Palaeogeographical reconstructions of the Australian and Antarctic margins based on matching basement structures are commonly difficult to reconcile with those derived from ocean-floor magnetic anomalies and plate vectors. Following identification of a previously unmapped crustal-scale structure in the southern part of the early Palaeozoic Delamerian Orogen (Coorong Shear Zone), a more tightly constrained plate reconstruction for these margins is proposed. This reconstruction places the Coorong Shear Zone opposite the Mertz Shear Zone in Antarctica and lends itself to a revised interpretation of continental rifting along Australia’s southern margin in which rift basin architecture, margin segmentation and the formation of ocean-floor fracture zones are all linked to pre-existing basement structure and the reactivation of a few deep-rooted crustal structures inherited from the Delamerian Orogeny in particular. Reactivation of the Coorong Shear Zone and other basement structures (Avoca–Sorell Fault Zone) during the earlier stages of rifting was accompanied by the partitioning of extensional strain and formation of late Jurassic–Early Cretaceous normal faults and half-graben in the Bight and Otway basins with opposing NE–SW and NW–SE structural trends. Previously, the Mertz Shear Zone has been correlated with the Proterozoic Kalinjala Mylonite Zone in the Gawler Craton but this positions Australia 300–400 km too far east relative to Antarctica prior to breakup and fails to secure an equally satisfactory match in both basement geology and the superimposed extension-related structures.