Census data provides the most comprehensive snapshot of Australian society due to its almost complete coverage, both demographically and geographically. As a result, changes to our communities can be measured and mapped, showing which segments of society, and in which areas, have experienced changes both rapid and gradual. Key to measuring the tempo and extent of these changes is the ability of social researchers to access comprehensive and authoritative historical census data over long periods. As it currently stands, researchers at present are only able to freely access census data that is spatially enabled (‘georeferenced’) from the 2006, 2011 and 2016 Censuses via the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ TableBuilder data retrieval system. Additionally, some of the 2001 census data is also available through the AURIN (Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network) portal. This means that as it currently stands, social and demographic researchers are only able to map four different snapshots in time, from the last 15 years, of social change in Australia.
As a component of the Humanities and Social Science Data Enhanced Virtual Laboratory (HASS-DEVL), AURIN is partnering with the Australian Data Archives (ADA) to bring census data from the 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996 censuses online via the AURIN portal and AURIN APIs, for free and open use by the Australian research community. These datasets will be spatially enabled, meaning that social and demographic changes across Australia will be able to be mapped and analysed, providing a rich back data playground for understanding and contextualising shifts across the country for the last 35 years.