The statistical information contained in Origins has been provided by the Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which is responsible for the collection of census data.
What is a census?
A census is the official counting of the size and characteristics of the population,
for social analysis and government planning. A census was first conducted in Victoria
in 1854 and the first national census was taken in 1911. Since 1961, a census has
been taken every five years. Aboriginal people were not officially included in the
national census until 1971. Each census varies slightly in the characteristics it
measures, which can make comparisons between censuses quite complicated.
What information is gathered in a census?
The content of censuses has varied over the years. In addition to total population
numbers, some basic categories, such as ‘gender’, have always been included.
Others such as ‘religion’, ‘occupation’ and ‘language
spoken’ have been included less frequently, depending on the perceived importance
of the topic at the time.
Details on country of birth have also varied between censuses. The fact that a country
did not have a separate listing does not mean that people were not immigrating from
that country. For example, prior to the 1976 Census, separate figures were not available
for Cambodia as it was grouped with Laos and Vietnam .
How often is a census taken?
Since 1961, Australia has had a census every five years. Before this, censuses were
less regular, but they occurred at least once a decade.
Who uses the census information?
Census information is used to support the planning, administration and policy development
of governments, business and other users. It is available to the general public.
Has the census always included the Aboriginal population?
The census has not always reflected a true picture of the Australian population.
Prior to the establishment of Aboriginal reserves in the 1860s, Victorian censuses
counted only some Aboriginal people, usually excluding those who were not permanently
settled. After the 1860s, most Aboriginal people were living on reserves and were
included in census counts.
As a result of legislation passed in 1901, the official census count only included
Aboriginal people if they had some European ancestry. So called ‘full-blooded’
Aboriginal people were excluded. From the 1971 Census onwards, all Australians (apart
from some residing overseas) have been officially included in the national census.
For further information, refer to the ABS website at