Clinical, demographic and laboratory data from infants with congenital hypothyroidism (CH) born in the Australian state of Victoria from the commencement of neonatal screening in mid-1977 until December 1988 are reported. These provide a baseline for a 12-year prospective longitudinal study on physical and neuro-psychological outcome until mid-1997, the subject of a second paper. Infants with CH were detected using a primary TT4 screening test. Demographic data were collected prospectively using a clinical assessment protocol. Nearly all affected infants underwent 99mTc pertechnetate scanning at the initial assessment to determine the underlying aetiology of their hypothyroidism. 704,723 infants were screened and 199 with permanent primary hypothyroidism (one in 3,541) were identified. The most common aetiologies were thyroid ectopia (46%), thyroid aplasia (33%), and 'dyshormonogenesis' (11%). The clinical abnormalities classically described in CH were more evident in infants with aplasia, and the striking female preponderance in infants with thyroid dysplasia (syn. dysgenesis) was confirmed. Other features included increased frequencies of 'dyshormonogenesis' in infants of parents of Middle-Eastern origin and of labour induction in infants with dysplasia. A closed posterior fontanelle was not found in any infant with thyroid aplasia.