This paper aimed to examine the utilisation of and preferences related to health care services by residents of a disadvantaged area and to identify factors associated with levels of current and future use. Data were collected from face-to-face structured interviews of randomly selected residents of a disadvantaged local government area in 2003-04. Information about respondents' health and socioeconomic status and patterns of use and preferred features of health care was analysed in PASW Statistic 17. Chi-square statistics were used to examine differences in utilisation by sex and simple logistic regression provided sex specific age-adjusted odds ratios about frequent visits. Most respondents (95%) attended a 'usual' general practitioner (GP) service and about two-fifths had obtained other health care in the last 12 months. The median number of visits was four and most providers offered bulk billing (83%). Less common were visits to the dentist (32%), emergency department (14%), specialists (29%) and the hospital (5%). Providers' skills and traits, physical access and bulk billing were key considerations for men and women when choosing a health care provider. Disadvantaged communities want skilled practitioners who reflect their demographic mix and are located at convenient and accessible clinics, which preferably bulk bill. Apart from GP visits, this group appears to make only moderate use of specialists and emergency departments, and little routine use of other primary health services.