Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
Contents >> Population >> Population Distribution: Island populations

Population Distribution: Island populations

Australia's territorial boundaries extend to islands located hundreds of kilometres off shore. Over 65,000 people were on these islands on census night in 1996.

Most residents of Australia live either on the mainland or in Tasmania. However, Australia also has territorial control over hundreds of small islands, some of which are also home to small communities of people. Some of these islands lie close to the mainland, yet others, such as the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, lie many hundreds of kilometres off shore. Some, generally those in northern seas, are largely occupied by Indigenous people, yet others have become tourist destinations. Using information from the 1996 Census of Population and Housing, this review provides a brief demographic and socio-economic profile of people living on the most populated islands.

While some information is provided for islands close to the mainland, the profiles relate primarily to those islands which are likely, due to their distance off shore (more than 5 km), to have greater difficulties accessing the goods and services that are more readily obtained in less remote areas of mainland Australia. As well as distinguishing between islands with large Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, and those with large numbers of visitors, the statistics presented in the tables show something of the lifestyles and economic wellbeing of the usual residents of the respective island populations, and how they differ from those for Australia as a whole. Differences in household per capita incomes, for example, provide a view of the living standards of people living on different islands. Lifestyle differences are also indicated by some of the large differences in proportions of households that are family households and differences in average household size.


Identifying islands

In this review, islands are defined as those land masses belonging to Australia other than the Australian mainland and the island of Tasmania. Neither the number of islands with one or more residents, nor the total number of people living on these islands, can be precisely determined. The national Census of Population and Housing, last conducted in August 1996, provides the most comprehensive source of information about Australia's people, and at its lowest level of geographic detail presents information for those living in small areas known as census collection districts (CDs) - commonly areas of 200 or so households. The availability of separate counts of people living on some islands depends on whether the island is close to the mainland and large enough to make up at least one CD on its own.

Some of the available Census data relates to groups of islands. The islands that have been named to represent the groups are generally the only ones populated or, where there are large numbers of islands within the group, those in the group that are the most populated.

Visitors and residents

The Census counted visitors to private dwellings on census night, as well as those staying in camping grounds, hotels, and other non-private dwellings. Visitor numbers do not necessarily represent the total number of visitors (or tourists) to an island as they may include some island residents staying with another island household on census night. In this review, islands where the proportion of visitors was more than three times the national average (5.4%) are identified as those with large visitor (or tourist) populations.

Demographic characteristics for each island are given only for the island's usual residents. Most (11) of the 15 islands profiled include a number of CDs and form larger areas known as Statistical Local Areas. Resident population counts for these islands include persons temporarily absent from their usual place of residence. For the remaining islands, resident population counts relate only to people counted at home on census night. The effect of these differences is considered to be small.

COUNTS OF PEOPLE ON ISLANDS, AUGUST 1996

Islands - distance from mainland

Selected characteristics
Less than 5 km
More than 5 km
All of Australia

Visitors (% of total population)(a)
15.2
19.6
5.4
Indigenous people
(% of resident population)(b)

11.6
43.3

2.0
Total population(a) ('000)
32.8
32.7
17,892.4

(a) Persons present on census night, 6th August 1996.
(b) Resident population only. Excludes visitors.

Source: Unpublished data from 1996 Census of Population and Housing; Norfolk Island Census of Population and Housing, Statistical Report, 1996.


Island populations
The 1996 Census counted 65,481 people on islands around Australia, representing less than 1% of Australia's total population. Of the people counted on islands, one half (32,715) were on islands more than 5 km from the mainland. Many of the people (6,421) on these more distant islands were visitors.

Islands with large Indigenous communities
Islands largely occupied by Indigenous people are all located in the northern parts of Australia, off the coast of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The most populated set of islands (with some 6,700 people on census night in August 1996) is the Torres Strait Islands located between the tip of Cape York and Papua New Guinea. Of the hundred-plus islands in the group, 17 have communities on them. However, a sizeable proportion (37%) of the population were counted on Thursday Island, the commercial centre of the region. Most (84%) of the resident population on the islands were Indigenous people, generally of Torres Strait Islander origin. Like other islands with large Indigenous communities, the age profile of the population is young: 39% were under 15 years of age compared to 22% for Australia as a whole, and most people lived in family households with relatively large numbers of people. Living standards on the islands, measured in terms of household per capita income, were also well below those for Australia's population as a whole ($186 per week compared to $310). The Torres Strait Islands community has maintained many aspects of its cultural heritage.1 Only 32% of all residents of the islands spoke English in the home - the majority spoke creoles or traditional languages (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Indigenous languages).

Mornington Island, to the south-west of the Torres Strait Islands, is located among the Wellesley Islands (a group of 22 islands, in the south-east corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria). The Mornington Island community lives together in a settlement, called Gununa, founded by Presbyterian missionaries in 1914, who drew together Indigenous people from the surrounding islands and the mainland.2 Unlike those on the Torres Strait Islands, most people speak English at home, although the traditional languages of the Lardil people, and other tribal groups from surrounding areas continue to be spoken.2

On Groote Eylandt, located on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria 40 km from the Northern Territory coast, well over half (59%) of the residents were Indigenous people. There are two main Aboriginal communities on the island, Angurugu and Umbakumba, while most non-Indigenous people live in Alyangula, a town built around the mining industry.3 Household income per capita in 1996 for Indigenous households ($107 per week) was low, and well below the average for Australia's total population ($310) and for non-Indigenous residents ($562) on the island.

Bathurst and Melville Islands to the north of Darwin, and some small surrounding islands, form the homelands of the Tiwi people. Many of these people live in the town of Nguiu, first established as a mission in 1911.4 Tiwi is the most commonly spoken language on the islands; only a small proportion of residents (13%) spoke English in the home.

Palm Island, some 25 km off the Queensland coast, was mostly settled in the early 1900s when Indigenous people were moved there from the mainland.5 Nearly all (97%) of the 1,986 residents, visitors excluded, counted at the census were Indigenous people. The small number of non-Indigenous people living on the island were government workers providing health and educational services.5 The island community is relatively poor, recording the lowest per capita household incomes of all the islands for which information has been provided.

Islands with large non-Indigenous populations
Communities on both the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are among Australia's most remote and isolated. Christmas Island is closer to Singapore and Indonesia, being 360 km south of Jakarta, than it is to the West Australian coast (1,540 km off shore). Its multicultural population of close to 1,800 usual residents (at the time of the census) is reflected in the mix of languages spoken there. In 1996, 45% of the usual residents spoke a Chinese dialect, 38% spoke English, and 12% spoke Malay.

The main industries on Christmas Island are phosphate mining and tourism.6 The over-representation of men (113 males per 100 females) on the island, and above average labour force participation rate, are likely to be associated with the presence of skilled workers (from other places), employed to bring the island's infrastructure up to mainland standards.6

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are even more remote, located some 2,110 km off the West Australian coast and 900 km west of Christmas Island. This group of 27 small islands had a population of 655 people on census night in 1996. Only two islands in the group are populated, Home Island and West Island. The majority of the permanent population, mostly of Islander decent and of Muslim faith, live on Home Island.7 West Island is the main economic centre where government employees on temporary contracts live and work in administration of the island or the quarantine service.6 Only 24% of its resident population spoke English in 1996 - the rest spoke Malay.

Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island, in area, after Tasmania and Melville Island. It is 13 km off the South Australian coast and connected by ferry. On census night, there were 4,118 people on Kangaroo Island, of whom 10% were visitors. The island is well known for its wildlife and conservation and national parks. As well as its tourist industry, the island has both farming and fishing industries.

King Island lies in Bass Strait, almost equidistant from Victoria and Tasmania. It had a population of 1,797 people on census night, with an over-representation of men (112 men to every 100 women) among its resident population. King Island is best known for its beef production, seafood and dairy products. Besides these food producing industries, it attracts tourists and has a relatively new kelp industry.

Flinders Island is also in Bass Strait, 53 km north-east of Tasmania, and is by far the most populated of the 52 islands in the Furneaux Group with which it is associated. It has a tourist industry as the island is well known for its beaches, wildlife and history of Aboriginal settlement. In 1996, 17% of the resident population were Indigenous people.

DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILES: LARGEST ISLAND COMMUNITIES LOCATED MORE THAN 5 KM FROM THE MAINLAND, 1996

Location
Persons
Age(a)
Sex ratio(a)




Distance from mainland
Nearest State/
Territory
Total
persons(b)
Proportion who were
visitors(b)
Proportion who were
Indigenous(a)
0-14
years
65 years
and over
Median age
Males to 100 females
Islands with
km
no.
%
%
%
%
years
no.

Primarily Indigenous communities
Torres Strait Islands(c)
16
Qld
6,708
12.6
84.4
38.5
4.7
22
103
Mornington Island
28
Qld
1,114
6.7
89.2
30.1
3.3
25
99
Palm Island(c)
25
Qld
2,073
4.2
97.2
38.0
1.7
21
107
Groote Eylandt
40
NT
2,551
6.4
58.5
32.7
1.1
25
107
Bathurst & Melville Islands
24
NT
2,033
3.8
93.8
31.4
2.1
23
102
Primarily non-Indigenous communities, mostly usual residents
Christmas Island
1,540
WA
1,906
7.1
0.2
33.0
1.4
29
113
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
2,110
WA
655
13.6
2.9
30.1
4.9
32
102
Kangaroo Island
13
SA
4,118
10.3
0.8
23.5
12.8
37
106
King Island
85
Tas.
1,797
4.4
1.8
24.4
11.2
34
112
Flinders Island
53
Tas.
924
7.7
16.9
22.7
12.3
38
111
Primarily non-Indigenous communities, with many visitors
The Whitsundays(c)(d)
10
Qld
4,547
59.5
0.0
13.2
5.3
36
104
Moreton Island
15
Qld
455
71.9
0.7
5.3
8.8
36
166
Norfolk Island
1,600
NSW
2,181
18.8
n.a.
20.4
13.6
39
97
Lord Howe Island
570
NSW
369
27.6
0.3
19.8
11.8
35
97
Rottnest Island(c)
18
WA
412
58.5
0.0
16.5
0.0
27
110
Total Australia
. .
. .
17,892,423
5.4
2.0
21.6
12.1
34
98

(a) Resident population only. Excludes visitors.
(b) Persons present on census night, 6th August 1996.
(c) Except for total persons and the proportion who were visitors the figures only relate to the resident population in occupied private dwellings.
(d) Includes the Lindeman, Sir James Smith, and Cumberland groups.

Source: Unpublished data from 1996 Census of Population and Housing; Norfolk Island Census of Population and Housing, Statistical Report, 1996.

SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS: LARGEST ISLAND COMMUNITIES LOCATED MORE THAN 5 KM FROM THE MAINLAND(a), 1996

Labour force status(b)
Language
Households(e)
Household type(e)




Participation
rate
Unemployment
rate(c)
Proportion who spoke English(d)
Total
Household
income
per capita
Average size
Family
Lone person
Group
%
%
%
no.
$ / week
persons
%
%
%

Primarily Indigenous communities
Torres Strait Islands(e)
61.4
8.6
31.6
1,355
186
4.2
82.2
15.1
2.7
Mornington Island
57.6
2.1
92.1
201
144
5.2
86.6
11.9
1.5
Palm Island(e)
58.8
4.6
97.0
336
127
5.8
85.1
10.7
4.2
Groote Eylandt
50.3
3.5
43.8
474
311
4.7
89.7
9.9
0.4
Bathurst & Melville Islands
56.2
16.0
13.3
401
137
4.9
88.3
9.5
2.2
Primarily non-Indigenous communities, mostly usual residents
Christmas Island
79.4
7.3
37.5
625
365
2.9
69.3
27.4
3.4
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
51.8
9.3
24.0
143
229
4.0
91.6
8.4
0.0
Kangaroo Island
63.6
14.0
98.6
1,464
230
2.6
75.0
22.8
2.2
King Island
70.4
4.1
97.0
684
263
2.6
73.0
23.2
3.8
Flinders Island
65.4
8.1
98.4
345
261
2.4
66.4
32.5
1.2
Primarily non-Indigenous communities, with many visitors
The Whitsundays(e)(f)
81.2
6.3
91.4
170
460
2.3
71.2
18.8
10.0
Moreton Island
74.5
3.7
98.7
47
267
1.5
40.4
55.3
4.3
Norfolk Island
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
944
n.a.
2.2
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
Lord Howe Island
75.6
4.8
96.1
114
330
2.4
71.1
24.6
4.4
Rottnest Island(e)
92.5
0.7
96.0
95
387
1.8
35.8
57.9
6.3
Total Australia
61.9
9.2
84.8
6,281,817
310
2.7
73.0
22.8
4.2

(a) Resident population only. Excludes visitors.
(b) Persons aged 15 years and over.
(c) Unemployment rates on islands with large Indigenous communities do not provide a full picture of employment activity because many Indigenous people classified as being employed work in specialised 'work for the dole' schemes, formally known as Community Development Employment Programs (CDEP).
(d) In the home.
(e) Resident population in occupied private dwellings only.
(f) Includes the Lindeman, Sir James Smith, and Cumberland groups.

Source: Unpublished data from 1996 Census of Population and Housing; Norfolk Island Census of Population and Housing, Statistical Report, 1996.


Islands close to the mainland

There are many populated islands located within 5 km of the mainland (the most populated are given in the table below). While the distance to the closest port of call may in some cases be more than 5 km, some, such as Bribie and Phillip islands, are connected to the mainland by road. With some exceptions, islands within 5 km of the mainland typically have fewer visitors and fewer Indigenous people than those on more distant islands.

ISLANDS WITHIN 5 KM OF MAINLAND, WITH THE LARGEST POPULATIONS, 1996

Nearest State/Territory
Total persons(a)
Island
no.

Bribie Island
Qld
12,946
Phillip Island
Vic.
5,707
Magnetic Island
Qld
3,027
Russell-Macleay Islands
Qld
2,939
North Stradbroke Island
Qld
2,435
Fraser Island
Qld
1,378
Galiwinku
NT
1,285
Milingimbi
NT
941
Bruny Island
Tas.
581

a) Total number of persons present on census night, 6th August 1996.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.

Islands with large visitor numbers
The Whitsundays including islands in the Lindeman, Sir James Smith, and Cumberland groups, are a group of over 70 islands clustered on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, mostly between 10 and 20 km off shore, generally east/south-east from the town of Proserpine. Many are national parks and others, for example Hamilton, Hayman, Daydream and Lindeman islands, have large tourist resorts. Of the 4,547 people counted on these islands on census night, 60% were visitors. The labour force participation rate among the resident community was high (81% of residents aged 15 years and over were in the labour force compared to 62% for Australia as a whole).

Moreton Island is a sand island in Moreton Bay, 15 km off the Queensland coast east of Brisbane. The island is popular for its nature-based recreation (e.g. camping, bush walking, four-wheel drive expeditions), and 72% of people on the island on census night in 1996 were visitors. The small resident population of 128 people on census night was mostly male (166 males to every 100 females). In common with Rottnest Island near Perth, many residents who live there are single people.

Two islands to the east of New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island, are known to mainlanders as tourist destinations, but are also home to long-established communities. As well as being known for its scenic beauty, Norfolk Island, 1,600 km north-east of Sydney, attracts visitors because of its history as a convict settlement. After the establishment of the penal colony, it was settled by Pitcairn Islanders from Polynesia, some of whom were descendants from the mutineers of HMS Bounty.7 Of the 2,181 people present on census night, 19% were visitors. The island has a unique policy of self-government, with relative independence and some powers normally reserved for the Commonwealth government.7 It conducted its own census (also on 6 August 1996, but independent of the national census), thereby limiting the amount of comparable information provided in the summary tables.

Lord Howe Island is a small island located 570 km east of the mid-north coast of New South Wales, and is recorded as having the southern-most coral reef in the world.8 It had a population count of 369 people on census night, 28% of whom (102 people) were visitors. While many of the residents work to support the tourist industry, Kentia palms are also grown for export.

Known for its wildlife (mainly quokkas) and nature reserves, Rottnest Island, 18 km from Perth, is a popular destination for large numbers of daytime and overnight-stay visitors. Many of the people among the small resident population (171 people on census night) work on the island in support of the tourist industry and often do so for limited periods of time.


Australians on Antartica

Australia has had responsibility for part of Antarctica, called the Australian Antarctic Territory, since 1933. Australia began its scientific research in Antarctica in 1954, which continues at the territory's three scientific stations - Mawson, Davis and Casey. The remaining parts of Antarctica are administered by other countries, e.g. France and New Zealand.9

On census night, 6th August 1996, there were 61 men and 9 women in the Australian Antarctica Territory. These people were undertaking research on global climate change, marine biology and Antarctica's natural resources, or providing associated support services.


Endnotes

1 Ban P. 1993, 'Torres Strait Islanders and the Torres Strait' Family Matters No.35, August 1993, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

2 Memmott P. and Horsman R. 1991, A Changing Culture. The Lardil Aborigines of Mornington Island, Social Science Press, NSW.

3 Cole, K. 1992, Groote Eylandt, Keith Cole Publications, Victoria.

4 Stanley, O. 1983, An Aboriginal Economy: Nguiu, Northern Territory, ANU North Australia Research Unit Monograph, Darwin 1983.

5 Barber et al. 1988, 'Alcohol and Power on Palm Island', Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol.23, No.2, May 1998.

6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1995, Spending and income: Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, cat. no. 6552.9, ABS, Canberra.

7 Commonwealth Grants Commission 1997, Report on Norfolk Island, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

8 The Australian Encyclopaedia, 5th edition 1988, Australian Geographic for the Australian Geographic Society, Terrey Hills, NSW.

9 Camm, J. & McQuilton (eds) 1987, Australians: A Historical Atlas, AGPS, Canberra.




Previous PageNext Page

Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window


Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.