Indigenous Settlements of Australia

Australia: State of the Environment Second Technical Paper Series (Human Settlements), Series 2
Dr Paul Memmott and Mark Moran
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 642 54790 4

The Distribution of the Indigenous Population

The Indigenous demography and settlement patterns of contemporary Australia remain unique and different to those of the mainstream society in Australia. Indigenous people are more likely to live in rural and remote areas than non-indigenous people and less likely to live in major urban centres. Nevertheless, the majority of Indigenous people live in coastal and metropolitan areas.

"In August 1996, 30% of Indigenous people lived in major urban centres with a population of 100,000 or more, while 42% lived in smaller urban centres with a population between 1,000 and 100,000. The remainder lived in bounded localities with a population between 200 and 999 (11%) or the rural balance (17%). The non-indigenous population was less widely dispersed, with 63% living in major urban centres." (ABS 1996:12, Cat. No. 2032.0.)

This census finding is set out in Table 1.

Table 1: Comparative distribution of Indigenous and non-indigenous population

Size of population centre or rural locality

Indigenous

Non-Indigenous

Major urban centres with a population greater than 100,000

30%

63%

Other urban centres with a population between 1000 and 100,000

42%

23%

Rural and remote areas with populations less than 1000

28%

14%

Table 1 is based on the "Section of State" classification adopted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The following Table 2 adopts more informative categories based on natural breaks in the data.

Total Population

Total Population

Indigenous Population

Indigenous Population
Table 2: Population Distribution of Australia by scale of human settlement, 1999

Total Population

Indigenous Population

Total population (2001)

Share of population (%)

(2001)

Indigenous population (1996)

Share of population (%)

(1996)

Big Cities1 (above 1 million)

11 517 061

60.73

93 635

26.53

Other cities (80 000 to 1 million)

2 600 720

13.71

49 722

14.09

Large regional/rural

(25 000 to 80 000)

1 281 895

6.76

31 403

8.90

Small regional/rural(10 000 to 25 000)

1 271 603

6.71

38 122

10.80

Other regional/rural

(less than 10 000)

1 825 789

9.63

38 125

10.80

Remote centres (above 5 000)

225 004

1.19

24 722

7.00

Other remote

328 779

1.73

77 208

21.88

Australia Total

18 963 615

100.00

352 937

100

¹Includes Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide
²Following Department of Primary Industry and Energy (1994)

Sources: Stimson et al 2000; data from ABS (2000) regional population growth, cat no. 3218.0; CData 96.

Patterns of the distribution of Indigenous people can be illustrated in different ways. Figure 1 illustrates the distribution of Indigenous population according to the "Urban Centre and Locality" classification adopted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Figure 2 illustrates the population distribution by ATSIC region by the percentage of Indigenous to Total population. Regions with the highest proportions of Indigenous people are in the remote areas of central and northern Australia. In 1996, three census regions which had significantly higher proportions of Indigenous people than any other regions in Australia were the Kimberley, Northern Territory (excluding Darwin), and North-West Queensland (ABS 1996:12, Cat. No. 2032.0).

 

Figure 1. Distribution and relative size of Indigenous population in Indigenous locations, rural towns and urban centres

Distribution and relative size of Indigenous population in Indigenous locations, rural towns and urban centres

Source: (based on "Urban Centre and Locality" classification of National Census) (ABS, CData 1996.)

 

Figure 2. Map of Australia showing geographic concentration of Indigenous people, by ATSIC region. ATSIC regions shaded in accordance with percentage of Indigenous population to total regional population.

Figure 2.	Map of Australia showing geographic concentration of Indigenous people, by ATSIC region. ATSIC regions shaded in accordance with percentage of Indigenous population to total regional population.

Source: ABS CData 1996