Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2003   
   Page tools: Print Print Page RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
Contents >> 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 have put the figure at over 1 million, while recent archaeological finds suggest 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 (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. Table 5.7 shows the distribution of the Indigenous population by state and territory between 1901 and 2001.


5.7 ESTIMATES OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION(a)

1901(b)
1991(c)
1996(d)
2001(e)




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

New South Wales
7,434
8.0
75,020
26.5
109,925
28.5
135,319
29.4
Victoria
652
0.7
17,890
6.3
22,598
5.9
27,928
6.1
Queensland
26,670
28.6
74,214
26.2
104,817
27.2
126,035
27.4
South Australia
5,185
5.6
17,239
6.1
22,051
5.7
25,620
5.6
Western Australia
30,000
32.1
44,082
15.6
56,205
14.6
66,069
14.4
Tasmania
157
0.2
9,461
3.3
15,322
4.0
17,442
3.8
Northern Territory
23,235
24.9
43,273
15.3
51,876
13.4
57,550
12.5
Australian Capital Territory
. .
. .
1,616
0.6
3,058
0.8
3,941
0.9
Australia
93,333
100.0
282,979
100.0
386,049
100.0
460,140
100.0

(a) Australian estimates for 1996 and 2001 include Other Territories. ACT estimates for 1991 include Jervis Bay.
(b) Estimates in 1901 based on separate state censuses. WA number was estimated without an enumeration of the Indigenous population.
(c) Estimate based on the 1991 Census of Population and Housing.
(d) Estimate based on the 1996 Census of Population and Housing.
(e) Preliminary estimate based on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Source: Experimental Estimates of Indigenous Australians, Electronic Delivery (3238.0.55.001); Experimental Estimates of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population (3230.0); Occasional Paper: Population Issues, Indigenous Australians (4708.0); Population Distribution, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (4705.0).


The Indigenous population has a much younger age structure than that of the total Australian population (see graph 5.8), with 39% of the population aged under 15 (compared to 21% for the total population), and only 3% aged over 65 (compared to 13% of the total population). In 2001, the median age of the Indigenous population was 21 years, compared to 36 years for the total population.

This age structure is largely a product of high fertility and high mortality among the Indigenous population. Although the total fertility rate among Indigenous women has fallen in recent decades, from around six babies per woman in the 1960s to 2.1 babies per woman in 2001, it remains higher than the total fertility rate among the total female population (1.7 babies per woman in 2001). The high mortality experienced by the Indigenous population is reflected in life expectancy at birth, which in 1998-2000 was about 56 years for males and 63 years for females - around 20 years less than the respective life expectancies of all males and females in Australia in 1998-2000.

5.8 AGE STRUCTURES OF THE INDIGENOUS AND TOTAL POPULATIONS - 2001

Image - 5.8   AGE STRUCTURES OF THE INDIGENOUS AND TOTAL POPULATIONS - 2001

Source: Experimental Estimates of Indigenous Australians, Electronic Delivery (3238.0.55.001).


While most of the total Australian population is concentrated along the east and (to a lesser extent) the south-west coasts, the Indigenous population is much more widely spread (see map 5.9). About 90% of Australia's Indigenous population live in areas covering 23% of the continent whereas 90% of Australia's total population are contained within just 2.2% of the continent. This reflects the fact that Indigenous people are much more likely to live in remote areas than the rest of the population, and that there is a higher level of urbanisation among the non-Indigenous population than the Indigenous population. However, most Indigenous people live in urban areas of Australia.

5.9 DISTRIBUTION OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION(a) - 2001

Image - 5.9 DISTRIBUTION OF THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION(a) - 2001

(a) Represents a random distribution within Statistical Local Area boundaries.
Source: 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


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.