This paper reports findings from an incidence study of head trauma in a defined population. In the North Coast Health Region of NSW, 1,259 subjects with head trauma were admitted to hospitals in a 12-month period in 1988. Direct examination of the medical records confirmed brain injury in only 413 of these cases, corresponding to an annual incidence of approximately 100/100,000 resident population. Although most injuries (62.2%) were mild, 38% were serious (either moderate, 20.3%, or severe, 13.6%; and 3.9% died after admission to hospital). Severe brain injury represented an annual incidence of 12/100,000 resident population. Road traffic accidents accounted for a higher proportion of injuries in the severe group in comparison with the other injury groups. Methodological issues involved in case ascertainment of brain injury are discussed.