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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%.
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
(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).
1 See article 'The 1967 Aborigines Referendum', Government.
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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