The objective was to compare ethnic differences in anthropometry, including size, proportions and fat distribution, and body composition in a cohort of seventy Caucasian (forty-four boys, twenty-six girls) and seventy-four urban Indigenous (thirty-six boys, thirty-eight girls) children (aged 9–15 years). Anthropometric measures (stature, body mass, eight skinfolds, thirteen girths, six bone lengths and five bone breadths) and body composition assessment using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry were conducted. Body composition variables including total body fat percentage and percentage abdominal fat were determined and together with anthropometric indices, including BMI (kg/m2), abdominal:height ratio (AHtR) and sum of skinfolds, ethnic differences were compared for each sex. After adjustment for age, Indigenous girls showed significantly (P < 0·05) greater trunk circumferences and proportion of overweight and obesity than their Caucasian counterparts. In addition, Indigenous children had a significantly greater proportion (P < 0·05) of trunk fat. The best model for total and android fat prediction included sum of skinfolds and age in both sexes (>93 % of variation). Ethnicity was only important in girls where abdominal circumference and AHtR were included and Indigenous girls showed significantly (P < 0·05) smaller total/android fat deposition than Caucasian girls at the given abdominal circumference or AHtR values. Differences in anthropometric and fat distribution patterns in Caucasian and Indigenous children may justify the need for more appropriate screening criteria for obesity in Australian children relevant to ethnic origin.