Australian Census [1981, 1986, 1991]

Australian Census 2011 demographic map – Australia by SLA. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Australian Census of Population and Housing is conducted every 5 years in Australia by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to document the population of Australia. The first census of Australia was conducted in 1911 and since 1961, the Census of Population and Housing has been conducted every five years. On census night, every person in Australia are enumerated at the dwelling in which they stayed on census night. From this enumeration, tabulations of census counts for people and dwellings are then generated for various geographic units generated by the ABS.

This collection includes the census tabulations for the 1981, 1986 and 1991 Census years, along with associated digital boundaries for the relevant geographic areas.


Detailed documentation for each census year, including tabulations, dictionaries and other materials, are available from the ABS Historical Census catalogue site. Documentation for each year is available from the ADA catalogue, with additional publications from each census year accessible through the ABS:

YearADA Dataverse ABS Historical Census Catalogue


The ABS also provides detailed information on the geographical structures used in the Census tabulations. For the 1986 and 1991 Censuses, this was based on the Australian Statistical Geographic Classification (ASGC). An overview of this classification is presented in Figure One.


Figure One: Australian Standard Geographical Classification (Source:!OpenElement&FieldElemFormat=gif).


The data is presented in the form of spreadsheets, where each row represents a geographic unit (such as a local government area, state or urban centre), and each column represents the a specific count of the population in that geographic area (such as males aged 85 and over). This format is referred to as a Census Summary File.

The Australian Data Archive have curated these files into common statistical formats (SPSS, SAS, Stata and CSV), and AURIN have then ingested the files into the AURIN portal for access through the AURIN workbench.

Languages Available


Formats available

The data is available in four formats, based on the most commonly used statistical software:

  • SPSS *.sav format
  • Stata *.dta format
  • SAS *.sas7bdat format
  • CSV format

Who Owns/Curates this Dataset?

The Commonwealth of Australia owns the copyright in all material produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The Australian Data Archive curates the statistical datasets and makes them available through the ADA Catalogue. These data are then ingested by the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network through the AURIN workbench. 

How is it Licenced?

The data is licensed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics under a CC-BY license.

What’s the citation?

Direct download of the citation for the data is available from the ADA Catalogue.