The Australian Bureau of Statistics has
set Tuesday 27 June 2017 as the date for the first official
release of 2016 Census data, with further releases to take place in
October, December, and continuing into 2018. Ahead of this date, it is timely
to recall the newly federated Australia’s first census in 1901.
While the Constitution gave the new Commonwealth Parliament the
power to legislate on matters relating to census and statistics (s. 51.xi), it
was not until 1905 that the Parliament enacted the Census and Statistics
Act. This Act established the office of Commonwealth Statistician and
provided for the Conduct of a Census in 1911 ‘and in every tenth year thereafter’
(s. 8) as well as the conduct of annual statistical collections (s. 16). (The
states maintained their own Statistical Officers, and only consolidated into a
single, Commonwealth agency in
the late 1950s). The first Official
Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia was produced by the Commonwealth
Bureau of Census and Statistics in 1908.
However, the first census conduced in the newly formed Commonwealth
of Australia was actually a series of censuses held simultaneously on 31 March
1901 by the statistical bureaux of each of the states. The
history of censuses in Australia can be traced back to the arrival of the First
Fleet, when musters were used, initially primarily to keep track of convict
labours but later extended to all settlers. The first NSW census was conducted
in 1828, with Tasmania following in 1841, South Australia in 1844, Western
Australia in 1848, and Victoria (which separated from NSW in 1851), in 1854.
Attempts to coordinate the date and content of the censuses between the
colonies began in the early 1860’s. In 1881, ‘the
first simultaneous census of the British Empire covering the United Kingdom,
India and the Crown Settlements (including Australia) was taken,’ producing
the first colonial population figures for the same day. ‘The
1891 census was coordinated across the Australian colonies, not only with a
common day and an agreed core schedule but also with a common occupation
classification for the first time.’ This work was led by regular
Conferences of Statisticians from each of the colonies.
In anticipation of Federation, a conference of the
Statisticians of Australia and New Zealand was convened in Sydney in February
and March 1900 to discuss uniformity in the collection and compilation of data
for the 1901 census, considering :
that uniformity is especially
desirable at the present time ... as there is every probability that the figures
obtained in the coming Census will ... be the basis of many important
arrangements in regard to finance and electoral representation.’ (1901
Conference of Statisticians Report, March 1901).
The conference agreed a uniform census schedule including:
name; sex; age; conjugal condition; relation to head of household; occupation;
sickness and infirmity; birthplace; length of residence in colony; religion;
education; materials of houses and number of rooms. Unfortunately, while:
the date, the form, the questions and the occupation
classification were all standardised, unfortunately the results were not. The
difficulty was in variations in tabular presentations such as calculations of
groupings and subtle differences in who was included and excluded in the
population. For example, while some states chose to exclude Aboriginal people
in their tables, others included this population. As this was in the time
before computers and even before mechanical tabulation, the tables could not
simply be rerun in each state to make them comparable. Further, a complete
picture of the nation had to wait until all states had tabulated and published their
data and some states were much more timely than others. Australian Bureau of Statstics, ‘Colonial censuses and musters’)
Australian profiles released by the ABS in April 2017 shows a very
different Australian population to that of Federation Census.
The 1901 census counted 3,773,801 people across Australia
(1,977,928 males and 1,795,873 females).
The median age was 22 years, with some 35% of the population being under 15. Only
4% of the population was aged 65 and upwards (p. 144). (Year Book No. 1
identified major causes of death across the population in the early 1900s as
including tuberculosis, meningitis, pneumonia, ‘senile debility’ and violence
(p. 208). It also showed that deaths among young children and infants (0-4
years) accounted for more than 25% of all deaths: the rate of
infantile morality (within the first year of life) was particularly high at
103.61 per thousand live births registered in 1901 (p.202).)
Seventy-seven per cent of people were Australian born. Of
those born overseas, the most (a shade over 18%) come from the United Kingdom.
Indeed, the first statistical Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia terms
the population ‘fundamentally British’ and concludes that ‘the Australian at
present is little other than a transplanted Briton’ (p. 145).
Forty-six per cent of people reported being married and only
Eighty per cent of respondents reported that they could both
read and write (p. 748); 3,626,449 were classified as Christian (with Church of
England and Roman Catholic being the largest denominations (p.174).
In regard to occupation, the
census recorded 111,134 people whose occupation was classed as professional
(2.9%), 201,036 as domestic (5.3%), 222,658 as commercial (5.9%), 122,159 as transport
and communication (3.2%), 426,166 as industrial (11.3%), 533,107 (14.1%) as primary
producers (p. 171). The
mean annual income per inhabitant was £46.
Unless otherwise specified, all data is taken from Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Official
Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 1, Containing Authoritative
Statistics for the Period 1901-1907, Commonwealth Statistician,
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Mortality over the twentieth
Century in Australia: Trends and patters in major causes of Death,
Canberra, 2006, p. xxvii.