Australia's indigenous population (Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples) at the time of European colonisation
has been estimated at between 300,000 and one million people.
In the years following colonisation, the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander population declined dramatically under the
impact of new diseases, repressive and often brutal treatment,
dispossession, and social and cultural disruption and disintegration.
Such data as is available suggests that the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander population had declined to around 60,000
by the 1920s.
Counts and estimates of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander populations have been attempted at every national
census since 1901. The figures were not included, however,
in the official count of the Australian population until the
1971 Census, following the repeal in 1967 of the Commonwealth
Constitution which required Aboriginal people to be excluded
from population counts. Until 1966, Aboriginal people who
lived beyond settled areas were not counted but estimates
of their numbers were provided by authorities responsible
for Aboriginal welfare
Indigenous population since 1971
Every five years Australia holds a census of the entire population.
These census data are the main source of information about
Australia's indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander)
population. Indigenous Australians have been fully included
in results for every census since 1971, providing a rich historical
record of changes to this population group.
Census figures for the indigenous population of Australia
since 1971 are given in the following table (source: Australian
Bureau of Statistics):
386 000 (est)
Care is required in making any comparison over time. It is
believed that most of the increase in numbers reflects a growing
willingness or people to identify themselves as Aboriginal
or Torres Strait Islander people.
Census data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations
are based on self-identification. This means that: the person
is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent, that he
or she identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander,
and that he or she is recognised as an Aboriginal or Torres
Strait Islander within the community in which they live.
The estimated resident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
population as at 30 June 1996 was 386,000. The average annual
growth rate of 2.3% for the Indigenous population of Australia
for the period 1991 to 1996 was nearly twice the rate for
the total population (1.2%)
Over half of the Indigenous population resided in New South
Wales (28.5%) and Queensland (27.2%) and just over a quarter
in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people comprised 28.5% of the population
of the Northern Territory, the highest proportion of any State
Approximarely 32% of the indigenous poulation live in rural
and remote areas (compared to 14% of the total population),
particularly across northern and central Australia, while
about 27% live in major urban centres.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, with
a median age of 20 years, is younger than the total population
by 14 years. Current life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people is 57 years for males and 62 years
for females, nearly 20 years less than for the total Australian