The first measurements from proton–proton collisions recorded with the ATLAS detector at the LHC are presented. Data were collected in December 2009 using a minimum-bias trigger during collisions at a centre-of-mass energy of 900 GeV. The charged-particle multiplicity, its dependence on transverse momentum and pseudorapidity, and the relationship between mean transverse momentum and charged-particle multiplicity are measured for events with at least one charged particle in the kinematic range |η|<2.5 and pT>500 MeV. The measurements are compared to Monte Carlo models of proton–proton collisions and to results from other experiments at the same centre-of-mass energy. The charged-particle multiplicity per event and unit of pseudorapidity at η=0 is measured to be 1.333±0.003(stat.)±0.040(syst.), which is 5–15% higher than the Monte Carlo models predict.