THE EARLIEST CENSUS OR "MUSTER" IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA WAS IN 1841 when the colony’s European population was counted at 14,610. The Aboriginal population in the South Australian tribal areas had been estimated at 15,000 in 1788 but had already dropped before colonisation because of contract with Europeans from the east coast.
The original returns or forms filled in by residents from the 1841 census have survived, unlike those that followed censuses every five years from 1851 to 1881. The census in 1881 was the first one taken at the same time as rest of Australia, This happened again in 1891 and from 1911 in national Australian census counts.
Adding to the census statistics, data on South Australian births and deaths, collected by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, go back to 1846. Data on international migration to and from South Australia also extends to the colony’s early years.
The data shows the rate of fertility in South Australia has been lower than other colonies/states. The flow of migration matches the prosperous and bad times. Interstate migration has significantly affected the state’s population growth.
Census data confirms South Australia’s demographic profile in the 21st Century as the oldest of all Australia’s states and territories, with a median age of around 37 and 14.5% of the population over 65.
But, counter to the idea that Adelaide is increasingly dominant, from the 1970s the capital’s city share of the state’s population has tended to level off at just under 75%.