MAF flies census forms to Australia’s remotest communities

Published: 16 Aug 2021

Boxes of census forms destined for Australia’s remotest communities

Every five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics carries out their census. We complete forms via the postal service or online, but what if you live in one of the remotest places on earth where roads are unusable and internet connection is poor? This summer, MAF reached Australia’s most isolated communities - some were counted for the first time…

Earlier this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics carried out its eighteenth census.

A census is one of the most important statistical tools which governments use to collect data about their populations.

Such information informs authorities about their country’s wealth, health, diverse cultures and beliefs. This vital data guides decision-making around funding and how best to provide services for each community.

Historically, the Aboriginal populations of Australia’s remote north have been undercounted. These small communities are very difficult to reach and often don’t have any form of reliable communication. Some live on islands.

Road travel for the Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land is hugely challenging, particularly during the six-month wet season when roads become impassable. Even when the wet season has passed, roads can be damaged or destroyed by heavy rain.    

For these communities, often the only way to reach them is by air.

Australia’s latest census is more inclusive of hard-to-reach indigenous people

MAF reaches the hard-to-reach

This year – in a bid to carry out a more inclusive census - the Australian Bureau of Statistics called on MAF to help them survey their remotest territories and deliver census forms to previously excluded indigenous communities.

‘It is particularly important that the census gathers information about small and remote communities around Australia.

In Arnhem Land there are communities which are difficult to access and have no reliable communications. Sometimes the only way to get the right data is to fly in and ensure their information is captured.’

John Pini, Australian Bureau of Statistics

MAF pilot Phil Techand flew staff from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to survey remote areas






In the first instance, MAF pilot Phil Techand flew staff from the Australian Bureau of Statistics over several areas to investigate what communities were living where.





Phil’s destinations included Howard Island in East Arnhem Land, which is home to the Langarra community, and Mooroongga Island – one of the Crocodile Islands off the coast of Arnhem Land - which is home to the Yan-nhaŋu community. 

Aerial view of Milingimbi Island in East Arnhem Land

MAF pilot Anton Zhang then distributed boxes of census forms to a number of remote locations including Milingimbi Island – another Crocodile Island – and flew them back to base once they were completed.

MAF pilot Anton Zhang distributed and collected census forms from Australia’s remotest communities

Thanks to MAF’s support, Australia’s latest census will provide a more accurate picture of their indigenous populations.