Our Languages Matter – ABS Data

6 Jul 2017: In acknowledgement of the 2017 NAIDOC Week theme, Our Languages Matter, The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) this week released more detailed information about the use and diversity of Indigenous languages as gleaned from the 2016 Census.

The results of the 2016 Census of Population and Housing show that 63,800, or one in 10, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speak an Indigenous language at home. Of this group 85 per cent also reported speaking English’ very well.’

There were more than 170 Indigenous languages and language families reported on the Census, of which 69 have 100 or more speakers.

The most widely spoken language is Kriol with almost 7,200 speakers. This language is most common in the Northern Territory near Katherine (4,400 speakers) and in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia (2,400 speakers).   

The second most common Indigenous language is Yumplatoko (Torres Strait Island Creole), with 6,200 speakers, most of whom (5,900) reside in North East Queensland.

Indigenous languages are more common outside the greater capital city areas, with 93 per cent of people who speak an Indigenous language at home living outside the state and territory capitals.

Overall, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who speak an Indigenous language, 14.3 per cent live outside the greater capital city areas, compared to just 1.9 per cent who live in state and territory capitals.  

Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory is where you’ll find the highest concentration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who speak an Indigenous language (91%), followed by Jabiru-Tiwi (NT) with 85 per cent, and Apatula (NT) and Torres Strait (QLD) with 78 per cent.

The ABS also uses data from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), which is separate to the Census, to glean information on cultural identification.

The most recent NATSISS in 2014-15 showed that approximately six in 10 (62 per cent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over identified with a clan, tribal or language group.  

It also found almost that 63 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over, and 75 per cent of children aged four to 14 years, had participated in selected cultural events, ceremonies or organisations in the previous 12 months, showing a strong cultural engagement among young Indigenous Australians.

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