2034.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, Australia, 1996  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/09/1998   
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This summary aims to present some important social and economic information about the Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) population of Australia. Most of the data comes from the 1996 Census of Population and Housing but material from the 1991 and 1986 Censuses is also used. This summary is based on a series of publications, Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, with one national publication (2034.0) and one for each State and Territory (2034.1-8).


The estimated resident Indigenous population of Australia at 30 June 1996 was 386,049. This figure was 2.1% of the total population and represented an average annual growth rate of 2.3% in the Indigenous population over the period 1991 to 1996.

The Northern Territory had the highest proportion of Indigenous people in its population (28.5%), while in other States and the Australian Capital Territory the highest proportion was in Tasmania (3.2%).

The highest numbers of Indigenous people were recorded in New South Wales (109,925) and Queensland (104,817).

The Indigenous population had a median age of 20.1 years, much lower than the 34.0 years of the total population. Forty percent of all Indigenous people were under 15 years of age. This figure contrasted with the total Australian population where only 21.4% were under 15.


An 'Indigenous family' is defined as a family where the reference person for the family (normally the first person on the census form, and usually a parent) or spouse is recorded as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Indigenous families, with an average number of 3.7 people, were larger than other families, which averaged 3.1 people. Other families includes those where the reference person or spouse was non-Indigenous or where Indigenous status was not stated.

Families with four or more children were more common among Indigenous families (12.9%) than they were among Other families (4.7%).

Indigenous families in Australia had a lower median weekly income ($502) than Other families ($736). Family incomes were highest in cities with populations of over 100,000 people ($573) and lowest in Bounded Localities ($430), which have populations of between 200 and 999 people.


An Indigenous household is defined as: A family household where any family in the household is defined as an Indigenous family or lone-person household where the lone person is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Indigenous households had an average of 3.7 people each, one more than Other households.

Indigenous households had a higher proportion of two- or three- family households (6.2%) than Other households (1.1%), and a lower proportion (13.4%) of lone-person households than were found in Other households (24.0%).


At the time of the 1996 Census, 40.7% of the Indigenous population was employed. Just over 48% of Indigenous males were employed and 34% of Indigenous females. Comparable figures in the total population were 64.4% for males and 48.4% for females.

The unemployment rate was significantly higher for the Indigenous population, in all states, than it was for the total population. Nationally, the unemployment rate for Indigenous people was 22.7% compared to 9.2% for the total population.

The most common occupation group for Indigenous people was Labourers and related workers (24.3%) compared to the most common group for the total population which was Professionals (17.2%).

The non-government sector engaged 52.9% of employed Indigenous people, a further 27.6% were employed in the government sector and 14.9% in Community Development Employment Projects.


At the time of the 1996 Census the median weekly personal income of Indigenous adults was lower than that of the total population in each State and Territory. The disparity was greatest in the Northern Territory ($185) and least in Tasmania ($32). Indigenous people in the NT earned 49.6% of the total population's median income. In New South Wales the figure was 76.5%, in South Australia 77.8% and in Tasmania 88.0%.

Managers and administrators had the highest median income among employed Indigenous people ($556) but this figure was 29% lower than that of the same group in the total population.


Over the 10 years from 1986 to 1996, the number of Indigenous people in tertiary education doubled. Fewer people left school aged 14 years or below and more left after the age of 17.

Of the 28,725 Indigenous people with post secondary school qualifications, 18.9% of achieved their qualification in the field of Engineering, 15.6% in Business and administration and 14.8% in Society and culture.


Christianity was the reported religion of 252,203 Indigenous Australians. Anglicans and Western Catholics accounted for nearly half of this number.

Australian Aboriginal Traditional Religions were practised by around 9% of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and 4.1% in Western Australia, but in other states the number was less than 1%.

English was spoken at home by 80% of Indigenous people while just over 13% spoke an Indigenous language. Arrente and Walpiri, from Central Australia and Dhuwal-Dhuwal, from Eastern Arnhemland were the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages and Kriol is a commonly understood language from Western Queensland, across the northern half of the Northern Territory to Western Australia.