Compositions of Carboniferous and Lower Permian mafic and felsic magmatic rocks from the southern New England Fold Belt, combined with a time-space evaluation of appropriate regional geological elements, indicate that Late Palaeozoic tectonic events can be simply explained in terms of ongoing west-dipping subduction. The diversity of igneous rock types and tectonostratigraphic assemblages are interpreted to reflect sequential development of a stationary (Carboniferous), retreating (Early Permian) and advancing (Late Permian) subduction boundary along the active continental margin of East Gondwana. The stationary Carboniferous subduction boundary is expressed as a dual magmatic chain comprising a volcanic arc front of intermediate-felsic volcanic rocks in the Tamworth Belt and a subparallel rear-arc chain of granitoids and rare high-K gabbroic rocks represented by the Bathurst Batholith and satellite plutons. Waning of arc-front magmatism at ca 330 Ma corresponded to climactic activity in the rear-arc between 330 Ma and 320 Ma. Subduction boundary retreat is reflected by outboard migration of magmatism into the former accretionary prism of the Tablelands Complex, represented by the ca 300 Ma S-type Hillgrove Suite granites and coeval Bakers Creek Suite gabbros. Trace-element chemistry of these gabbros, and of Lower Permian basalts in the nascent Sydney Basin, suggests generation in a backarc setting. The 290-270 Ma Sydney Basin basalts record a transition from steep to flat, N-MORB normalised chemical trends, which suggests progressive upper plate (Gondwanan) lithospheric thinning during ongoing subduction boundary retreat. The S-type Bundarra and I-type Barrington Tops granite suites formed from contrasting crustal sources in this Early Permian extensional backarc setting. A reversal to compressional deformation is recorded by the Late Permian Hunter-Bowen Orogeny, which placed the Sydney-Bowen Basin in a foreland setting. An increasing volume of volcanic material, coincident with an increase in the proportion and thickness of conglomeratic units in the Late Permian foreland deposits, is considered to represent the westward translation of the orogenic front and magmatic arc back toward the old Carboniferous continental margin, reflecting an advancing subduction boundary. Voluminous post-tectonic, high-K calc-alkaline plutonism in the New England Batholith indicates establishment of the main magmatic arc in the New England Fold Belt, during the latest Permian - Early Triassic. It completes the cycle of subduction boundary retreat and advancement in the Late Palaeozoic.
Australian Journal of Earth Sciences Vol. 49, Issue 3, p. 467-489