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.