Background Overuse of antibiotics is a global concern and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of relapsing to an era with no effective antibiotics. In Australia, various national consumer campaigns had been running since 2000, and the concern was prioritised in 2011, when the need for a national approach to address antibiotic resistance was identified. Objective The aim of this study was to explore consumer attitudes and knowledge about (upper respiratory tract) infections, colds and flu, and antibiotics, and to identify factors contributing to antibiotic misuse which could be addressed by tailored patient counselling. Setting A community pharmacy in an area of Brisbane, Australia. Method A self-administered anonymous questionnaire was distributed among pharmacy consumers. Perceptions of, and knowledge about antibiotics were measured using a 5-point Likert-type scale of agreement/disagreement. Main outcome measure The proportion of self-diagnosers and non self-diagnosers who agreed/disagreed with the attitude statement, “I know that I need antibiotics before I visit my doctor”; and the proportion of mistaken and non-mistaken who agreed/disagreed with the statement, “I will get better faster if I take antibiotics when I have a cold or flu”. Results Over a third of the 252 participants believed that they would recover faster by taking antibiotics when suffering from a cold or flu, and nearly one-fifth felt that antibiotics would cure viral infections. More females (62.2 vs. 43.9 %) self-diagnosed (p = 0.002) although more males (42.1 vs. 30.8 %) were mistaken about the efficacy of antibiotics for treating colds and flus. Mistaken respondents were more likely than non-mistaken respondents to self-diagnose (p = 0.01). Conclusion This study confirms a lack of knowledge among consumers about the efficacy of antibiotics in treating viral infections despite education campaigns. The findings strongly suggest there is a need for pharmacists and other health care professionals to elicit consumer beliefs and understanding about antibiotics and to tailor their advice appropriately.