One month to Census Day, Jul 2001

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July 6, 2001
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)
One month to Census Day

The Census of Population and Housing, Australia's five-yearly national profile, will be taken on Tuesday 7 August - just one month away and more than 200 years since the first colonial musters, when communities were first gathered in NSW to be counted. (see Historic Notes, below).

This will be the first Census of the 21st century, taking place in Australia's Centenary of Federation and will be the largest ever fact-finding operation conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It will involve everyone in Australia on that night (except diplomats and their families), including overseas visitors.

The Census provides a nationwide snapshot of how many people there are in each part of Australia, what they do and how they live - information vital for the effective planning of the nation's future.

With Census night only a month away, the countdown for the delivery of around 10 million census forms to all Australian households is underway. Census collectors will commence the delivery on Saturday 28 July. A new public information website can be viewed at

The 2001 Census will offer everyone in Australia the option of participating in The Centenary of Federation Census Time Capsule - to have their name-identified information placed in a time capsule at the Australian National Archives for 99 years, for the benefit of family tree historians and a wide variety of researchers in the 22nd century.

Historic Notes

The Census, or "muster" as it was once known, has a colourful history, having been a part of Australian life since the first Europeans settled on the continent in 1788.

During 1788, musters were held weekly because of the colony's dependence on public stores and the dread of famine. The authorities had to know how much food was needed and when the community would be able to support itself.

The first musters were held on Sundays, at the Church Parade which the wives and families of convicts and free settlers were required to attend. In addition to these weekly events, the Commandant would arrange for working gangs of convicts to be mustered in his presence where they were employed.

After the first year of settlement, the number of musters declined. A half-yearly alphabetical list of all convicts in the settlement was taken including names, ships, sentences and trades. A six-monthly return of baptisms, marriages and deaths also took place.

The power of the Governor to enforce attendance at musters was almost unlimited. In practice this meant punishments of up to 500 lashes could be enforced. Even so, the musters failed to count effectively all the people. Despite this, they can be used to trace the general growth of the colony.

The colony's first regular Census was taken in 1828, but it was not until 1881 that an Australia-wide Census was held - part of a simultaneous census of all colonies in the British Empire.

In 1890, the early colonial statisticians held a conference agreeing to run censuses on a common date, posing similar questions and presenting results in a uniform manner. The following year saw the first set of censuses conducted along these lines.

The report of the Census of 1891 stated, "the reports of the early musters show the growth of the colony... traced in skeleton as clearly as though it were written in the pages of history."

These reports are some of the earliest recordings of the lives of Australia's first European settlers.

The new Federal Parliament passed the Census and Statistics Act in 1905 which guaranteed the safeguarding of every individual's confidentiality in the collection of personal details.

The first Census under this act was conducted in 1911 and was followed by Censuses in 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954 and 1961 and at five yearly intervals thereafter - a far cry from the muster of early colonial days.

The 2001 Census is the seventh in which Aboriginal people will be both counted in the census and the results of the count used in calculating the official population figures for Australia. At Federation, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia excluded "aboriginal natives" from the "numbers of the people of the Commonwealth".

Up until the passing of the 1967 Referendum Aboriginal people were counted in censuses, however, they were not included in the official population figures.

The Population Census continues to be one of the most important sources of statistical information about Aboriginal people and the results are used extensively by Aboriginal communities and organisations and governments.

This year, on Tuesday August 7, Australia will conduct its fourteenth national Census with the information collected as vital to Australia now as when those first musters were conducted in 1788.

Comprehensive file footage vision has been supplied to networks, extra copies are available on request. A CD ROM of high resolution census images is also available on request. Visit & media for media releases, articles, fact sheets, images and story angles. ABS census public affairs staff, both at the National Census Communications Unit in Canberra and in all States and Territories, will help wherever, whenever we can.