U-Pb geochronology and Lu-Hf isotope analysis of detrital zircon from the mid-Cretaceous Winton and Mackunda Formations in the Eromanga Basin were employed to investigate regional provenance patterns in order to better understand the tectonic setting and paleogeography of eastern Australia during the late Mesozoic. A suite of Mesozoic-aged zircon populations recovered from these formations suggests that volcanism along the eastern margin of Australia was relatively continuous from the Triassic (252 Ma) to at least the mid-Cretaceous (ca. 92 Ma). Cretaceous-age zircon populations dominate the provenance record, and a distinct up-section younging trend in Cretaceous grain ages indicates that deposition was largely synchronous with ongoing volcanism to the east. Lu-Hf isotopic data suggest that these zircon populations were sourced from igneous rocks of a mixed juvenile and crustal source, similar to Lu-Hf isotopic systematics for eastern Australian zircons from Pennsylvanian–Permian igneous assemblages (307–252 Ma), for which an active convergent margin association is well established.
An extensive Cretaceous volcanic terrain, now limited to the Whitsunday Igneous Association, was once located along the northeastern margin of Australia. Results from this study support the hypothesis that the Whitsunday igneous association was the main source of Cretaceous sediment to the Eromanga Basin, and likely for sediment transported across the continent southward and into the Ceduna Delta system offshore South Australia. The Whitsunday igneous association has been interpreted as a siliceous large igneous province associated with the onset of rifting in the region and linked to opening of the Tasman and Coral Seas. Yet, in this study, we document a relatively continuous Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous (240–92 Ma) age range for detrital zircons from the Mackunda and Winton Formations, consistent with relatively uninterrupted magmatic activity along the continental margin until ca. 92 Ma (earliest Turonian). Furthermore, zircon grains across this age spectrum exhibit dominantly positive to strongly positive εHf(t) values, between +4 and +12, consistent with values known for zircon suites from older magmatic arc rocks of eastern Australia. Although these data do not support a conclusive interpretation, they are consistent with an east Australian magmatic arc related to westward subduction of paleo-Pacific oceanic crust beneath eastern Australia enduring into the Cretaceous, as distinct from extensional siliceous large igneous province magmatism unrelated to subduction and generated by rupture of continental crust.