When The Census Comes To Town

Ever wondered the history of the census…. yes? Well first a song

The census is run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Australia, commonly referred to as the ABS. Our next census night is August 10, not that far away. I may be in the minority, but I enjoy the census. Partly because of the song by Sammy J and Randy; also because I am a nerd for stats.

My first census experience was when I lived in a student residence, we all sat around the tables in the dinning room. Trying to all do it at once. It went as you would expect – the hamsters’ were run off their feet trying to keep the internet alive. 5 years ago, when I was current dwelling, I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have the site crash on them when everyone in Australia tried to do it.

Prior to 1905 there wasn’t concerned much with privacy. It was in this year that it authorised he ABS to collect, store, and share anonymised data. Historically, the ABS has destroyed census forms after roughly an 18 month period, that was until 2016 that it was upgraded to 4 years. For various reasons – this is annoying for historians and genealogists – who find resources in the details.

When the Federation of Australia occurred in 1901, the new Constitution contained a provision (section 127), which said: “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.” Amendments were made in 1967 in a referndum – deleting section 127. It is believed at the time of the referendum, and even today, that this section meant that aboriginal people were not counted. When in fact, it actually relates to to calculating the population of the states and territories for the purpose of allocating seats in Parliament and per capita Commonwealth grants. It was to stop Queensland and Western Australia from using their large aboriginal populations to gain extra seats and/or funds.

Thus the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics interpreted section 127 as meaning that they may enumerate “aboriginal natives” but that they must be excluded from published tabulations of population. Aboriginal people living in settled areas were counted to a greater or lesser extent in all censuses before 1967.

Census in Australia, Wikipedia

The first census was held in New South Wales, in November 1828. This was a British colony at the time. The results where that the white population was 36,598: 20,870 settlers and 15,728 convicts. 23.8% of the population were born in the colony and 24.5% were women. There were 25,248 Protestants and 11,236 Catholics. Indigenous Australian’s were not counted. Of the entire population 638 were living in what is now Queensland, while also 18,128 were in Tasmania.

At the time of Federation there were 3,773,801 people (1,977,928 males and 1,795,873 females), prior to 1901 – each colony was responsible for collecting its own census data. It was not until 1911 that a nationalised system was developed by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics.

1911 Australian Census

On Monday 3 April 1911, census collectors set out all over Australia under mostly clear skies to begin gathering in Australia’s first national census forms. They covered suburbs to rural towns and the outback. They travelled by bike or horse where they had the transport that was needed to cover large areas, however, most travelled by foot. Some in Northern Queensland had to find their way through a flooded landscape while others in South Australia had difficulties finding water and fodder for their horses due to droughts. They had distributed the forms prior to the census day.

Information care of Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census

There was a permanent staff of the ‘Bureau of Census and Statistics’ which consisted of the first Commonwealth Statistician, George Handley Knibbs; and assistants which included young men working as clerks and messenger boys. Finally there was a female typist that joined soon after. Their place of work was the old Rialto Building in Collins Street.

Collectors had to supply their own transport and cover any associated costs such as fodder and petrol. They were paid according to their method of transport. Collectors on foot were paid ten shilling a day, those on bicycle fifteens shillings a day and those on horse 20 shillings a day. Police were used in the days immediately following the census to get travellers, swagmen and campers to provide their information. Train conductors and ships’ captains were also used as collectors in the 1911 census and several subsequent censuses, to cover people travelling overnight on census night.

Information care of Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census

The Questions

“For Every Person present in the Night from 2 to 3 April 1911, or returning on 3rd April (if not included elsewhere).[8]

Caption by myself
  • Name in full (Underline Surname.)
  • Sex – {Write M for Male}, {Write F for Female}
  • Date of Birth: Day
  • If married, write M. If widowed, write W. If divorced, write D. If never married, write N. M.
  • Date of existing Marriage: Year……………..
  • Number of Children (living and dead) from existing Marriage …………………
    • (a) Number of Children: (living and dead) from previous Marriage ……………
  • Relation to Head of Household
  • State if Blind or Deaf and Dumb …………….
  • Country (or Australian State) where born
  • If a British subject by parentage. write P.
    • If a British subject by Naturalization. write N.
    • Race –
  • If born outside Commonwealth, state length of residence therein
    • (a) Date of Arrival in Commonwealth
  • Religion
  • Education
    • (a) At present receiving Education
  • Profession or Occupation
    (If engaged in more than one occupation. underline principal occupation.)
    • (a) State if Employer or Employee, &c
    • (b) If out of work, state period
    • (c) Occupation of Employer (if any).

2021 Census

In this years census there are 69 questions. I am not going to list them all here; however, I want to focus on some new changes that are in this years form. This year, there have been 3 major changes.

  1. Gender Identity
    Prior to this year, you have only been able to mark as your sex at birth – now, under gender identity – there is a third option of non-binary, followed by an option to write in specifically what label (if any) applies to you.

  2. Disability Status
    In the past, the only way of knowing whether someone may have a disability was if they require support. Though it is very important to note that the support may be because of the persons age NOT the fact that they have a disability. Now, question 28 asks the person to identify any long-term health conditions, and to mark all that apply. Out of the 12 conditions listed, I can tick off 5.

  3. Army Service
    The final change is question 53 which asks whether a person has served in the Australian Defense Force.

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