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How did you interpret the intent of Census Question 22 "Does the person ever need someone to help with, or be with them for, communication activities?" What's 'Australian' ancestry (C.Q.18)? As always, census forms raises concerns of interpreting the questions, and interpreting the answers to the questions, especially when the forms are being filled out by speakers of other languages.

Monday's Sydney Morning Herald has a short article on the physical problems of doing the census at Wadeye, in particular the fact that they have "hired eight Wadeye residents who translate the questions for people into their local language and then fill in the answers for them." A good start. The mention that John Taylor was there as an observer took me back to his excellent co-authored paper "Making sense of the census: observations of the 2001 enumeration in remote Aboriginal Australia."

Frances Morphy's careful observations of the 2001 census taking in Arnhem Land are well worth reading. Good planning avoided some problems, for example having pairs of census-helpers reduced the chances of the census-helper being unable to talk to the person whose details were being taken because of an avoidance relation. But much of the process took place in English:
"Everybody found the process of the interview a bit strange: they were Indigenous actors in a non-Indigenous scenario. Although everyone would normally speak to one another in the local language, the enumerators initially asked the questions in English, and the respondents replied likewise. "

She discusses the problem of interpreting kinship terms (as in the 2006 census question 53 "What is the person's relationship to Person 1/Person 2?"). Transforming Indigenous language kinship terms into English terms, even if done accurately, could result in misrepresentation of how 'extended' the family is living in a house. Here's a made-up example: a 'single men's camp' household might consist of men who call each other 'brother'. In English translation they might appear as a household of brothers, first cousins and second cousins - which seems more distant. And it would only be an accident that they were all men - thus obliterating a local socially important household category.

Her observations show how carefully we need to interpret the results of questions on knowledge of language, when for example:

"E1 also began the task of making the responses to certain questions on the SIPFs consistent. For example, all schoolchildren and preschoolers were put down as speaking English 'not well'."

But hey! at least we have a census which asks about languages, heritage and birth-places of parents. And it does provide interesting and important evidence of Australia's changing language ecology, as you can see in Sandra Kipp and Michael Clyne's 2003 'Trends in the shift from community languages: Insights from the 2001 Census'. People and Place 11, 33-41.

Comments

Even with Anglo kin-terms, we had a few complications regarding the correct relationship of one of our household to Person 1: we had a lot of headscratching before coming up with the relationship "step-daughter-in-law" - and what if her mother had been living in the household as well? There is no word for that relationship yet everyone would have had a close relationship to at least one other person in the household - a relationship chain. As for the "australian" ancestry, what else can you say when most of us are such a mixture that it's misleading to choose just one of the 4, 8, 16, 32 or whatever contributing pieces ... and by the way are they supposed to be languages or nationalities

Consider yourselves lucky...

Here at Ngukurr, census night came and went without any sign of anything!

I still don't know what's happening!

Looks like we've been left out...

You mean you didn't receive so much as a FORM, from some cheerful person (or affect-less postbox)? Or you received forms, and the census people just assumed Ngukurr people would have no trouble filling out the forms?

I didn't get anything... no form, nothing. Didn't see anyone doing anything towards the census here at all. Yakangu. Waba. Marluy. Mandi. Waari. Najing. Nada. Zip.

Well so much for the 1967 Referendum blocking the intentional exclusion of Aborigines from the census! I guess it's time to call the Census Inquiry Service on 1300 651 181. .... and no doubt press many buttons and hold..

Thanks for the suggestion Jane,

I called the census mob twice last friday and was told the area supervisor would get back to me.. but still nothing... so I called again this morning and they registered my complaint and apparently someone will get back to me. A friend of mine also contacted the Sydney Morning Herald about it.

It's pretty disgraceful.

Cor! You might want to want to pass it on to John Taylor of CAEPR at ANU who is doing some research on the conduct of the census in Aboriginal communities.
http://www.anu.edu.au/caepr/StaffProfiles/taylor.php

Turns out you're not the only mob who missed out! Check out the Palm Island mob's complaints:
http://townsvillebulletin.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,20076649,00.html

Thanks everyone for the interesting discussion of the census. You might like to know that some members of the CAEPR team whose work Jane commented on on 9 August are doing a more comrephensive but in some respects similar study of the 2006 Census. Will keep you posted about our publications as they appear.
Linda, may I use your comments re Anglo kin terms in a publication--it provides more grist to my mill!

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