Introduction

Census information is useful for the study of historical and contemporary statistics and population trends.

Early censuses contain personal names, but for reasons of privacy, personal details from most censuses were destroyed after the statistical data was used; see Census and Statistics Act 1905, Part IV section 12 (1)

The option to have a return saved for posterity was introduced only in the 2001 census. From the Australian Bureau of Statistics website:

ABS will only pass personally identified information to the National Archives of Australia for secure storage for 99 years for those people who have expressly consented for ABS to do so as part of the Census Time Capsule.

Pre-Federation population counts

The first population counts held in colonial New South Wales were called musters, but excluded military personnel. See the Family History Sources guide for more information about what is available in the Library.

Printed and microfilmed musters can be found in the National Library, and online from Ancestry.com 

Another online resource is the Historical Census and Colonial Data Archive (HCCD), a searchable archive of Australian Colonial census publications and reports.

Colonial population counts may contain some personal names.

Commonwealth census reports 

The first Commonwealth census was taken in 1911; after that in 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954, 1961 and from then on, every five years.

Full reports of the censuses 1911 - 1971 and 1981 - 1991 can be found online at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The 1976 census results are in summary only on the ABS website, but are available on microfiche. See the case study below for advice on how to search the 1976 census.

Census results from 1996 onwards are on the ABS website in a searchable database.

Print and microform census reports for all dates in the National Library are listed in the 'Census resources' box at the top right of this page.

Case Study

Population count for 1976

I am working on a history of the former City of Sunshine to be published by the Sunshine & District Historical Society. Can you provide an item of information from census data relating to the City of Sunshine, State of Victoria, 1976? All I want at this stage is the total population, males and females.

There is some information on the 1976 Census on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website. However the downloads available here are summaries only, and do not give the full figures. 

Note that the ABS refers to Local Government Areas (LGA), geographical areas under the responsibility of an incorporated local government council. Population is counted for each LGA.

We will need to take a number of steps to find the records for the population of a specific town or city.

  • To find the LGA for the City of Sunshine we can use the Local Government Area Code List for 1976. The City of Sunshine was designated as LGA 177 for the 1976 Census. 

  • We then need to check the Census results, which are on microfiche and can be viewed in the Maps Reading Room.

    • The LGAs are listed at the bottom right corner of each microfiche, showing where we can find a particular LGA on each fiche. LGA 177 is located on fiche number 002, starting at frame K13.
    • The total population of Sunshine was 88,167, with 45,033 males and 43,134 females.
    • Other breakdowns of the population figures for Sunshine are given on the following eight fiche frames.

The 1976 census microform is also found in other libraries.