BACKGROUND An estimated 2.5 billion people live in areas where dengue fever is endemic with around 100 million cases per year. A more serious form of the disease called dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) is the most common cause of hospitalisation and death among children in some Southeast Asian countries. OBJECTIVE This article reviews the ecology and the pathogenesis of the disease and its clinical features. The history of dengue fever in Australia will be presented and the prospects for the future discussed. DISCUSSION Dengue fever was common in Australia in the late 19th century and the first clinical description of DHF were published by an Australian clinician in Charters Towers north Queensland. Since that time there have been sporadic outbreaks of dengue fever. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of epidemics in north Queensland. If Australia follows a pattern observed elsewhere in the world there might again be cases of DHF recorded on Australian soil.