Studies have examined the association between depressive symptoms and dietary patterns; however, only few studies focused on older adults. The present study examines the association between current and past dietary patterns and depression in a community-dwelling adult population aged 55 years and over. Adults (n 4082) were recruited into the Wellbeing, Eating and Exercise for a Long Life study in Victoria, Australia. In 2010 and 2014, data were collected using self-administered questionnaires including a 111-item FFQ, the RAND thirty-six-item Short Form Health Survey of health-related quality of life and the International Physical Activity Questionnaire. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Geriatric Depression Scale in 2014. Current (2014) and past (2010) dietary patterns were determined using principal component analysis. Association between dietary patterns and depressive symptoms was assessed using a mixed model analysis with adjustment for covariates. Two similar dietary patterns were identified in men and women (n 2142). In women, a healthy dietary pattern (characterised by frequent intake of vegetables, fruits and fish) was associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms (current diet: β = −0·260, 95 % CI −0·451, −0·070; past diet: β = −0·201, 95 % CI −0·390, −0·013). A current unhealthy dietary pattern in women (characterised by frequent intake of red and processed meat, potatoes, hot chips, cakes, deserts and ice cream) was associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms (β = 1·367, 95 % CI 0·679, 2·056). No associations were identified in men. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and to understand the differences that may occur by sex.