04 August 2011

Census 9th August 2011. 100 years of Commonwealth Census collection.

Since 1961 in Australia, the census has been a regular event every fifth year. Prior to this census, information was collected on a national scale in 1901, 1911, 1921, 1933, 1947, and 1954. The census provides the critical information needed to run our democracy. It is used to select electoral boundaries, to identify necessary infrastructure, and fund community programs. August 9th 2011, has been chosen as the date for our 16th Australian census.

The first collections of population data in Australia were the musters, which involved all members of the European community and were collected from 1788. From 1795, convict musters were conducted annually. The purpose of these early musters was to ensure sufficient supplies and rationing of food, clothing and goods. Each colony conducted its own census throughout the nineteenth century, with the first national census taking place in 1901. Although this Federation census was conducted on a national basis there were some differences between the states in the interpretation and presentation of data. This confusion led to the formation of the Census Act of 1905, and the first census conducted under this Commonwealth Act took place in 1911.  It was conducted by the Australian Statistician, whose role was to ensure consistency in the census methods, and between data collected from each state, and to protect the confidentiality of information gathered.

There were exceptions to the 10 year ruling. The 1931 census was postponed until 1933 due to the Great Depression. The 1941 census was postponed until 1947 due to the second world war. The 1951 census was postponed until 1954, to give sufficient interval from the previous census.  The actual date of each census is determined by when the censor decides it is likely the most people will be at their permanent residence and varies with each collection. 

Census information is a marvellous source for historians and genealogists, so when you fill out your forms on census night please consider future generations and allow your information to be accessed after 99 years. If you choose not to release this information it will be lost forever, as names are destroyed after data is collected, unless you agree to preserve your history.

"In 2011 people will again have the option to have their name-identified information retained and released after 99 years. In order to ensure that the current high levels of public confidence and cooperation in the Census are maintained, and to respect the wishes of those who do not want their information retained for future release, information will only be kept for those persons who explicitly consent." -Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Australian Bureau of Statistics,
How to Find Historical Census Information,