Abstract We analysed data from Aboriginal patients with type 2 diabetes recruited to the community-based Fremantle Diabetes Study and compared them with those from the Anglo-Celt participants. Diabetes prevalence among Aboriginal people in the Fremantle area was more than double that of Anglo-Celts and the average age at diagnosis was 14 years or younger. Glycaemic control, urinary albumin :creatinine and the proportion of smokers were all higher in the Aboriginal group and there was evidence of lower diabetes-related quality of life and high rates of disability at a young age. The Aboriginal patients died 18 years or younger than their Anglo-Celt counterparts. Specialized, culturally-sensitive and sustainable programmes are urgently needed to improve the management of diabetes in urban Aboriginal communities.