Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the Indigenous peoples of Australia. They are not one group, but rather comprise hundreds of groups that have their own distinct set of languages, histories and cultural traditions.

This page provides demographic information on the Indigenous population, as well as information on its languages and cultures.

Indigenous population

In 2016, an estimated 798,365 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were in Australia, representing 3.3% of the total Australian population (ABS 2018b). The Indigenous population is projected to reach about 1.1 million people by 2031 (ABS 2019).

Among the Indigenous population in 2016:

  • 91% identified as being of Aboriginal origin (an estimated 727,485 people)
  • 5% identified as being of Torres Strait Islander origin (38,660)
  • 4% were of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin (32,220) (ABS 2018b).

Indigenous identification

The Australian Government defines Indigenous Australians as people who: are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent; identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin; and are accepted as such in the communities in which they live or have lived.

In most data collections, a person is considered to be Indigenous if they identified themselves, or were identified by another household member, as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. For a few data collections, information on acceptance of a person as being Indigenous by an Indigenous community may also be required.

Age distribution

The Indigenous population has a relatively young age structure. In 2016, the median age was 23.0 years, compared with 37.8 for non-Indigenous Australians (ABS 2018b).

Among Indigenous Australians, 34% were aged under 15 (compared with 18% for non-Indigenous Australians) and 4% were aged 65 and over (compared with 16% for non-Indigenous Australians) (Figure 1).

This figure shows the age-structure of the population by Indigenous status in 2016. The proportions of the Indigenous population who were aged 0–4, 5–9, 10–14, 15–19, 20–24 and 25–29 were higher than the corresponding proportions for the non-Indigenous population. For example, 11.8% of the Indigenous population were aged 0–4 compared with 6.3% of the non-Indigenous population. In contrast, people in the age groups from 30–34 to 85 and over, made up higher proportions of the non-Indigenous population than the Indigenous population. For example, 2.1% of non-Indigenous Australians were aged 85 and over, compared with 0.2% of Indigenous Australians.

Geographic distribution

Indigenous Australians are more likely to live in urban and regional areas than remote areas. Of the Indigenous population at 30 June 2016:

  • about 4 in 5 (81%, or about 649,600 people) lived in Major cities, Inner regional or Outer regional areas
  • about 1 in 5 (19%, or about 148,700 people) lived in Remote or Very remote areas (ABS 2018b).

The relative geographic distribution of the Indigenous population differs to that of the non-Indigenous population. At 30 June 2016:

  • nearly all non-Indigenous Australians (98%) lived in non-remote areas (compared with 81% of Indigenous Australians), with 1.5% living in Remote or Very remote areas (compared with 19% of Indigenous Australians)
  • the percentage of the total Australian population who were Indigenous was higher in more remote areas—in Remote areas, 18% of the population were Indigenous, as were nearly half (47%) of the population in Very remote areas. In comparison, in non-remote areas, 2.7% of the population were Indigenous (ABS 2018b).

Figure 2 shows the distribution of the Indigenous population by remoteness area, as well as by Indigenous Region (IREG; see glossary. IREGs are another geographic classification).

This figure shows the distribution of the Indigenous population in 2016 by remoteness area, as well as by Indigenous Regions. Data by both geographic classifications indicate that the Indigenous population is more heavily concentrated along the eastern seaboard than other areas of Australia. Across remoteness area, the areas where the largest numbers of Indigenous Australians lived were Major cities of NSW (where 123,099 Indigenous Australians lived) and Inner regional NSW (where 91,518 Indigenous Australians lived). Across Indigenous regions, the areas with the largest numbers of Indigenous Australians were NSW Central and North Coast (85,169 Indigenous Australians), Brisbane (84,454) and Sydney –Wollongong (81,685).

Culture and language

Culture is seen as central to the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians (SCRGSP 2018). Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, in 2014–15, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over:

  • 74% (328,600 people) recognised an area as homelands or traditional country—this was 89% in remote areas compared with 70% in non-remote areas
  • 62% (276,300) identified with a clan, tribal or language group—79% in remote areas compared with 58% in non-remote areas.
  • 63% (277,700) had been involved in selected cultural events, ceremonies or organisations in the last 12 months—82% in remote areas compared with 57% in non-remote areas (ABS 2016b).

Indigenous languages play an important role in maintaining and passing on cultural knowledge and practices and contributing to a stronger sense of identity and belonging (SCRGSP 2018). On Census night in 2016, about 150 Australian Indigenous languages were spoken in Australian homes (ABS 2017).

In 2014–15, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over:

  • 18% (81,100 people) spoke an Australian Indigenous language and another 20% spoke some words of an Indigenous language (88,500 people)
  • the proportion who spoke an Indigenous language was higher in remote than in non-remote areas—55% compared with 8% respectively (excluding those who only spoke some words)
  • 11% (46,700 people) spoke an Australian Indigenous language as their main language at home (ABS 2016b).

Additional information on Indigenous Australians and their wellbeing is reported in Australia’s welfare snapshots, including an overview of these topics:

Where do I go for more information?

See Indigenous Australians for more information.

Population estimates of the Indigenous population based on the 2016 Census are available from the ABS: Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2016.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016a. Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 2—Indigenous Structure, July 2016. ABS cat. no. 1270.0.55.002. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 October 2018.

ABS 2016b. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014–15. ABS cat. no. 4714.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 October 2018.

ABS 2017. Census of Population and Housing: reflecting Australia—stories from the Census, 2016. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2071.0. Canberra: ABS.Viewed 17 April 2019.

ABS 2018a. Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5—Remoteness Structure, July 2016. ABS cat. no. 1270.0.55.005. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 October 2018,

ABS 2018b. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2016. ABS cat. no. 3238.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 October 2018.

ABS 2019. Estimates and projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006 to 2031;. ABS cat. no. 3238.0. Canberra: ABS. [Series B projections]. Viewed 24 July 2019.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2018. Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage 2016. Key indicators 2016. Canberra: Productivity Commission.