Objective: To examine differences in the rates of respiratory symptoms, asthma and levels of lung function in two remote Aboriginal communities. Methodology: Respiratory symptoms, smoking history, skin prick test responses to common allergens, serum IgE, lung function, airway responsiveness to methacholine and white blood cell counts were compared in two Aboriginal communities, one from the central desert (n = 84) and another from the tropical north (n = 209) of Western Australia. Results: Compared with the tropical community, chest tightness and dyspnoea were more frequent and forced expiratory volume in 1 s and forced vital capacity were lower in the desert community, despite similar levels of wheeze, doctor-diagnosed asthma and skin prick test responses and lower levels of airway responsiveness and smoking. The total white cell and neutrophil counts were greater in the desert community. Serum IgE was very high and similar in both communities. Conclusions: Our findings show a low prevalence of asthma in children, a high prevalence of respiratory symptoms and low levels of lung function in remote Aboriginal communities. The greater prevalence of respiratory morbidity in the desert community was not explained by diagnosed asthma, airway hyperresponsiveness or cigarette smoking. The role of infection requires further investigation. The results suggest that the lower lung function observed in Aboriginal communities (compared with non-Aboriginal communities) results at least partly from environmental factors.