The basin's tectonic elements which are recognised today were initially controlled by the distribution of basement rocks (Moore, 2002; Bernecker and Moore, 2003). These belong to three broad tectono-stratigraphic provinces:
- the late Early Cambrian to Furongian Delamerian Fold Belt (in South Australia and Victoria).
- the Lachlan Fold Belt (Victoria), cratonised during the early Silurian to Middle Devonian and bounded by the Moyston and Bambra faults,
- the Neoproterozoic to Cambrian Selwyn Block (Victoria and Tasmania) that represents the northern extension of Tasmania into Victoria (VandenBerg et al, 2000; Cayley et al, 2002). Onshore, this is largely covered by Lachlan Fold Belt rocks, but the underlying Neoproterozoic fabric seems to have controlled the Otway Basin architecture.
With the onset of the major rifting phase in the Late Jurassic, several east-northeast-trending extensional depressions were generated, which developed into the Robe, Colac and Gellibrand troughs in the onshore. Older parts of the Portland Trough and the Torquay Sub-Basin may also be related to this extensional trend (Trupp et al, 1994; Perincek and Cockshell, 1995). The Penola Trough and most of the Portland Trough were formed by southeasterly transtension between the original rifts, as rifting continued. The easternmost portion of the offshore Voluta Trough may represent a continuation of these structures (Figure 2 [PDF, 79KB] and Figure 3 [PDF, 1,110KB]). Moreover, this early extension has been recorded as far south as the South Tasman Rise (O'Brien et al, 1994; Royer and Rollet, 1997). Final break-up in the Otway Basin probably occurred in Victoria in the Maastrichtian at about 67 Ma (Lavin, 1997) but seems to have been as late as the Eocene-Oligocene boundary on the South Tasman Rise (Hill et al, 2001).
The basin fill was initially dominated by fluvial and lacustrine sediments during Early Cretaceous rifting, represented by the Otway Group (Figure 4 [PDF, 584KB]). Following uplift of the Otway Ranges, broad delta plain and marginal marine environments developed during the Late Cretaceous. The corresponding sediments are represented by the Sherbrook Group and include the Waarre Formation, the main exploration focus. Deltaic and nearshore marine processes dominated until Late Eocene times (Wangerrip and Nirranda groups), after which more open marine conditions were established and cool water carbonates began to accumulate. For detailed descriptions of the sedimentary and stratigraphic evolution of the Otway Basin, the reader is referred to publications by Parker (1995), Lavin (1997), Geary and Read (1998), Boyd and Gallagher (2001), Constantine (2001), Partridge (2001) and Krassay et al (2004).
Early Rifting (Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous)
The Otway Basin rift system was initiated in the Late Jurassic when north-south extension produced a series of east-west to northwest-southeast asymmetric half-graben across the proto-rift (Williamson et al, 1990; Cooper and Hill, 1997). The major controlling extensional faults dip relatively steeply towards the north (Hill and Durrand, 1993). This regional structural style compares well with oblique-rift analogue models (Cooper and Hill, 1997), confirming that the extensional history of the region was strongly controlled by the prevailing basement fabric.
The incipient Jurassic half-graben were of limited lateral extent, but as extension progressed into the Early Cretaceous and subsidence continued, the rift basins expanded substantially. In excess of 5000 m of non-marine fluvio-lacustrine Otway Group sediments filled these growing half-graben. Initial lacustrine sedimentation (interbedded with flow basalts) of the Casterton Formation gave way to dominantly fluviatile sedimentation of the Pretty Hill Formation. Lower energy fluvial and lacustrine deposits characterise the Laira Formation while the overlying Katnook Sandstone represents the return to higher energy fluvial deposition.
Rift to Sag Transition (Aptian-Albian)
The main extensional faults that controlled the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous rifting lost their geological influence in the early Aptian across most of the Otway Basin. Previously elevated footwall blocks disappeared as widespread thermal subsidence occurred across the basin. In excess of 4000 m of Aptian to Albian sediments belonging to the Eumeralla Formation were deposited in a progressively widening, regional sag basin. Sediments accumulated in a variety of non-marine depositional environments including fluvial, flood plain, coal swamp and lacustrine. These sediments are characterised by the large amount of volcaniclastic detritus they contain, derived from local intra-rift sources (Duddy, 2003) and, to a lesser extent, from volcanic complexes located to the east of the Gippsland Basin (Bryan et al, 1997).
Compression, Uplift and the Otway Unconformity (Mid-Cretaceous)
Rifting ceased in the late Albian as the Otway Basin was subjected to significant compression giving rise to a basin-wide angular unconformity - the Otway Unconformity (Partridge, 2001). Several areas including the Otway Ranges, King Island High and the Stawell Basement Block underwent several kilometres of inversion. However, structuring was not uniform across the basin, with many areas experiencing only mild uplift. Studies of apatite fission track (AFT) data and vitrinite reflectance (VR) data from wells in the basin, suggest that it experienced regionally elevated palaeotemperatures (50-60°C/km) in the Early Cretaceous (Foster and Gleadow, 1992;; Duddy, 1994; O'Brien et al, 1994; Cooper and Hill; 1997; Mitchell, 1997). Palaeo-temperatures fell sharply in the early Late Cretaceous, driven by uplift and erosion associated with a declining geothermal gradient.
Renewed Rifting (Late Cretaceous)
After a 6.5 Ma hiatus (Partridge, 1997), a renewed phase of extension and rift-related subsidence began in the Turonian. Rifting continued to control basin development through much of the Late Cretaceous until the latest Maastrichtian when final continental breakup took place (Lavin and Naim, 1995; Lavin, 1997). Syn-rift sedimentation during that period is recorded by the partially marine Sherbrook Group (Figure 4 [PDF, 584KB] and Figure 5 [PDF, 667KB]).
The second rifting phase was driven by a change in crustal extension direction to northeast-southwest, from the earlier north-south direction. This created a distinctly different structural style compared to that developed by the earlier rifting. In the offshore, where the Late Cretaceous rifting was concentrated, the resulting structures overprinted those of the initial rift phase. Most of the major structural features including the Voluta Trough (the major rift-induced depocentre), Mussel Platform, Prawn Platform, Tartwaup-Mussel Fault System Shipwreck Trough and Sorell Fault System, were formed by the Late Cretaceous rifting (Figure 2 [PDF, 79KB]). In some areas such as the Shipwreck Trough and Mussel Platform in the eastern part of the basin, sinistral strike-slip motion resulted in the development of transpressional structures with both extensional and compressional components. These are tightly folded, north-trending anticlinal structures, which are particularly well developed in the Shipwreck Trough.
Most of the space created by Late Cretaceous extensional rifting was accommodated by prominent displacement along northwest-striking and southwest-dipping normal listric faults including the Tartwaup, Mussel and Codrington fault zones that form the northern margin of the Voluta Trough (Figure 2 [PDF, 79KB] and Figure 3 [PDF, 1,110KB]). Rift-related faulting resulted in the development of large and deep depocentres, including the Voluta Trough, along the outboard part of the Otway Basin. Late Cretaceous syn-rift deposition of the Sherbrook Group was initiated by a major sea level rise that occurred close to the Cenomanian/Turonian boundary. It is the first major marine incursion into the Otway Basin. Deposition throughout the Late Cretaceous was dominated by deltaic sedimentation, as large deltas prograded southwards across the marginal platforms into the Voluta Trough, where the Sherbrook Group section attains a thickness in excess of 5000 m. While sedimentation was influenced by eustasy, overall development of the Sherbrook Group was controlled by syndepositional rift-related tectonism. A three-fold stratigraphic subdivision is recognised in the Sherbrook Group: the basal Waarre Formation; the Flaxman Formation; and an overlying sequence comprising the Belfast Mudstone, Nullawarre Sandstone, Paaratte Formation and Timboon Sandstone that represent facies equivalents of major, prograding delta complexes.
Continental Break-up (Late Maastrichtian)
Moderate structuring and regional uplift which accompanied the late Maastrichtian continental break-up of Antarctica from Australia , resulted in development of the Late Maastrichtian Unconformity that separates pre-rift from post-rift strata. Post-rift (latest Maastrichtian to Holocene) sediments were deposited along the continental shelf in a divergent, passive margin setting as Antarctica separated and drifted further away from Australia with concomitant opening of the Southern Ocean. The post-rift succession is made up of three distinct megasequences separated by major unconformities that represent different stages of passive margin development and are subdivided into three groups: the Wangerrip, Nirranda and Heytesbury groups.
Thermal Subsidence and Marine Transgression (Paleocene-Early Eocene)
The peneplain represented by the Late Maastrichtian Unconformity was flooded during the first major transgression of the incipient Southern Ocean towards the end of the Maastrichtian. This created shallow marine to coastal depositional environments in which the Pebble Point Formation accumulated. This sequence is succeeded by strongly progradational Paleocene to Early Eocene sediments belonging to the Pember Mudstone. This sequence was deposited in shelfal to shallow marine environments on a southwesterly-building marine shelf that trended approximately parallel to the present day coastline (Arditto, 1995). The Pember Mudstone is equivalent in part and succeeded by the Dilwyn Formation (represented by topset beds) deposited in coastal plain and deltaic environments. All three formations are time equivalent to terrestrial sediments of the Lower Eastern View Coal Measures that are restricted to the Torquay Sub-basin and the Colac Trough.
Seafloor Spreading in Southern Ocean (Middle Eocene-Early Oligocene)
The Middle Eocene Unconformity separates the Wangerrip Group from the overlying Nirranda Group. It is recognised in all basins along the southern Australian margin and is correlated with minor tectonism produced by a significant increase in the rate of seafloor spreading in the Southern Ocean south of Australia (Yu, 1988). The erosional surface, which in some parts of the Otway Basin is incised by steep channels and exhibits considerable relief, is infilled and draped by sediments of the middle Eocene to early Oligocene Nirranda Group. The Nirranda Group comprises prograding nearshore to offshore marine clastics of the basal Mepunga Formation that grade upwards into increasingly open marine carbonates of the Narrawaturk Marl. Both formations are time equivalent to the proximal Demons Bluff Formation and Eastern View Coal Measures recognised onshore in the northeastern part of the Otway Basin and Torquay Sub-basin (Abele et al, 1976; Blake, 1980; Tickell, 1991).