The utility of the forensically important Sarcophagidae (Diptera) for time since death estimates has been severely limited, as morphological identification is difficult and thermobiological histories are inadequately documented. A molecular identification method involving the sequencing of a 658-bp 'barcode' fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene from 85 specimens, representing 16 Australian species from varying populations, was evaluated. Nucleotide sequence divergences were calculated using the Kimura-two-parameter distance model and a neighbour-joining phylogenetic tree generated. All species were resolved as reciprocally monophyletic, except Sarcophaga dux. Intraspecific and interspecific variation ranged from 0.000% to 1.499% (SE = 0.044%) and 6.658% to 8.983% (SE = 0.653%), respectively. The COI 'barcode' sequence was found to be suitable for the molecular identification of the studied Australian Sarcophagidae: 96.5% of the examined specimens were assigned to the correct species. Given that the sarcophagid fauna is poorly described, it is feasible that the few incorrectly assigned specimens represent cryptic species. The results of this research will be instrumental for implementation of the Australian Sarcophagidae in forensic entomology. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.