Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


The Women’s Weekly on the Census, 1962

Australian Women's Weekly, 1 June, 1966


(On the 1966 Census)

Processing the census results is another colossal task eequiring thorough preparation. This year all the preliminary processing will be done in Sydney at a centre established in Anthony Hordern's Building at Brickfield Hill.

Here 700 women, most of them housewives enjoying a temporary job, and some of them veterans of several censuses, will turn all the answers into code figures and letters. The code is transferred to cards, which are then punched with a complicated series of holes.

Names won't be recordedon the cards.

The punched cards are fed into a computer which transfers all the information on to magnetic tape. This will be the first Australian census for which large computers of this type are to be used. Four of them, two in Sydney and two in Canberra will be on the job.

After the main Sydney one, called a Control Data 3200, has made the magnetic tapes, it will check them for errors, picking up discrepancies like one in a previous census, which gave the occupation of a girl of five as "blacksmith."

When this is done, everything will be ready for final processing on the Control Data 3600 in Canberra. This will select information from the tapes to answer sets of questions worked out by a team of experts.

The first results of the census, a field count giving numbers of people only, will probably be known by August or September. More detailed results are expected o start coming from the computers early next year, though it will probably take several years to deal with all the information …

In Sydney Cove, a "muster"

Although the processing methods of this year's census are new, the census itself is an ancient institution going back beyond recorded history. There is evidence that the ancient Persians and Egyptians counted themselves and their possessions at regular intervals.

The Romans, from whom we have taken the word "census," held regular and well-conducted population counts from 457 B.C. until the fall of the empire in 410 A.D.

Several references are made in the Bible to numberings in Israel.

The Chinese, and probably other peoples of ancient Asia, also counted their populations. Historians say that when Marco Polo visited China in the 13th century, the emperor Kublai Khan was conducting a census in Tibet.

In Australia, the first censuses were called musters.

Everyone had to go to a specified place at a specified time to stand up and be counted. Musters were held annually from 1788 until 1825.

The first door-to-door census was held in New South Wales in 1828, when the population was found to be 36,598. Other States held irregular counts, but there was no Australia-wide count until 1881, when each State conducted its own census on the same day.

The Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics made its first count in 1911. Others followed in 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954, and 1961 ….”

Ed. The Women’s Weekly may seem an unusual source of material on computing, but it (along with the Canberra Times) is one of the very few publications on-line via the National Library of Australia’s TROVE service that extends for copyright reasons beyond 1954 - hence with this and those listed under our Canberra Times section, there is virtually nothing on computing as we now it today.  Nevertheless, the article, whilst hardly providing any technical details given the target audience, does give an interesting insight into the first “computer” census.