Linked administrative population data were used to estimate the burden of childhood respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospitalization in an Australian cohort aged <5 years. RSV-coded hospitalizations data were extracted for all children aged <5 years born in New South Wales (NSW), Australia between 2001 and 2010. Incidence was calculated as the total number of new episodes of RSV hospitalization divided by the child-years at risk. Mean cost per episode of RSV hospitalization was estimated using public hospital cost weights. The cohort comprised of 870 314 children. The population-based incidence/1000 child-years of RSV hospitalization for children aged <5 years was 4·9 with a rate of 25·6 in children aged <3 months. The incidence of RSV hospitalization (per 1000 child-years) was 11·0 for Indigenous children, 81·5 for children with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), 10·2 for preterm children with gestational age (GA) 32–36 weeks, 27·0 for children with GA 28–31 weeks, 39·0 for children with GA <28 weeks and 6·7 for term children with low birthweight. RSV hospitalization was associated with an average annual cost of more than AUD 9 million in NSW. RSV was associated with a substantial burden of childhood hospitalization specifically in children aged <3 months and in Indigenous children and children born preterm or with BPD.