Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Road to The Gorge

Note that since this post was written the Towgon Grange Granodiorite has been renamed the Towgon Grange Tonalite.

Many people in the region know about “The Gorge”. It is a remote, yet popular area on the Clarence River. The road to The Gorge is interesting because of the change in geology that is experienced. The main route to The Gorge is via Grafton and Copmanhurst. By travelling west from Copmanhurst along the Clarence Way you move from the sedimentary rocks of the Clarence-Moreton Basin. First,  the rugged cliffs made from the Kangaroo Creek Sandstone give way to the rolling hills of the Walloon Coal Measures then Koukandowie Formation. Some road cuttings show weathered examples of these rocks. Turning off the Clarence Way and passing over the camping ground, swimming hole and bridge at Lilydale leads you to The Gorge turn-off. The Lilydale and Newbold areas have some of the oldest rocks of the Clarence-Moreton particularly the Laytons Range Conglomerate. But on the day I was there, I was not so interested in those rocks… because I was getting into the New England Orogen.

It is rare opportunity for me to explore the foot hills of the New England region. I love the feeling of the place, the wonderful landscape, climate, history and even culture. The place just seems to have a feeling of connection with the people who live there. Luckily, I managed to visit the edges of the New England escarpment for a little while on the weekend. While there I managed to experience more of the rocks that are the foundations of the landscape of New England.

Towgon Grange Tonalite - on The Grange Road, Middle Clarence River area
Driving along The Gorge road the rocks of the Silverwood Group are passed by. These are slightly enigmatic rocks of the New England Orogen, interpreted as subduction complex rocks (Van Noord 1999). Mainly outcropping in streams the rock of the Silverwood Group in this area are none the less quite hard and old metamorphosed marine sedimentary and volcanic rocks. The Silverwood Group is interesting because it also occurs near Texas in Southern Queensland and it is only partially understood in our region. But more about the Silverwood Group in a future post. 

Round tors appear by the road side near Table Creek about 15km south of The Gorge. These tors are a classical shape formed by the weathering and erosion of granite type rocks. Here are rocks that make up part of the New England Batholith. The batholith is numerous masses of intrusive igneous rocks plutons that were molten well before Australia was separate from Gondwana. The ‘granite’ here is called the Towgon Grange Granodiorite. Like the Dumbudgery Creek Granodiorite that occurs about 20-30km further north the pluton is bisected by the path of the Clarence River. This helps to illustrate the unusual behaviour of the Clarence river as it travels backward and forward over soft and hard rocks. In fact the other side of the pluton can be easily found on the other side of the river just off the Clarence Way.

The Towgon Grange Granodiorite intrudes into the Silverwood Group meta-sediments. The rock sample at Table Creek (pictured) is actually not a granodiorite. It is notionally similar in appearance but contains much less potassium-feldspar. The main minerals are light coloured plagioclase feldspar, quartz and darker clinopyroxene and amphibole. The rock sample shows that much of the clinopyroxene is mantled (surrounded) by amphibole. The lack of potassium-feldspar means that this particular sample is probably a Tonalite according to the most popular rock classification (QAPF). In fact Bryant et al (1997) actually notes that the Towgon Grange Granodiorite only contains small amounts of Granodiorite, with most being Tonalite or Quartz Diorite. This is a good example how stratigraphic names may be misleading to first time geologists!

Bryant et al (1997) classifies the Towgon Grange Granodiorite as an I-type granite of the Clarence River Supersuite. This means that the Towgon Grange Granodiorite is derived from the melting of other igneous rocks. The Towgon 
Grange Granodiorite is also comparatively low on silica (quartz) in comparison to other Clarence-River suite intrusions. It still contains enough quartz that it is generally visible in hand specimens. The age of the Towgon Grange Granodiorite is about 248-249Ma old. The younger sedimentary rocks of the Clarence-Moreton Basin overlie parts of the Towgon Grange Granodiorite and Silverwood Group.

The Towgon Grange Granodiorite is one of those rocks that just about no one in the general public has heard of. But, it is a good example of rocks that illustrate many points about the landscape evolution of the New England Orogen and the Clarence River. It occurs in a scenic area and is also a very attractive rock in its own right.

*Bryan, C.J., Arculus, R.J. & Chappell, B.W. 1997. Clarence River Supersuite: 250Ma Cordilleran Tonalitic I-Type Intrusions in Eastern Australia. Journal of Petrology V.38 No. 8.

*van Noord, K.A.A. 1999. Basin development, geological evolution and tectonic setting of the Silverwood Group IN Flood, P. G. (ed.) Regional Geology Tectonics and Metallogenesis: New England Orogen - NEO '99 Conference University of New England.


  1. As always, Rod, an interesting post.

    1. Thank you, wangiwriter, as usual an interesting journey.

  2. Twas up there last weekend, attempting to get access to the serp.

    So should we expect a future post on the New England oroclines to explain the Silverwood Group???


    1. Hi Ryan,
      Yes, I'd like to do some posts on the New England Oroclines in the near future. I've briefly touched on the subject in other posts too but nothing really detailed. I have read some of Gideon Rosenbaum's excellent papers on the Oroclines and might try and turn these into a blog post or two.

      Just for information (you probably already know) - there is an excursion scheduled for the Australian Earth Sciences convention in Newcastle this year that covers the oroclinal characteristics. I have a feeling that Sol Buckman is one of the leaders. Unfortunately, I won't be attending the convention or excursions.

  3. I not sure if I`m attending that weekend, though if I do, I`ll most likely get roped into driving the bus, we were up sussing out the route the other weekend and we`ll be back up at Port Macquarie the week after next for a field trip along the coast there, I can’t keep myself away!