Australia was first inhabited by the Aboriginal people. As the original inhabitants of the country, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a distinctive place in Australia. It is estimated that the indigenous people first populated the southern continent over 65,000 years ago and immigrated through Southeast Asia from Africa.24
At the time of the British colonization, there were an estimated 1.25 million individuals from the indigenous community.25 The outbreak of smallpox at the time became the principle cause of the population decline of this community. The appropriation of land and water resources by the incoming colonizers added to their further decline. Despite the effects of disease, the spread of foreign settlement and customs, the indigenous community managed to survive well into the twentieth century. By the end of 1965, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were granted the same rights as non-indigenous Australians to vote in Australia’s
federal elections. Notably, a referendum for indigenous rights, passed in 1967, accounted for the inclusion of all indigenous Australians in the Commonwealth Parliament’s power to legislate special laws for specific races and for electoral representation.
The Australian Government has taken several initiatives to secure the fundamental right of the Aboriginal people to retain their racial identities and lifestyles. In 1980, the Aboriginal Development Commission was established to promote the economic self-sufficiency of the aboriginal community.26 This Commission assisted the community with land ownership, facilitation of business enterprises, seeking finance for housing and other personal needs. Increasingly, Governmental and non-Governmental organizations including land councils, community support groups, child care agencies, medical services, etc. have also extended their support to the indigenous community.
According to the 2016 census, the indigenous people comprised 2.8% of the total Australian population (~0.65 million individuals).27 Of those identified as indigenous, ~90% were of Aboriginal origin, 5% of Torres Strait origin and 4% of both descents.28 New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Victoria had the highest population for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Since 2011, the healthcare and social assistance industry has been the primary source of employment of the Aboriginal and Torres Islander people.
24 The spread of people to Australia, Australian Museum, 2019
25 Aboriginal Australians, National Geographic, 2019
26 Changing Policies Towards Aboriginal People
27 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2071.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016
28 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population, ABS, 2016