Deep seismic reflection data collected across the western Lachlan orogen of southeast Australia have provided important insights into crustal-scale fluid pathways and possible source rocks in one of the richest orogenic gold provinces in the world. The profiles span three of the most productive structural zones in Victoria: the Stawell, Bendigo, and Melbourne zones. zone-scale variations in the age and style of gold deposits correspond with differences in crustal structure and composition. The bilateral distribution of gold production in the Stawell and Bendigo zones is related to the V-shaped crustal-scale geometry of the two zones in cross section. Major first-order faults, like the east-dipping Moyston fault and a set of west-dipping listric faults within the Bendigo zone, were probably major fluid conduits in the lower to middle crust during gold mineralization. First-order faults in the Stawell and Bendigo structural zones appear to have accommodated large-scale thickening down to the lower crust. The faults converge in a region beneath the western Bendigo zone where a thick section of mafic volcanic rocks and lesser sedimentary rocks are identified as a likely common source of gold-bearing fluid that was largely generated by Late Ordovician to Early Silurian metamorphism.
The areas with the greatest gold endowment lie above lower crustal regions that have preserved the thickest succession of “fertile” mafic igneous rocks up to about 25 km thick. They also correspond to a region of thin or absent Precambrian lithosphere. Mafic rocks in the Stawell zone and far western Bendigo zone were probably partly consumed by Cambrian west-dipping subduction. Similar rocks in the rest of the Bendigo zone lay outside the influence of Cambrian subduction-accretion and were deformed later, probably beginning in the Late Ordovician-Early Silurian Benambran orogeny during crustal-scale imbrication. This imbrication preserved much of the mafic rocks to form the lower to middle crust.
First-order listric faults in the Bendigo zone are interpreted as major controls on the locations of goldfields, even though they are largely unmineralized near the present surface. The shallow-dipping segments of first-order listric faults were favorably oriented for reactivation at the time of gold mineralization and acted as major fluid conduits in the lower to middle crust. In contrast, the upper steeply dipping segments of first-order listric faults were unfavorably oriented for reactivation and were poor fluid conduits.
The seismic data show that the transition from predominantly shallow- to steeply dipping fault segments occurs in the middle to upper crust near the boundary between thick imbricated metavolcanic rocks that lie immediately below 6 to 15 km of folded metasedimentary rocks. This transition may have coincided with fluid escape zones that aided the transfer of permeability away from first-order faults and into the overlying fold-dominated turbidites. This transfer of permeability was enhanced by the growth of subvertical, fold-related fault and fracture meshes in the upper-crustal turbidites. The fault and fracture meshes consisted of bedding-parallel faults, limb thrusts, and tension vein arrays that developed along fold hinges. In the Bendigo zone, individual fold hinges and regional fold culminations were important controls on the distribution of fluid flow. Fluid flow was partly syndeformational but overlapped into the immediate postdeformational period of the Benambran orogeny. Later reactivation of first-order faults in the Late Silurian to Early Devonian and again in the Late Devonian led to further, although less important, mineralizing events as fluids exploited the preexisting fault architecture.
Deeply penetrating, north-dipping listric faults in the less gold rich Melbourne zone cut into inferred Proterozoic basement and may have been fluid conduits during a Late Devonian mineralizing event.