Australia was a producer and user of asbestos and has one of the highest national incidences of mesothelioma in the world. The incidence is still rising and expected to do so for another 10-20 years. A study was conducted in 1996 to examine the past and current incidence rates of mesothelioma in a number of industries and occupations as the basis for predicting future outcomes. Occupational histories of a total of 3758 mesothelioma cases collected by two sequential national schemes--the Australian Mesothelioma Surveillance Program (1979-1985) and Australian Mesothelioma Register (1986-1995)--were reviewed and coded by the authors. The building industry contributed the largest number of cases nationwide followed by shipbuilding and repair, asbestos cement production, crocidolite mining and milling, railway locomotive construction and repair, coal-fired power stations, and other engineering operations. The mean latency between initial occupational asbestos exposure and diagnosis of the disease was 37.4 years (range = 4-66 years) for cases notified between 1979 and 1985, and 41.4 years (range = 6-84 years) for those between 1986 and 1995. Trends for each industry group have been changing considerably in the past 16 years, with the traditional primary asbestos industry cases from crocidolite mining and milling now on the decline and cases from asbestos cement production having plateaued. In contrast, more recently, more cases were observed from the asbestos user industries such as the building industry, and from occupations such as plumbers, carpenters, machinists, and car mechanics. These increases might be a reflection of the longer latency effects of the intermittent and less severe exposures in these larger occupational groups.