Where do Queensland’s Indigenous people live?

Alan E Dugdale
Med J Aust 2008; 188 (10): 614. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2008.tb01805.x
Published online: 19 May 2008

To the Editor: Recent media reports1 of events in Aurukun, Palm Island and other Indigenous communities in Queensland may have left the impression that most Indigenous people in the state live short, violent lives in remote, dysfunctional communities. However, census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) contradict one aspect of this impression: in fact, few Indigenous people live in remote communities, with the majority widely spread through the general population (Box).

Over the past 10 years, the Indigenous population of Queensland has increased by 33.7% (Box). However, the number of people living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council areas was almost stationary, dropping from 17 855 in 1996 to 17 739 in 2006, and the proportion of Indigenous people living in these areas decreased from 18.7% to 13.9% over the 10 years.

The other six out of seven Indigenous people lived in the general community (Box). Twenty-four per cent lived in Brisbane city; suburb-by-suburb analysis showed most lived in less affluent areas of Brisbane but, even in these, the percentage of Indigenous people was only 1%–8% in each area. There are no major ghettos.

In 2006, 32.4% of Indigenous people lived in south-east Queensland (classified as the “Brisbane Indigenous Region” by the ABS, Box); there is no land council area in this region. On North Stradbroke Island, a group of 366 Indigenous people living in the general community comprised 18% of the local population, but in all other locations the percentage of Indigenous people was well under 10%.

Indigenous Australians have also moved to other cities in Queensland. In 1996, 42 571 Indigenous people (44.6% of the state’s Indigenous population) lived in a major city (Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville or Cairns). By 2006, 61 672 Indigenous people lived in these cities. This is below the 67.1% for all Queenslanders, but is still nearly half (48.3%) of the Queensland Indigenous population.

In the 1996, 2001 and 2006 ABS censuses, an Indigenous person was defined as someone who had ticked one of three boxes on the ABS census form stating that he or she is Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or both. All censuses have problems with accuracy of the data submitted and missing returns;2 however, as the results presented here were determined using the same methodology, show linear trends across the datasets, and identify only broad trends, I believe they are robust.

Much of the increase in the Indigenous population is probably due to the higher birth rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (26.4/1000 v 12.9/1000 in the overall Queensland population).4 However, “migration” — people reclassifying themselves as Indigenous — may also contribute.

These census data show that, as with other Australians, there is a net movement of Aboriginal people from rural to urban areas. Anecdotally, many people move from Indigenous communities and other rural areas to relatives in “town”; some stay for only a short time, but others remain in the city. This move is sometimes to the rural or urban fringe, but more often is into a stable integrated family group. Most Indigenous people in Queensland are widely spread through the general population.

  • Alan E Dugdale

  • Department of Paediatric and Child Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD.



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