Census geography glossary

Understanding Census geography

Descriptions of all geographies available for 2021 Census data


ABS Structures

ABS Structures are statistical geography boundaries that the ABS produce for the release and analysis of statistics. They are designed so that each statistical area remains as consistent as possible over time, enabling greater accuracy when comparing statistics to previous Census years.

Mesh Block (MB)

Mesh Blocks (MB) are the smallest geographic areas defined by the ABS and form the building blocks for the larger regions of the ASGS. Most Mesh Blocks contain 30 to 60 dwellings.

Mesh Blocks were developed to fulfil the need for accurate small area statistics. They also improve the relationship between small area geography and the social, physical and economic realities of the landscape. They broadly identify land use such as residential, commercial, industrial, parkland etc. Mesh Blocks cover the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps.

Using Mesh Blocks with Census data

Mesh Blocks can be added together to accurately approximate a larger range of other geographies – allowing for the creation of custom geographies or catchments. Due to confidentiality, limited data is released at this level. It is not advisable to analyse a single Mesh Block alone.

Mesh Blocks are available for:

Useful resources

Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1)

Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s) are designed to maximise the geographic detail available for Census of Population and Housing data while maintaining confidentiality.

SA1s are built from whole Mesh Blocks and have a population between 200 and 800 people. In remote and regional areas they generally have smaller populations than those in urban areas. SA1s are designed to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as accurately as possible, particularly in remote areas.

Using SA1s with Census data

Use SA1s to see how Census characteristics vary at a neighbourhood scale within larger areas such as Suburbs or Local Government Areas.

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Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2)

Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s) are medium-sized general purpose areas built up from whole Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s). They generally have a population between 3,000 and 25,000.

Their purpose is to represent a community that interacts together socially and economically. SA2s represent suburbs within cities and catchments of rural areas. In remote and regional areas, SA2s have smaller populations and cover a larger area than those in urban areas.

Using SA2s with Census data

Use SA2s if you are analysing and comparing Census data at a suburb level in urban areas over Census years. A variety of other ABS data is released at the SA2 level for comparison.

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Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3)

Statistical Areas Level 3 (SA3s) provide a standardised regional breakup of Australia. Their boundaries are constructed by grouping together whole Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s) that share certain characteristics. For example, an SA3 may represent the functional area of a regional town, within which most people work and live.

Some SA3s are also constructed to match administrative boundaries and may contain one or more State Regional Development Areas or Local Government Areas (LGA).

Using SA3s with Census data

As LGA boundaries can change each Census year, using SA3s in urban areas allows for a more accurate comparison over time.

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Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)

Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4s) provide the best sub-state socio-economic breakdown in the ASGS. They reflect the labour markets or groups of labour force markets of each state and territory within the population limits required for the Labour Force Survey.

Most SA4s have a population above 100,000 people to provide sufficient sample size for Labour Force estimates. In regional areas, SA4s tend to have smaller populations of 100,000 to 300,000 people. In cities, SA4s tend to have larger populations of 300,000 to 500,000 people.

Using SA4s with Census data

SA4s are most appropriate when comparing Labour Force or Agricultural Commodities Statistics to Census data.

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Greater Capital City Statistical Area (GCCSA)

Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSAs) represent the Capital City regions of each state and territory in Australia.

They are designed to represent the functional area of each of the eight state and territory capital cities. This includes populations who regularly socialise, shop or work within the city, but may live either in the city or in the small towns and rural areas surrounding the city.

Within each state and territory, the area outside of a capital city is called the ‘Rest of State’ region. The ‘Rest of State’ region together with the capital city area builds the whole state or territory.

Using GCCSAs with Census data

Use GCCSAs if you would like to understand how a population interacts within and around a Capital City. Examples include but are not limited to, journey to work, cultural diversity, long-term health conditions, usual address and internal migration.

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Australia (AUS) and State/Territory (S/T)

Australia (AUS) is the largest geographic area in the Main Structure of the ASGS.

Australia is broken up into the States and Territories (S/T) that are separately recognised in the ASGS:

  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Queensland
  • South Australia
  • Western Australia
  • Tasmania
  • Northern Territory
  • Australian Capital Territory
  • Other Territories (Jervis Bay Territory, Territory of Christmas Island, Territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island)

S/T are made of one or more Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4s).

Jervis Bay Territory, and the Territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island are included as one spatial unit at the S/T level under the category of Other Territories.

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Urban Centres and Localities (UCL)

Urban Centres and Localities (UCLs) represent areas of concentrated urban development with populations of 200 people or more. These areas of urban development are primarily identified using dwelling and population density criteria using data from the 2021 Census. UCLs are not an official definition of towns.

UCLs can cross state or territory boundaries, however in these cases they are split into two parts so that data can still be aggregated to the state and territory level. For example, the UCL of Albury - Wodonga consists of Albury – Wodonga (Albury Part) and Albury – Wodonga (Wodonga Part).

Areas in a state or territory that are not included in an UCL are considered to be ‘rural’ and combined into the category: ‘Remainder of State/Territory’.

Using UCLs with Census data

UCLs are designed for the analysis of statistical data, particularly from the Census. The 200 minimum population size allows users to access cross classified Census data for these areas without the resulting counts becoming too small for use.

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Section of State (SOS)

Section of State (SOS) groups Urban Centres and Localities (UCLs) into classes of urban areas based on population size, and the remainder is rural.

There are four SOS identifiers which include:

  • Major Urban - represents a combination of all Urban Centres with a population of 100,000 or more
  • Other Urban - represents a combination of Urban Centres with a population between 1,000 and 99,999
  • Bounded Localities - a population cluster of between 200 and 999 people. Classified as rural.
  • Rural Balance - represents the remainder State/Territory

Using SOS with Census data

Use SOS if you are wanting to compare urban and rural areas. The ABS defines ‘Urban Australia’ as Major Urban + Other Urban and ‘Rural Australia’ as Bounded Localities + Rural Balance.

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Section of State Ranges (SOSR)

Section of State Range (SOSR) provides a more detailed classification than Section of State (SOS).

SOSRs are created by grouping the Urban Centres and Localities (UCLs) into broad classes based on population sizes of Urban Centres and Localities within each state and territory.

Using SOSR with Census data

SOSR enables easier comparison of differently sized urban centres and rural areas. The ranges in SOSR also allow you to create categories like small to medium townships.

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Significant Urban Areas (SUA)

Significant Urban Areas (SUA) are used to output a broad range of ABS social and demographic statistics. They represent towns and cities of 10,000 people or more.

SUAs are built of Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s). They are defined by Urban Centres from the Urban Centres and Localities (UCLs) geography i.e. a single SUA can represent either a single Urban Centre or a cluster of related Urban Centres.

Areas that are not in an SUA are combined to form a ‘Not in any significant urban area’ region for each state or territory.

Using SUAs with Census data

SUAs are useful to understand the characteristics of the built up area of cities and towns. A wider range of ABS data is also available for SUAs such as Estimated Resident Population which can be used for more detailed analysis.  

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Indigenous Locations (ILOC)

Indigenous Locations (ILOCs) represent small Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (urban and rural) that are near each other or that share language, traditional borders, or Native Title. Indigenous Locations (ILOCs) are geographic areas built from whole Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s).

ILOCs usually have a minimum population of about 90 usual residents. In some cases, they may have a smaller Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population to meet statistical requirements or to better represent the local community. ILOCs combine to form Indigenous Areas (IAREs).

Using ILOCs with Census data

Use ILOCs if you require very specific information about an area. Due to their small population size, there are limitations to the quality of data at this geography level.

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Indigenous Areas (IARE)

Indigenous Areas (IARE) are medium sized geography units designed to facilitate the release of more detailed statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

IAREs are made from Indigenous Locations (ILOCs).

Using IAREs with Census data

Use IAREs to balance the need for specific location data and more detailed information about the characteristics of that data. If you require information about a specific area, use ILOCs. If greater availability of data is more important, use larger Indigenous Regions (IREGs).

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Indigenous Regions (IREG)

Indigenous Regions (IREGs) are large geographic areas built from whole Indigenous Areas and are based on historical boundaries. IREGs are created by aggregating one or more Indigenous Areas (IAREs).

Using IREGs with Census data

Their larger population size means that more Census variables are released at an IREG level compared to Indigenous Locations (ILOCs) and IAREs. This means that you can use multiple Census variables to get more information about an area. Note, IREGs cover a larger area than ILOCs and IAREs so information is less specific to a particular location.

Use IREGs if you want more information about an area by using multiple Census variables.

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Remoteness Areas (RA)

Remoteness Areas (RA) divides the States and Territories into 5 classes of remoteness based on relative access to services. Remoteness Areas are based on the Accessibility and Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA+), produced by the Australian Centre for Housing Research (formerly the Hugo Centre for Population and Migration Studies) at the University of Adelaide.

The 5 classes of remoteness are:

  • Major Cities
  • Inner Regional
  • Outer Regional
  • Remote
  • Very Remote

Remoteness Areas are made up of SA1s that are grouped together based on their average ARIA+ score.

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Non ABS Structures

Non ABS Structures are administrative regions which are not defined or maintained by the ABS. The ABS is committed to providing a range of statistics for the following Non ABS Structures:

Local Government Areas (LGA)

Local Government Areas (LGAs) represent local government boundaries that are defined by each State and Territory. LGAs are useful for understanding the characteristics of an individual local council area at a point in time.

LGAs are also known as Incorporated areas where incorporated local governing bodies have responsibilities (e.g. your local council). Not all areas of Australia are incorporated areas for example, northern parts of South Australia, all of the Australian Capital Territory and some Other Territories. These regions are defined as ‘Unincorporated’ in the ABS LGA structure.

LGAs are built from Mesh Blocks.

Annual reviews of LGAs are conducted and new boundaries are released if changes are identified. For information on these changes see ASGS Edition 3 – LGAs, history of changes. In TableBuilder, LGA boundaries will be updated if there have been changes. There were minor 2023 changes, however, as there were no changes to source boundaries that resulted in a Mesh Block changing allocation, a 2023 LGA variable will not be added in Census TableBuilder datasets.

Useful resources

For more information on LGAs, see ASGS Edition 3 – LGAs

View the latest LGA boundaries using ABS Maps

State Electoral Divisions (SED)

State Electoral Divisions (SEDs) are an ABS approximation of State Electoral Districts. An SED is an area legally prescribed for the purpose of returning one or more members to the State or Territory lower houses of parliament.

SED boundaries are based on the most up to date state electoral districts available prior to publication. State Electoral Divisions may change as state or territory authorities revise their boundaries. When this occurs, State Electoral Divisions will be updated annually. For information on these changes see ASGS Edition 3 – SEDs, history of changes. In TableBuilder, SED boundaries will be updated if there have been changes.

The boundaries produced for SEDs are constructed from Mesh Blocks.

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Commonwealth Electoral Divisions (CED)

Commonwealth Electoral Divisions (CEDs) are an approximation of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) federal electoral boundaries. An AEC electoral division boundary is an area legally prescribed for the purpose of returning one member to the House of Representatives, Australia's Federal Lower House of Parliament.

CED boundaries are based upon the AEC Federal electoral division boundaries available prior to publication. Commonwealth Electoral Divisions may change as the AEC revise their boundaries. Where this occurs, Commonwealth Electoral Divisions will be updated annually. For information on these changes see ASGS Edition 3 – CEDs. In TableBuilder, CED boundaries will be updated if there have been changes.

CEDs are based on publicly available versions of the AEC electoral division boundaries. CEDs do not generally cross State and Territory borders, however there are three exceptions:

  • Jervis Bay Territory is included in the Australian Capital Territory electorate of Fenner
  • Territory of Norfolk Island is included in the Australian Capital Territory electorate of Bean
  • Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are included in the Northern Territory electorate of Lingiari.

CEDs generally have different boundaries to State Electoral Divisions (SEDs). They are constructed from Mesh Blocks.

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Postal Areas (POA)

Postal Areas (POAs) are designed to approximate postcode boundaries, as closely as possible. There is not a one-for-one correspondence between Australia Post postcodes and POAs, but these are a good starting point for comparison of Census data with other data collected using postcodes.

Census Postal Areas exclude non-mappable Australia Post postcodes such as:

  • post office box postcodes
  • some delivery route postcodes, which are also covered by other postcodes (a situation which often occurs in rural areas)
  • some postcodes which, because of the application of the 'best fit' principle, do not get a Mesh Block allocated to them.

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Tourism Regions (TR)

Tourism Regions (TRs) are an ABS approximation of Tourism Regions provided by Tourism Research Australia (TRA).

There are 76 Tourism Regions that do not cover the whole of Australia. The Other Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Norfolk Island and Jervis Bay are not included. There are no special purpose codes included in the Tourism Regions classification.

Tourism Regions have been created using Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s).

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Australian Drainage Divisions (ADD)

Australia's Drainage Divisions (ADDs) are an ABS approximation of drainage divisions. Drainage divisions are defined by major landscape features and climatic zones to form broad hydrological regions as represented in the Australian Hydrological Geospatial Fabric (Geofabric) developed by the Bureau of Meteorology.

Australian Drainage Divisions are used for the effective management of water resources.

The boundaries for ADDs are constructed from Mesh Blocks.

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Suburbs and Localities (SAL)

Previously known as State Suburbs (SSC).

Suburbs and Localities (SALs) are an approximation of the officially recognised boundaries of suburbs (in cities and larger towns) and localities (outside of cities and larger towns). There are 15,353 SALs covering the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps. They are constructed from Mesh Blocks.

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Destination Zones (DZN)

Destination Zones (DZN) are co-designed with state and territory transport authorities for the analysis of Census Place of Work data, commuting patterns and the development of transport policy.

Destination Zones are geographic areas built from whole Mesh Blocks. Whole Destination Zones add up to form Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s). They do not align to Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s).

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Remoteness Area National (RAN)

Remoteness Area National (RAN) is based on the ASGS Remoteness Structure. It divides the whole of Australia into 5 classes of remoteness based on relative access to services.

Census data can be used with RANs in TableBuilder.

See Remoteness Area for more information.

Aged Care Planning Regions (ACPR)

Aged Care Planning Regions (ACPRs) are regions established for the planning of aged care services across Australia. The 2018 ACPRs are based on Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2s) 2016 boundaries.

Census data can be used with ACPRs in TableBuilder.

See Department of Health and Aged Care - 2018 Aged Care Planning Region maps for maps and more information.

Primary Health Networks (PHN)

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are administrative health regions established to deliver primary care services for patients, as well as coordinate with local hospitals to improve the overall operational efficiency of the network. The 2017 PHNs are based on Mesh Block (MB) 2016 boundaries.

Census data can be used with PHNs only in TableBuilder.

See Department of Health – Primary Health Networks for more information.

Natural Resource Management Regions (NRMR)

Natural Resource Management Regions (NRMRs) are based on catchments or bioregions. The Australian government, in association with state and territory governments, has identified 56 regions covering all of Australia. They are used to administer and report on aspects of environmental policy including sustainable farming and biodiversity.

Census data can be used with NRMRs only in TableBuilder.

See National Landcare Program for more information.

Empowered Communities (EMPC)

Empowered Communities (EMPCs) is an Indigenous led transformational reform agenda and governance framework that aims to empower communities by empowering people. It spans ten regions across urban, regional and remote Australia but does not cover the whole of Australia.

Census data can be used with EMPCs only in TableBuilder.

See Empowered Communities for more information.

Place of Enumeration, Place of Usual Residence, Place of Work

There are three types of population counts released by the Census of Population and Housing. These population counts are based on:

  • Place of enumeration – where a person was on Census night
  • Place of usual residence – where a person usually lives
  • Place of work – where a person usually works

See more information on Place of enumeration vs Place of usual residence and Place of work.

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