Aim: To describe the scope and nature of research capacity building activity within academic departments of general practice and rural health in Australia. Method: Document review of Annual Reports for the years 2000 and 2003 of 17 university departments of general practice and rural health, funded through the Research Capacity Building Initiative (RCBI) of the Primary Health Care Research, Evaluation and Development (PHCRED) Strategy. Results: The review indicated that from 2000 to 2003, departments increased their activities in all areas of research capacity building activities. Mentoring and/or supervision other than higher degree students increased from 14 in 2000 to 266 in 2003. Twenty-two research networks involving over 1377 participants were operating in 2003. All departments were involved in collaborations either as part of grant applications, research projects or educational activities. Over 3630 people participated in 189 educational activities in 2003 compared to over 624 people attending 103 activities in 2000. Compared to $10.98 million in 2000, departments had obtained more than $15.6 million for research projects in 2003. While there were more peer reviewed papers published in 2000 (n = 178) compared to 2003 (n = 130), these 17 departments gave 187 conference presen-tations. Conclusions: This review shows that the RCBI has contributed towards a considerable increase in research activities in these university departments of general practice and rural health. This has provided a major boost to primary health care research in Australia. These activities would have been unlikely to occur without the support and assistance of the PHCRED Strategy. Clearly, the full impact of the RCBI will take some time to evolve.