The Geographies of Racism: National Data Set

Professor Kevin Dunn, James Forrest and Ian Burnley led a team of researchers to examine the 'geographies of racism' in Australia. The project was supported by a number of Australian Research Council grants, VicHealth, The Equal Opportunity Commission of South Australia, ACT Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the ACT Human Rights Commission.

The Project

The Challenging Racism project team perceived a lack of comprehensive data on the nature of racism in Australia. The emphasis of this project has been to generate comprehensive and defensible empirical data on the extent and variation of racist attitudes and experiences.

Our aims have been to:

  • Generate regional profiles and characterisations of racism for regions across Australia
  • Generate anti-racism suggestions and responses for each regional typology
  • Consult with stakeholders on the utility of the anti-racism materials we have developed

The national level findings of the various surveys conducted by the Challenging Racism Project aim to provide a clear picture of the perspectives of everyday Australians (n=12512) on the issues of racism, ethnic-relations and cultural diversity. The primary focus of the first survey conducted in 2001 was to develop a measure of the attitudes that respondents hold towards cultural diversity, cultural privilege, the extent of racism, and tolerance of specific cultural groups. The second survey conducted in 2006 was a detailed examination of experiences of racism, including the forms of racist experience and the contexts and responses to those experiences.


This project was designed using two key research methods: large scale telephone surveys and a multivariate statistical clustering procedure for the development of regional profiles and characterisations of racism. Following this research, anti-racism suggestions were developed for regions within each of the states and territories of Australia, drawing on a review of the different forms of anti-racism. Each of these research methods are briefly detailed below.

Telephone Surveys

We have now collected two substantial databases on racism in Australia. The first was principally a survey of attitudes to cultural diversity, racism and the so-called out groups (n:12512), and the second was a detailed examination of experiences of racism, including the forms of racist experience and the contexts and responses to those experiences (n:4020). As an indicator of the extent of 'out-group' status we used a Bogardus (1933) tolerance measure in our surveys (see Parillo & Donoghue, 2005). These have also been referred to as 'comfort' or social distance indicators in attitudinal survey work (see Berry & Kalin 1995:306-7).

The 2001 Racism Survey

The survey questions operationalised four key themes:

  • Indicators of racist attitudes
  • Experiences of racism
  • Cultural mixing
  • Demographic questions

The key findings of the survey include:

  • Racism is quite prevalent in Australia, however, it differs depending on location.
  • These variations have been largely overlooked by anti-racism campaigns in Australia
  • Most Australians recognise that racism is a problem in society
  • Racist attitudes are positively associated with age, non-tertiary education, and to a slightly less extent individuals who can only speak English, the Australian-born and males.

The composition of the respondents:

  • Speak a language other than English 14.2%
  • Born in Australia 76.5%
  • Women 58.7%
  • Indigenous Australians 1.9%

Further information:

The 2006 Racism Survey

The survey questions operationalized 5 key themes:

  • Forms of racism
  • Location where racism was experienced
  • Responses to experiences of racism
  • How people felt after experiencing racism
  • Demographic questions

The composition of the respondents:

  • Speak a language other than English 25%
  • Women 54%
  • Indigenous Australians 2.6%

Further information:

Developing Regional Profiles and Characteristics

The project uses an entropy grouping procedure as a way of grouping regions within each state or territory of Australia who exhibit similar characteristics based on twenty nine (29) variables (see Appendix 3). These variables include data on the mix of attitudes towards racism and cultural diversity, experiences of racism and racist talk, as well as demographic and socio-economic variables. To analyse the structured responses derived from the surveys, a procedure using entropy analysis was used (see Forrest and Johnston, 1981; Forrest and Dunn, 2006; 2007; 2010). Technical details on the mechanics of the entropy clustering technique are in Appendix 3. It should be noted that entropy was not used in the case of Victoria as the number of groups recommended for the state by stakeholders were far too few for grouping by entropy. The manner in which entropy grouping works can be visualised as such: for each of the specified localities a bar chart is created with each column in the bar chart representative of each of the 29 variables, based on percentages of total population (e.g. income variable: percentage of population of a given local government area that is in the bottom income category and so forth for each variable). The bar charts for each of the geographic locations (local government areas or sometimes larger regions) are superimposed over one another. Once that occurs it is easy to have a sense of those locations that display similar results. The locations that have the most similarity are grouped together.

National Level Findings

After twelve years of in-depth study and comprehensive surveys of more than 12,500 Australians, the Challenging Racism Project has produced findings that are of considerable national interest.

Download the national level findings. [PDF, 50.47 KB]

Findings by Region

Click on the state or view a larger interactive map of the findings by region.

The National Level Findings provide a clear picture of the perspectives of everyday Australians on issues of racism, ethnic-relations and cultural diversity. State Comparisons are also available [PDF, 38.96 KB], and these provide a sense of how attitudes and experiences vary across the state and territories of Australia.


Berry, JW & Kalin, R 1995, 'Multicultural and ethnic attitudes in Canada: an overview of the 1991 national survey', Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 301-20.

Bogardus, ES 1933, 'A social distance scale', Sociology and Social Research, vol. 22, pp. 265–271.

Dunn, KM & Forrest, J 2010, "Everywhere Different: Responding to the Experience of Everyday Racism",Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, Marriott Wardman, Washington, DC, 14 - 18 April.

Forrest, J & Dunn KM 2006 'Racism and intolerance in Eastern Australia: a geographical perspective' Australian Geographer, vol. 37 no. 2, pp. 167-186.

Forrest, J & Dunn, KM 2007 'Constructing Racism in Sydney, Australia's Largest EthniCity',Urban Studies, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 699-721.

Forrest, J. & Dunn, KM 2010, "Attitudes to Multicultural Values in Diverse Spaces in Australia's Immigrant Cities, Sydney and Melbourne", Space and Polity, vol 14, no. 1, pp. 81–102.

Forrest, J & Johnston, RJ 1981. 'On the characterisation of urban sub-areas according to age structure', Urban Geography, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 31-40.

Parillo, VN & Donoghue, C 2005 'Updating the Bogardus social distance studies: a new
national survey', The Social Science Journal, vol. 42,no. 2, pp. 257–271

Pedersen, A, Walker, I, Wise, M 2005 ''Talk does not cook rice': beyond anti-racism rhetoric to strategies for social action', Australian Psychologist, vol.40, no.1, pp.20-30.

Pedersen, A, Walker, I, Paradies, Y & B, G 2011, 'How to cook rice: Ingredients for teaching anti-prejudice',Australian Psychologist, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 55-63.


Appendix 1: Final Sample Sizes and Survey Details [PDF, 9.82 KB]

Appendix 2: Survey Questions and Themes [PDF, 16.67 KB]

Appendix 3: Entropy Analysis [PDF, 15.79 KB]