Objective: To highlight how evidence from studies of innovative rural and remote models of service provision can inform global health system reform in order to develop appropriate, accessible and sustainable primary health care (PHC) services to 'difficult-to-service' communities. Methods: The paper synthesises evidence from remote and rural PHC health service innovations in Australia. Results: There is a strong history of PHC innovation in Australia. Successful health service models are 'contextualised' to address diverse conditions. They also require systemic solutions, which address a range of interlinked factors such as governance, leadership and management, adequate funding, infrastructure, service linkages and workforce. An effective systemic approach relies on alignment of changes at the health service level with those in the external policy environment. Ideally, every level of government or health authority needs to agree on policy and funding arrangements for optimal service development. A systematic approach in addressing these health system requirements is also important. Service providers, funders and consumers need to know what type and level of services they can reasonably expect in different community contexts, but there are gaps in agreed indicators and benchmarks for PHC services. In order to be able to comprehensively monitor and evaluate services, as well as benchmarks, we need adequate national information systems. Conclusions: Despite the gaps in our knowledge, we do have a significant amount of information about what works, where and why. At a time of global PHC reform, applying this knowledge will contribute significantly to the development of appropriate, sustainable PHC services and improving access.