Indigenous peoples in Australia

Indigenous peoples hold a long and complex connection with the Australian landscape, including marine and coastal areas. Some estimates maintain that this relationship has endured for at least 40,000 years. At colonisation in 1788, there may have been up to 1.5 million people in Australia.

In June 2011, Indigenous peoples, the Aboriginals, were estimated to make up 3.0% of the Australian population, or 670,000 individuals.  


Throughout their history, Aboriginal peoples have lived in all parts of Australia. Today the majority live in regional centres (43%) or cities (32%), although some still live on traditional lands.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Corrective Services report recently noted that the number of Aboriginal men in prison had risen by 8% and women by 12% in the past year, compared to a national prison population increase of 6%.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples now comprise 30% of the prison population.


Despite recent minor improvements, the health status of Indigenous Australians remains significantly below that of other Australians.

Rates of infant mortality among Indigenous Australians remain unacceptably high at 10-15%, and life expectancy for Indigenous Australians (59 for males and 65 for females) is 17 years less than that of others.

Recent suicide figures report 105 deaths per 100,000, for Indigenous males between the ages of 25 to 34 years, as compared to 22 deaths per 100,000 for their non-Aboriginal counterparts.  

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there were 996 suicides reported across Australia between 2001 and 2010 among Indigenous peoples. 1.6% of all Australians die by suicide but, for Aboriginal peoples, this rate is more than 4.2%, or one in every 24 Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders. 


The 1975 Racial Discrimination Act has proved a key law for Aborigines but was overridden without demur by the Howard government in 2007 when introducing the Northern Territory Emergency Intervention (see The Indigenous World, 2008).

States and Territories also have legislative power on rights issues, including Indigenous rights, where they choose to use them and where these do not conflict with national laws.

Australia has not ratified ILO Convention 169 but, although it voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, it went on to endorse it in 2009.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Australia to learn about major developments and events during 2015.