Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
ABS @ Facebook ABS @ Twitter ABS RSS ABS Email notification service
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2009–10  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2010   
   Page tools: Print Print Page RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
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 (Indigenous) origin. This is reflected in the large increases in the number of people who are identified as being Indigenous, particularly in the 1996 and 2001 Censuses, with increases in excess of those which can be attributed to natural increase in the Indigenous population. However, this phenomenon has not been an issue in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.

7.17 Experimental Estimates of Indigenous Population(a)

1996
2001
2006
000
%
000
%
000
%

New South Wales
119.3
29.3
136.3
29.4
152.7
29.5
Victoria
26.3
6.5
30.0
6.5
33.5
6.5
Queensland
112.2
27.5
128.6
27.8
144.9
28.0
South Australia
22.6
5.5
25.4
5.5
28.1
5.4
Western Australia
56.8
13.9
64.3
13.9
71.0
13.7
Tasmania
14.6
3.6
16.5
3.6
18.4
3.6
Northern Territory
52.1
12.8
58.0
12.5
64.0
12.4
Australian Capital Territory
3.3
0.8
3.8
0.8
4.3
0.8
Australia(b)
407.3
100.0
463.1
100.0
517.0
100.0

(a) As at 30 June and based on the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.
(b) Includes Other Territories, i.e., Jervis Bay, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Island.
Source: ABS Experimental Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 1991 to 2021 (3238.0)


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 7.17 shows the distribution of the experimental estimated resident Indigenous population by state and territory for 1996, 2001 and 2006. The estimates for 1996 and 2001 are reverse survival estimates based on the June 2006 final Indigenous population estimates, and the experimental Indigenous life tables for the period 2005-2007. The final estimates for 2006 are based on the August 2006 Census of Population and Housing and their geographical distribution is in map 7.18.

The final estimated resident Indigenous population at 30 June 2006, was 517,000 people or 2.5% of the total Australian population. Indigenous people of Aboriginal origin contributed 90% of the total Indigenous population; people of Torres Strait Islander origin comprised 6%, and those of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin comprised 4%.

Of the total Indigenous population at 30 June 2006, 152,700 (29%) people lived in New South Wales, 144,900 (28%) in Queensland, 71,000 (15%) in Western Australia and 64,000 (13%) in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory had the largest proportion of its population who were Indigenous (30%), compared with 4% or less for all other states and the Australian Capital Territory.

7.18 Indigenous Population Distribution-2006(a)
Map: 7.18 Indigenous Population Distribution-2006(a)


The Indigenous population is a relatively young population, with a median age of 21 years, compared with 37 years for the non-Indigenous population. The younger age structure of the Indigenous population is shown in graph 7.19. In 2006, 38% of Indigenous people were aged under 15 years compared with 19% of non-Indigenous people. People aged 65 years and over comprised 3% of the Indigenous population and 13% of the non-Indigenous population.
7.19 Age Distribution of the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Population-June 2006 (a)
Graph: 7.19 Age Distribution of the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Population-June 2006


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 6.0 babies per woman in the 1960s to 2.1 babies per woman in 2005, then a slight increase to 2.4 babies per woman in 2007, it remains higher than the fertility rate for the total Australian female population (1.9 babies per woman in 2007). In the period 2005-2007, life expectancy at birth was estimated to be 67.2 years for Indigenous males and 72.9 years for Indigenous females. This is well below the estimates of 78.5 years and 82.4 years for total males and females respectively, for the same period. Indigenous life expectancy estimates for 2005-07 are considerably higher than the previously published ABS estimates for the period 1996-2001 (59.4 years for Indigenous males and 64.8 years for Indigenous females). The observed differences in life expectancy estimates should not be interpreted as measuring changes in Indigenous life expectancy over time.

The latest projections of the Indigenous population, produced by the ABS for the period 2007 to 2021, are based on the results of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. Assuming that Indigenous life expectancy at birth remains constant at 67.3 years for males and 73.0 years for females (which are the estimates for the 2006-07 financial year), Australia's Indigenous population is projected to increase from 517,000 people in 2006 to 640,700 people in 2016, and to 713,300 people in 2021 (low series). Under the assumption that Indigenous life expectancy increases by 5.0 years between 2006 and 2021(i.e. an average increase of 0.3 years per year of projection), the Indigenous population is projected to increase to 643,800 people in 2016, and to 721,100 people in 2021 (high series). The projected average annual growth rate of the Indigenous population is 2.2% for both the low series and the high series. This projected growth rate is slightly higher than the observed increase in the total Australian population for the year ending December 2008 (1.9%).

Indigenous populations of all states and territories are projected to continue growing between 2006 and 2021. Queensland is projected to have the fastest growing Indigenous population among all the Australian states/territories, with an average annual growth rate between 2.6% and 2.7%. This is followed by Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania (between 2.3% and 2.5%). The Northern Territory Indigenous population is projected to have the lowest average growth rate (between 1.6% and 1.7%), while New South Wales is projected to grow at a lower rate of about 2.1% to 2.2% per year. Although the June 2006 experimental estimates of Indigenous population in New South Wales are higher than in Queensland (152,700 versus 144,900), because of higher average growth rate the Indigenous population in Queensland is projected to surpass the New South Wales Indigenous population by the year 2016.


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.