Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the Indigenous peoples of Australia. They comprise hundreds of groups, each with its own distinct language, history and cultural traditions.

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

Indigenous population

In 2016, an estimated 798,400 Australians identified as Indigenous (3.3% of the total Australian population) (ABS 2019a). Among the Indigenous Australian population in 2016:

  • 91% identified as being of Aboriginal origin
  • 4.8% identified as being of Torres Strait Islander origin
  • 4.0% were of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin (ABS 2018b).

Using estimated resident population (ERP) projections based on the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, it is projected that in 2020 around 864,200 people will identify as Indigenous Australians (ABS 2019a).

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 be required.

Age distribution

The Indigenous Australian population has a relatively young age structure compared to non-Indigenous Australians (Figure 1). In 2020, a projected 33% of Indigenous Australians are aged under 15 (compared with 18% of non-Indigenous Australians), and only 5.2% of Indigenous Australians aged 65 and over (compared with 16% of non-Indigenous Australians) (ABS 2018a, 2019a).
 

The figure shows that a much larger proportion of the Indigenous population is in the younger age groups—with 11.2% of Indigenous Australians being 0–4, compared to 6.2% of non-Indigenous Australians. A higher proportion of non-Indigenous Australians are in the older age groups—with 0.2% of Indigenous Australians being aged 85+, compared to 2.1% of non-Indigenous Australians.

Geographic distribution

Indigenous Australians live in all parts of the nation, from cities to remote tropical and desert areas. However, overall Indigenous Australians are more likely to live in urban and regional areas than remote areas.

Figure 2 presents the distribution of Indigenous Australians at 30 June 2016 (as low-level spatial projections are not available for 2020).
 

The figure shows that the majority of Indigenous Australians live on (or near to) the East coast of Australia. The Indigenous region with the most Indigenous Australians is NSW Central and North Coast, with a population of 85,169 Indigenous Autralians.

Based on projections by the ABS using the 2016 Census (ABS 2019a), it is estimated that in 2020, among Indigenous Australians:

  • 38% (329,100 people) live in Major cities
  • 44% (381,300) live in Inner and outer regional areas
  • 18% (153,700) live in Remote and very remote areas combined (ABS 2019a).

Across Australia, the Northern Territory has the highest proportion of Indigenous residents among its population—an estimated 31% (78,600 people) in 2020 (Figure 3) (ABS 2018; 2019a).

In 2020, an estimated 33% of Indigenous Australians (286,600 people) live in New South Wales and 28% (241,100) in Queensland (Figure 3).
 

The figure shows that the majority (34.2%) of Indigenous Australians live in New South Wales, followed by Queensland (25.6%) and Western Australia (13.0%). The Australian Capital Territory has the smallest proportion of Australia’s Indigenous population (1.0%).

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Language and culture

Indigenous communities pass on knowledge, tradition, ceremony and culture from one generation to the next through language, performance, protection of significant sites, storytelling and the teachings of Elders. Cultural factors such as connection to community, land and spirituality are important for the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2013).

In the 2016 Census, 1 in 10 (9.8%) Indigenous people reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home, with over 150 different Indigenous languages being spoken (ABS 2019b). The most common Indigenous language spoken at home was Kriol (11%), followed by Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) (9.4%) and Djambarrpuyngu (6.7%) (ABS 2019b).

Data from the 2018–19 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey show that Indigenous Australians have strong connections to their family, community and culture.

Figure 4 shows that in 2018–19, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over:

  • 74% (357,600 people) recognised an area as a homeland/traditional country—this was 89% in Remote areas compared with 70% in Non-remote areas.
    • Of these, 37% (130,700 people) lived on their homeland—this was 52% in Remote areas compared with 32% in Non-remote areas.
  • 65% (314,300 people) identified with a clan or language group—this was 85% in Remote areas compared with 60% in Non-remote areas (ABS 2019c).
     

The figure show that, across all measures, the proportion of Indigenous Australians who are connected to their culture is higher in remote areas.

Education and economic participation

The circumstances in which people live, as well as their employment and education levels, tend to influence health, with health outcomes improving with increased education and employment (Crawford & Biddle 2017).

Based on self-reported survey data, outcomes for Indigenous Australians have improved across a number of areas between 2012–13 and 2018–19:

  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 who are not employed decreased from 22% to 19%.
  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 who completed at least Year 12 or equivalent or Certificate II or above, increased from 59% to 66% (Productivity Commission 2019).

In addition, the proportion of Indigenous households that were home owners increased from 34% in 2006 to 38% in 2016 (AIHW 2019).

See Social determinants and Indigenous health for more detailed information.

Indigenous welfare and wellbeing

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?

For more information on profile of Indigenous Australians, see:

Visit Indigenous Australians for more on this topic.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018b. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2016. ABS cat. no. 3238.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018a. Population projections, Australia, 2017 (base)—2066. ABS cat. no. 3222.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019a. Estimates and projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006 to 2031. ABS cat. no. 3238.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019b. Census of Population and Housing: characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2076.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019c. Microdata: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, 2018–19. ABS cat. no. 4715.0. Findings based on use of Confidentialised Unit Record File analysis. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2013. Strategies and practices for promoting the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Cat. no. IHW 82. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019. Australia’s welfare 2019: in brief. Cat. no. AUS 227. Canberra: AIHW.

Crawford H and Biddle N 2017. Changing associations of selected social determinants with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. Canberra: Australian National University.

Productivity Commission 2019. National Indigenous Reform Agreement Performance Data. Canberra: Productivity Commission.