12 August 2011

Sense and Censuses

As a family historian, as a social scientist, and as an independent scholar, I find census information very interesting.  Yet I am the sort of person who is sensitive about issues of privacy, for myself and others.  

I do not want anyone prying into my life for their own purposes, especially if it is to the detriment of someone I know, or something I do.

Anyone who comes to my door in their own self-interest, or in the interests of their company, charity or religion, is not likely to receive a friendly smile from me.

Anyone who telephones me who is not a close relative or whose call as not been requested, is likely to be greeted only be my answering machine and not by me personally.

Whether in the post or by email, I usually request that my name and address be removed from mailing lists.

I am not in the phone book and I do not receive any government pensions or other financial "benefits".

I am a quiet, law abiding citizen who pays the bills on time and sends in a properly filled in tax return by the due date.

Census time is the only time when everyone has an official existence.

If, like me, you are in Australia and you do not usually receive any direct interest in your life from a government department, except perhaps the tax department, or even if you feel that your life is under constant surveillance, it is sensible to ensure your census details are as accurate as possible.

Unfortunately, census forms are usually a "one-size-fits-all" document.  No survey I have ever seen, or filled in, has ever been able to provide an accurate picture of my life - and my needs.  I have usually found that that "one-size-fits-all" clothing never fits me properly, either, just as the "something for everyone" approach to marketing is one of the most off-putting to me.

It seems I am not the only one who has concerns about the wording of forms.  Here is an article about disability and the census:

ABC The Drum, Stella Young

At the time of the last census, my husband had two old cars parked on our property, which he was considering either restoring or selling, plus a newer-but-still-old car we had recently purchased for a long, outback trip, plus a work vehicle owned by my husband's employer.  It would seem, from the census form, that we were a wealthy, four-car family, so there was no accurate picture of our status from the information given.

If the census had been just under a year ago, when I had just come out of hospital, I would probably quite accurately be described as someone who needed help when getting out of bed, going to the toilet and showering.  Fortunately, I am not in that position now, though I do find that I need some assistance from my husband to get out of bed on a cold morning when I am feeling tired and grumpy.

Having recently returned from overseas, if I had decided to stay longer, I would not have been counted at all in the census.  Were you?

My biggest dilemma now is whether to make my details available to the National Archives of Australia for release in 99 years time.  Census information from England in the 1800s and early 1900s helped me to trace quite a lot of my family history.  It was an exciting and surprising experience to find much more than I had ever hoped to find that way.

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