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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2007  
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Contents >> Population >> Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER POPULATION

There are no accurate estimates of the population of Australia before European settlement. Many estimates were based on post-1788 observations of a population already reduced by introduced diseases and other factors. Smith (1980) estimated the absolute minimum pre-1788 population at 315,000. Other estimates put the figure at over one million people, while recent archaeological evidence suggests that a population of 750,000 could have been sustained.

Whatever the size of the Indigenous population before European settlement, it declined dramatically under the impact of new diseases, repressive and often brutal treatment, dispossession, and social and cultural disruption and disintegration (see the article Statistics on the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, in Year Book Australia 1994). The decline of the Indigenous population continued well into the 20th century.

More recently, changing social attitudes, political developments, improved statistical coverage and a broader definition of Indigenous origin have all contributed to the increased likelihood of people identifying as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. This is reflected in the large increases in the number of people who are identified as Indigenous in each Census, increases in excess of those which can be attributed to natural increase in the Indigenous population.

In developing estimates of the size and age structure of the Indigenous population, Census counts are adjusted for undercount as well as other factors, including cases where Indigenous status was not known. These estimates are referred to as 'experimental' estimates of the Indigenous population.

Table 5.18 shows the distribution of the experimental estimated Indigenous population by state and territory between 1991 and 2001, based on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. The estimates for 1991 and 1996 have been calculated using 2001 population estimates and experimental Indigenous life tables to 'reverse survive' the population back to 1991. The average annual growth rate of the Indigenous population in Australia for the five-year period 1996-2001 was 2.0%, approximately twice that of the total population.


5.18 EXPERIMENTAL ESTIMATES OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION

1991(a)
1996(a)
2001(a)



'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

New South Wales
107.3
29.2
121.5
29.3
134.9
29.4
Victoria
22.3
6.1
25.2
6.1
27.8
6.1
Queensland
100.2
27.3
113.6
27.4
125.9
27.5
South Australia
20.6
5.6
23.2
5.6
25.5
5.6
Western Australia
52.9
14.4
59.6
14.4
65.9
14.4
Tasmania
13.9
3.8
15.7
3.8
17.4
3.8
Northern Territory
46.7
12.7
52.0
12.5
56.9
12.4
Australian Capital Territory
2.9
0.8
3.4
0.8
3.9
0.9
Australia(b)
366.9
100.0
414.4
100.0
458.5
100.0

(a) Based on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
(b) Includes Other Territories. Other Territories comprise Jervis Bay Territory, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
Source: Experimental Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 1991 to 2009 (3238.0).


The Indigenous population at 30 June 2001 was 458,500 people, of whom 134,900 (29%) lived in New South Wales, 125,900 (27%) in Queensland, 65,900 (14%) in Western Australia and 56,900 (12%) in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory had the largest proportion of its population who were Indigenous (29%), compared with 4% or less for all other states and the Australian Capital Territory. In 2001, the Indigenous population represented 2.4% of the total Australian population.

While most of Australia's population is concentrated along the eastern and south-west coasts (map 5.15), map 5.19 shows the Indigenous population is more widely spread. Australia's total population is contained within the most densely settled areas of the continent, while the Indigenous population live in areas covering more of the continent. This partly reflects the higher level of urbanisation among the non-Indigenous population than the Indigenous population. Indigenous people are much more likely to live in very remote areas than non-Indigenous people. The SLAs with the highest number of Indigenous people per square kilometre were located in Darwin, whereas the SLAs with the highest overall population densities were located in Sydney.

In 2001, 30% of Indigenous people lived in Major Cities compared with 67% of the non-Indigenous population. Proportions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations who lived in Inner Regional areas were similar (20% and 21% respectively). The proportion of population living in Outer Regional areas was higher for Indigenous people (23%) than for the non-Indigenous population (10%). The proportion of Indigenous people living in Remote or Very Remote areas (26%) was 13 times that of the non-Indigenous population living in these areas (2%).

5.19 INDIGENOUS POPULATION DISTRIBUTION(a) - June 2001
5.19 INDIGENOUS POPULATION DISTRIBUTION(a) - June 2001 5.19 INDIGENOUS POPULATION DISTRIBUTION(a) - June 2001

The Indigenous population is a relatively young population, with a median age of 21 years, compared with 36 years for the non-Indigenous population. The younger age structure of the Indigenous population is shown in graph 5.20. In 2001, 39% of Indigenous people were aged under 15 years compared with 20% of non-Indigenous people. People aged 65 years and over comprised 3% of the Indigenous population and 13% of the non-Indigenous population.

5.20 AGE DISTRIBUTION OF THE INDIGENOUS AND NON-INDIGENOUS POPULATION - June 2001

5.20 AGE DISTRIBUTION OF THE INDIGENOUS AND NON-INDIGENOUS POPULATION - June 2001 5.20 AGE DISTRIBUTION OF THE INDIGENOUS AND NON-INDIGENOUS POPULATION - June 2001


The age structure of the Indigenous population reflects higher rates of fertility, and deaths occurring at younger ages. Although the total fertility rate among Indigenous women has fallen in recent decades, from around 6 babies per woman in the 1960s to 2.1 babies per woman in 2001, it remains higher than the total fertility rate for the total female population (1.7 babies per woman in 2001). In the period 1996-2001, life expectancy at birth for Indigenous Australians was estimated to be 59.4 years for males and 64.8 years for females, compared with 76.6 years for all males and 82.0 years for all females for the period 1998-2000: a difference of approximately 17 years for both males and females.

The ABS produced projections of the Indigenous population for the period 2002 to 2009 using the results of the 2001 Census of Population and Housing as the base. Assuming no further unexplained growth in census counts of the Indigenous population (low series), Australia's Indigenous population is projected to increase from 458,500 people in 2001 to 501,500 people in 2006, and to 528,600 people by 2009. If unexplained growth (that which cannot be attributed to natural increase) were to continue at the same rate as observed between the 1996 and 2001 censuses, the Indigenous population (high series) would increase to 542,900 people in 2006 and to 600,200 people by 2009. The projected average annual growth rate of the Indigenous population for the low series is 1.8% while for the high series it is 3.4%. These projected growth rates are both higher than the observed increase in the total Australian population for the year ending June 2002 (1.2%).

Indigenous populations of all states and territories are projected to continue growing between 2001 and 2009. The rates of growth in New South Wales are projected to remain constant in both series over the projection period, while the rates of growth are projected to decline in both series in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. For Victoria the growth rates decline slightly in the high series but remain constant after 2002 in the low series. For Tasmania the growth rates remain constant in the high series but increase slightly in the low series.

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