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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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This page was updated on 22 Nov 2012 to include the disclaimer below. No other content in this article was affected.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population

The size of the Indigenous population of Australia prior to European settlement is uncertain. From the time of Federation (1901) until the 1967 Referendum, footnote 1 all Australian censuses counted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, these counts of Indigenous persons were excluded from official population figures. They were first included in official population statistics in 1971.

Over the past 35 years, large increases in Indigenous census counts have occurred on several occasions. The excess of births over deaths accounted for a proportion of these increases but overseas migration was insignificant for the Indigenous population. Between the 1996 and 2001 censuses, the census counts of Indigenous people increased by 16% (57,000), a much faster increase than for the total Australian population, which increased by 6% (1,016,000) over the same period. The components of the Indigenous census count increase between 1996 and 2001 are estimated to be 12% due to births and deaths, and a further 4% due to other factors, including changes in census procedures and an increasing propensity for persons to identify or be identified as Indigenous in the census. Comparable figures for the 1991-96 increase were: 33% total increase, 14% due to births and deaths, and a further 19% due to other factors (table S5.1).

S5.1 INDIGENOUS CENSUS COUNTS(a)

1966(b)
1971
1976
1981
1986(c)
1991(c)
1996(c)
2001(c)

NUMBER (no.)

New South Wales
14,219
23,873
40,450
35,367
58,999
69,999
101,485
119,865
Victoria
1,790
6,371
14,760
6,057
12,600
16,729
21,474
25,078
Queensland
19,003
31,922
41,345
44,698
61,250
70,102
95,518
112,772
South Australia
5,505
7,299
10,714
9,825
14,285
16,223
20,444
23,425
Western Australia
18,439
22,181
26,126
31,351
37,786
41,769
50,793
58,496
Tasmania
36
671
2,942
2,688
6,716
8,882
13,873
15,773
Northern Territory
21,119
23,381
23,751
29,088
34,738
39,893
46,277
50,785
Australian Capital Territory(d)
96
255
827
823
1,059
1,592
2,899
3,576
Australia(d)
80,207
115,953
160,915
159,897
227,593
265,371
352,970
410,003

PROPORTION OF TOTAL INDIGENOUS COUNT (%)

New South Wales
17.7
20.6
25.1
22.1
25.9
26.4
28.8
29.2
Victoria
2.2
5.5
9.2
3.8
5.5
6.3
6.1
6.1
Queensland
23.7
27.5
25.7
28.0
26.9
26.4
27.1
27.5
South Australia
6.9
6.3
6.7
6.1
6.3
6.1
5.8
5.7
Western Australia
23.0
19.1
16.2
19.6
16.6
15.7
14.4
14.3
Tasmania
-
0.6
1.8
1.7
3.0
3.3
3.9
3.8
Northern Territory
26.3
20.2
14.8
18.2
15.3
15.0
13.1
12.4
Australian Capital Territory(d)
0.1
0.2
0.5
0.5
0.5
0.6
0.8
0.9
Australia(d)
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Place of enumeration data.
(b) Excludes Torres Strait Islanders.
(c) Excludes overseas visitors.
(d) 1986 to 2001 figures include Other Territories in the Australian total. Prior to 1986 Jervis Bay Territory was included with the ACT.
Source: ABS 2002c; ABS data available on request, Census of Population and Housing; Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics 1969; Choi & Gray 1985.

S5.2 CHANGES IN INDIGENOUS CENSUS COUNTS(a)

1966(b)-71
1971-76
1976-81
1981-86(c)
1986(c)-91(c)
1991(c)-96(c)
1996(c)-2001(c)
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

New South Wales
67.9
69.4
-12.6
66.8
18.6
45.0
18.1
Victoria
255.9
131.7
-59.0
108.0
32.8
28.4
16.8
Queensland
68.0
29.5
8.1
37.0
14.5
36.3
18.1
South Australia
32.6
46.8
-8.3
45.4
13.6
26.0
14.6
Western Australia
20.3
17.8
20.0
20.5
10.5
21.6
15.2
Tasmania
(d)1,763.9
338.5
-8.6
149.9
32.3
56.2
13.7
Northern Territory
10.7
1.6
22.5
19.4
14.8
16.0
9.7
Australian Capital Territory(e)
165.6
224.3
-0.5
28.7
50.3
82.1
23.4
Australia(e)
44.6
38.8
-0.6
42.3
16.6
33.0
16.2

(a) Place of enumeration data.
(b) Excludes Torres Strait Islanders.
(c) Excludes overseas visitors.
(d) The number of Indigenous Tasmanians increased from 36 counted in the 1966 census to 671 counted in the 1971 census.
(e) 1986 to 2001 figures include Other Territories in the Australian total. Prior to 1986 Jervis Bay Territory is included with the ACT.
Source: ABS 2002c; ABS data available on request, Census of Population and Housing; Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics 1969; Choi & Gray 1985.


Some clearer patterns emerge from data on each state and territory's share of the total Indigenous census count. The last 35 years have seen a major change in the distribution of the Indigenous population. Substantial gains were recorded in New South Wales (18% of all Indigenous persons in Australia in 1966, 29% in 2001) and to a lesser extent Victoria (2% in 1966, 6% in 2001). The Northern Territory had the largest share of Australia's Indigenous persons in 1966 (26%) but by 2001 this proportion had dropped to 12%. The proportion of all Indigenous people who were counted in Western Australia also declined from 23% in 1966 to 14% in 2001 (table S5.2).

Since 1986, experimental estimates of Australia's Indigenous population have been produced by the ABS (table S5.3). These estimates are calculated for census years by taking into account 'not stated' Indigenous status, Indigenous undercount and other demographic adjustments.

The latest available estimated resident Indigenous population of Australia is 458,500 persons at 30 June 2001 (2.4% of the total Australian population). People of only Aboriginal origin comprised about 89% of the total Indigenous population, people of only Torres Strait Islander origin comprised 6%, and those of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin comprised 4%.

S5.3 EXPERIMENTAL(a) ESTIMATES AND PROJECTIONS OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION -
30 June

1986(b)
1991(b)
1996(c)
2001(c)
2006(d)





no.
%
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%

New South Wales
66,041
26.3
97,784
28.3
109,925
28.5
134,888
29.4
132,716
28.3
Victoria
15,766
6.3
20,259
5.9
22,598
5.9
27,846
6.1
26,541
5.7
Queensland
65,933
26.3
93,191
27.0
104,817
27.2
125,910
27.5
133,288
28.4
South Australia
15,324
6.1
19,809
5.7
22,051
5.7
25,544
5.6
26,633
5.7
Western Australia
39,001
15.6
50,891
14.7
56,205
14.6
65,931
14.4
66,976
14.3
Tasmania
8,244
3.3
13,783
4.0
15,322
4.0
17,384
3.8
18,023
3.8
Northern Territory
38,885
15.5
46,874
13.6
51,876
13.4
56,875
12.4
60,610
12.9
Australian Capital Territory
1,384
0.6
2,614
0.8
3,058
0.8
3,909
0.9
4,149
0.9
Australia(e)
250,738
100.0
345,381
100.0
386,049
100.0
458,520
100.0
469,135
100.0

(a) The estimated Indigenous population is experimental in that the standard approach to population estimation is not possible mainly because reliable data on births, deaths and migration are not generally available.
(b) Estimated population, rebased on following census.
(c) Estimated population, based on census of that year.
(d) Projected population based on 1996 census, low series.
(e) Includes Other Territories.
Source: ABS 1994a; ABS 1998a; ABS 1998b; ABS 2003.

Changes in the distribution of Indigenous population estimates across the states and territories, and changes in the proportion of each state and territory's resident population which was Indigenous, have been very similar to the changes in census counts over the period. For an explanation of estimated resident population, see the introduction to this chapter.

The Indigenous population has a much younger age structure than that of the non-Indigenous Australian population (graph S5.4). In 2001, the proportion of Indigenous persons under 15 years of age was 39% compared with 20% of non-Indigenous persons. Persons aged 65 years and over comprised 3% of the Indigenous population and 13% of the non-Indigenous population. At 30 June 2001, Australia's Indigenous population had a median age of 20 years, 16 years younger than the median age for the non-Indigenous population (36 years). The median age was approximately 20 years for Indigenous males and 21 years for Indigenous females. The median age of the Indigenous population ranged from 22 years in the Northern Territory to 20 years in Tasmania.

S5.4 AGE DISTRIBUTION OF INDIGENOUS AND NON-INDIGENOUS POPULATION(a) - 30 June 2001
Graph - S5.4   Age distritibution of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous population - 30 June 2001

(a) Estimated resident population.
(b) The 75+ age group includes all ages 75 and over and therefore is not strictly comparable with five-year age groups in the rest of this graph.
Source: ABS 2003.

The age structure of the Indigenous population is largely a product of high fertility and high mortality. In the early-1960s, the fertility of Indigenous women (5.8 babies per woman) was nearly twice the rate for all Australian women. However, changes in fertility for Indigenous women over this period should be interpreted with caution as there has been a marked increase in reporting the Indigenous status of both mothers and babies at registration since the early-1960s. There has also been a large increase in the propensity of mothers to identify as Indigenous, and for babies to be identified as Indigenous.

Since the early-1960s, fertility levels of both Indigenous and all women have declined substantially, with the largest decreases recorded during the 1970s. While the fertility of all Australian women began a decline in the 1960s which continues today, the fertility levels of Indigenous women remained relatively stable during the 1960s although this preceded a sharp decline during the 1970s. It is estimated that in the 15 years to 1996, the fertility of Indigenous women declined to a low of 2.0 babies per woman in 1996, before increasing slightly. In 2001, Indigenous fertility was estimated at 2.1 babies per woman, compared to 1.7 babies for all women (ABS 2002a). In 2000, the total fertility rate of Australian Indigenous mothers (2.2) was marginally above that of the American Indians (2.1), but lower than that of New Zealand Maori women (2.5).

A variety of mortality measures indicate higher mortality for the Indigenous population than for the total population. These measures include death rates, life expectancy at birth and infant mortality. At the national level, life expectancy at birth for the period 1999-2001 was estimated to be about 56 years for Indigenous males and 63 years for Indigenous females (including an adjustment for the estimated under-coverage of Indigenous deaths). This compares to life expectancy at birth of 77 years for all males, and 82 years for all females - a difference of 21 years for males and 20 years for females (ABS 2002b).

A comparatively high proportion of Indigenous persons live in regional and remote areas. For more information see the article How Many People Live in Remote Areas? The ABS has commenced publishing population estimates on the basis of the Remoteness Structure (ABS 2001), which distinguishes areas in Australia according to remoteness. While the largest proportion of Indigenous people lived in Major City areas (30%) in 2001, this was less than half the proportion of all Australian residents living in these areas (66%). Higher proportions of Indigenous people lived in Outer Regional areas (23%) and Remote (9%) and Very Remote (18%) areas than all Australians (10%, 2% and 1% respectively).

Endnote

1 See article 'The 1967 Aborigines Referendum', Government.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 1994a, Experimental Estimates of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population, June 1986 to June 1991, cat. no. 3230.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 1994b, Year Book Australia 1994, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 1997, Population Distribution, Indigenous Australians, 1996, cat. no. 4705.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 1998a, Experimental Estimates of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population, 30 June 1991 - 30 June 1996, cat. no. 3230.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 1998b, Experimental Projections of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population, 30 June 1996 to 30 June 2006, cat. no. 3231.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2001, Statistical Geography, Volume 1, Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001, cat. no. 1216.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2002a, Births, Australia, 2001, cat. no. 3301.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2002b, Deaths, Australia, 2001, cat. no. 3302.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2002c, Population Distribution, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2001, cat. no. 4705.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2003, Experimental Estimates and Projections of Indigenous Australians, 1991 to 2016, cat. no. 3238.0, ABS, Canberra.

Choi, CY & Gray, A 1985, An Evaluation of Census Counts of the Aboriginal Population, 1971, 1976 and 1981 Censuses, ABS Occasional Paper 1985/2, ABS, Canberra.

Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS) 1969, The Aboriginal Population of Australia: Summary of Characteristics, 30 June 1966, CBCS Ref. No. 2.23, CBCS, Canberra.

Ross, K 1999, Occasional Paper: Population Issues, Indigenous Australians, 1996, cat. no. 4708.0, ABS, Canberra.

Smith, L 1980, The Aboriginal Population of Australia, Australian National University Press, Canberra.

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