|From Ollier and Haworth (1995) The effect of uplift on a denritic drainage|
How did this come to be? Ollier and Haworth (1994) came up with a surprising solution. Essentially, they thought that the angles the tributaries were joining the Clarence would make sense if the Clarence River once flowed the opposite direction. Today this seems like a far fetched idea, I mean, water can’t run up hill, can it? But Ollier and Haworth (1994) thought that prior to the Cenozoic volcanoes that make up the Main Range, Focal Peak and Tweed Volcanoes the land surface would have been much flatter. Indeed the sediments closer to these volcanic centres has been uplifted by hundreds of metres. If there were no mountain ranges along the Queensland border it would be quite conceivable for a river to flow from the New England highlands northward into the Condamine River in Queensland and then into the Murray-Darling River system.
The current trace of the Clarence River is a little bit strange. In many places it crosses between hard Palaeozoic basement rock of the New England into the softer rock of the Clarence Morton Basin and then back again. Rivers usually cut river channels preferentially into softer rock and will rarely flow from gentle valleys in softer rock into steep hard valleys as the Clarence River does along its southward path. Combining this with the knowledge that parts of the Clarence Morton Basin have been shown through various seismic exploration techniques that is has been warped in various directions adds further to the argument.
I for one, am convinced. I think that the Clarence River once flowed north before the Macpherson Range came into existence and the River would probably have joined with an earlier Condamine River. Need to check for yourself? Have a look at the rivers of the region on a map, follow the route of the Clarence River from the Pacific ocean and observe the rivers that join in. Surprisingly, you might find it makes sense!
Postscript: Still can't picture the Clarence River flowing inland? This post discusses the location of the Great Australian Divide and where it would have been when the Clarence River flowed into the Murray-Darling/Condamine System.
*Ollier, C., Haworth, R.J. (1994) Geomorphology of the Clarence-Moreton Basin. In Wells, A.T. & O’Brian, P.E. Geology and Petroleum Potential of the Clarence-Morton Basin. Australian Geological Survey Organisation, Bulletin 241.