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Aboriginal LanguagesAustralia's Indigenous Population


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):

Census Year
115 953
160 915
159 897
227 645
265 492
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 or Territory.

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 population.


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