the national level, similar proportions of indigenous and non-Indigenous people (45% and 43% respectively) had changed their address between 1986 and 1991. There were significant differences across Australia, however. Mobility levels among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were around 50% in the States, 63% in the Australian Capital Territory and 22% in the Northern Territory. The mobility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was slightly greater than that of the rest of the population, except in Queensland and Western Australia (where mobility rates were about the same), and in the Northern Territory (where the mobility rate was less than half).

Interstate movement was relatively low among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 1% of those who had changed address between 1986 and 1991 had moved interstate compared to 15% of all Australians who had moved. 95% of all indigenous people who moved stayed within the same statistical local area (SLA).

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE WHO CHANGED ADDRESS BETWEEN 1986 AND 1991


Source: Census of Population and Housing.


INDIGENOUS PEOPLE WHO CHANGED ADDRESS BETWEEN 1986 AND 1991

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Type of movement
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Moved interstate
0.8
1.6
0.8
1.4
0.7
0.8
2.1
4.9
1.0
Changed SLA(a) within State
3.4
3.0
3.7
4.4
4.8
2.4
4.1
1.0
3.8
Changed address within SLA(a)
95.6
95.1
95.2
93.9
94.0
96.7
93.4
93.8
94.9
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
Total
28,111
7,048
27,453
6,270
16,475
3,599
7,624
906
97,486


(a) Statistical Local Area

Source: Census of Population and Housing
.


Age and sex composition

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has a much younger age profile than the non-Indigenous population, a reflection of higher fertility rates and lower life expectancy. At the 1991 Census, 40% of the total indigenous population were children aged less than 15 years and 15% were aged less than 5 years. This was almost double the proportion that these age groups represented in the non-Indigenous population. There were proportionally fewer older people; 6% of the indigenous population was aged 55 years or more compared to 20% of the non-Indigenous population. The age distributions of the indigenous population were generally similar in all States and have changed relatively little over the last three censuses.

Overall, there were 98 men for each 100 women in the indigenous population, a sex ratio slightly lower than that of the non-Indigenous population.



AGE AND SEX PROFILE, 1991
Indigenous population
Non-Indigenous population
Age group (years)
Age group (years)


Population growth

Between 1976 and 1991, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people counted in the census increased by 104,500 or 65%. However, this does not mean that the indigenous population grew by 65% in this period. In addition to natural increase there are several factors which have contributed to the increased census count. These include improved coverage and the implementation of special field procedures for indigenous people living in remote areas; involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations in the collection process and in census awareness campaigns directed specifically at indigenous people; and, possibly, an increased tendency for people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin to identify themselves as such. Currently it is not possible to measure how much of the apparent growth is due to natural increase since data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander births and deaths are incomplete.

GROWTH OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION

1976
1986
1991
Increase 1976-91
Increase 1986-91
no.
no.
no.
%
%

New South Wales
40,450
59,011
70,019
73.1
18.7
Victoria
14,760
12,611
16,735
13.4
32.7
Queensland
41,343
61,268
70,124
69.6
14.5
South Australia
10,714
14,291
16,232
51.5
13.6
Western Australia
26,126
37,789
41,779
59.9
10.6
Tasmania
2,942
6,716
8,885
202.0
32.0
Northern Territory
23,750
34,739
39,910
68.0
14.9
Australian Capital Territory
828
1,220
1,775
114.4
45.5
Total indigenous population
160,913
227,645
265,459
65.0
16.6
Total Aboriginal population
144,381
206,104
238,575
65.2
15.8
Total Torres Strait Islander population
16,531
21,541
26,884
62.6
24.8


Source: Census of Population and Housing.
Developments in the collection of data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-91) highlighted the need for more detailed, accurate, and nationally comparable data about Australia's indigenous population. A direct response to the Commission's report was the development of the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey to be conducted in 1994 with full participation of indigenous people at all levels. The survey has been designed to gather data on a wide range of social, demographic, health and economic characteristics of the indigenous population.

In addition to the national survey, the ABS is continuing its efforts to improve the quality of census data and, in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, to ensure that all State and Territory Registrars make provision for identification of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin on birth and death registration forms.



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