The Kanmantoo Group is a thick and largely metamorphosed sedimentary succession that filled an isolated arcuate Cambrian basin (Kanmantoo Trough) which formed within continental Gondwana, and now lies on the southern margin of the present Australian continent. Kanmantoo Group sediments unconformably overlie Neoproterozoic and older Cambrian rocks. We consider that the geometry of the southern part of this trough was influenced by strike-slip movement along an intra-continental tear fault. To the north, the basin changes to a style dominated by orthogonal extension and eventually tapers and dies out normal to the tear fault. Balanced sections show that the kinematic style and strain distribution developed during early Palaeozoic inversion was controlled by the specific architecture of the Kanmantoo Trough. Early Palaeozoic tear faulting could have linked contrasting subduction polarities along the then contiguous palaeo-Pacific margin of Gondwana. The Kanmantoo Trough is considered to have formed at a passive margin related to east-directed subduction in what is now the Australian continent. In contrast, west-directed subduction formed an active margin at contiguous parts of current Antarctica. Kanmantoo Group sediments were derived from the south by erosion of a Grenvillean province mixed with sediments eroded from the emergent active margin of Gondwana. The inception, localization and sedimentation in the Kanmantoo Trough reflects a complex interaction of tectonic processes along the encroaching Ross–Delamerian Orogen.