Objective: to determine the attitudes or the Western Australian community towards performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the factors affecting these attitudes. Method : telephone survey of a randomly selected sample of people from suburban Perth and rural Western Australia; practical assessment of a sub-sample of volunteers from those surveyed, to correlate survey answers with practical skills, Results: of 803 people surveyed, the majority (90.7%) definitely would give mouth-to-mouth ventilation to a friend or relative, but less than half (47.2%) would to a stranger. The reluctance was mostly (56%) because of health and safety concerns, particularly related to HIV infection. Higher percentages of people would definitely provide cardiac massage for a friend or relative (91.4%) or stranger (78.1%). People were more likely to give mouth-to-mouth and cardiac massage if they had been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), trained several times, trained recently, and used their CPR skills in real life. There were no significant differences between city and country people in whether they would provide CPR, but older people were less willing to provide mouth-to-mouth or cardiac massage. On practical assessment of 100 volunteers, there were significant errors and omissions in airway assessment, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardiac massage. Volunteers with better practical scores were more prepared to provide CPR. Discussion: our results indicate a significant reluctance of the Western Australia public to perform mouth-to-mouth, except (0 a friend or relative. Earlier CPR training, practice and use seemed to diminish this reluctance. Practical CPR skills were not well executed. Those with better skills were less reluctant to use them. We recommend increasing CPR training in the community, greater frequency of refresher courses and public education on the risks of CPR to improve rates of bystander CPR. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.