Spatial variation in freshwater fish community structure in a large, structurally monotonous sub-tropical Australian river over 1989–1992 is described. The number of species collected (25) over the period of study, was low, given the large size of the river's catchment. The low diversity of fishes present in the river was suggested to be due to a combination of factors including the imposition of an ancient downstream barrier to fish movement (the Burdekin Falls), substantial volcanic activity during the late Tertiary, past climatic stress and little variation in habitat structure over the range of sites examined. Notwithstanding the low species richness, the Burdekin River's freshwater fish fauna is distinctive, containing elements of the fauna of both eastern and northern Australia, and this was suggested to reflect aspects of ancient landscape evolution. Spatial variation in fish community structure was most strongly influenced by the presence of the Burdekin Falls (the present site of a very large reservoir) and secondarily by minor differences in habitat structure of main channel and tributary streams.