A prevalence study of Parkinson's disease (PD) was conducted in the rural town of Nambour, Australia. There were 5 cases of PD in a study population of 1207, yielding a crude prevalence ratio of 414 per 100,000 (95% confidence interval; 53-775). We performed a separate case-control study involving 224 patients with PD and 310 controls from South East Queensland and Central West New South Wales, to determine which factors increase the risk for PD in Australia. A positive family history of PD was the strongest risk factor for the development of the disease (odds ratio = 3.4; p < 0.001). In addition, rural residency was a significant risk factor for PD (odds ratio = 1.8, p < 0.001). Hypertension, stroke and well water ingestion were inversely correlated with the development of PD. There was no significant difference between patients and controls for exposure to herbicides and pesticides, head injury, smoking or depression. The high prevalence of PD in Nambour may be explained by rural residency. However, the most significant risk factor for PD was a positive family hisotry. This demonstrates the need for improved understanding of the genetic nature of the disease.