Blankets, brass tags and bungalows: the role of population data systems in historical aboriginal affairs in Northern Territory, Australia

Ellen Percy Kraly, Colgate University

This paper documents the role of population data systems in Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory in early Commonwealth Australia that encompassed population control and cultural genocide of Indigenous communities. The paper contributes to discussion of the ethics of demographic data collection and analysis. Drawing largely from government archives, results reveal how ‘special censuses’ were used in Aboriginal affairs in Northern Territory for population control and regulation and also identification of Aboriginal children for forced removal to government schools. Efforts to statistically monitor the Aboriginal population were largely through the auspices of the Police. Patrol Officers made regular visits to pastoral stations and recorded names and characteristics of local Aboriginal persons. The paper concludes with perspectives on the role of population data in Australian policies toward Indigenous peoples. Also underscored is the relevance of these historical results for contemporary discussions of demography, population data, and human rights.

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Presented in Session 74: Demography, human rights and ethics