Friday, 14 March 2014

Armidale submerged

Armidale is well known for its height above sea level, with some areas above 1000m it is at a relatively high altitude by Australian standards. The city is located in the New England, ‘Northern Tablelands’ which provides an indication of the landscape in which it is situated. The area resembles a very large plateau with comparatively light rolling hills compared with the nearby escarpment and edges of the tablelands. In fact, Armidale is just a tiny bit to the east of the crest of the Great Dividing Range. Surprisingly, this area was in part inundated by a lake, or lakes.

Examples of some rocks that make up the Armidale beds
The big sample at the front has been partially turned into silcrete.
One of the headwaters of the Macleay River, Dumaresq Creek flows through Armidale. In places this creek, as well as other creeks in the area, have cut through the basalt rock that covered the area. A description of this process was covered in an earlier post. In this post I’d like to describe the sediments that lie under the basalt. These are Eocene (or earlier) sediments named by Voisey (1942) the Armidale Series, now known as the Armidale beds.

The Armidale beds are comprised of fluvial (river) and lacustrine (lake) deposited sediments. These are principally conglomerates, siltstones, sandstones and shale. Interestingly, the shales are laminated possibly as a result of seasonal deposition in a lake. They also contain abundant plant fossils. The material that makes up the sediments is particularly obvious in the conglomerate. The conglomerate clasts are derived from the older underlying geology, for example clasts of jasper, quartzite and granites.

The Armidale beds occur in small remnant areas (the balance of the beds having been eroded away). These remnants occur throughout the Armidale area but almost as far away as Wollomombi to the west, near Dangars Falls to the south-east and Kellys Plains to the south-west. Voisey 1942 named this area Armidale Lake which is a palaeo-lake that only exists now in the sediments that it left. The formation of Armidale Lake occurred either before or during the volcanism that ended up covering a majority of the Armidale region in blankets of basalt lava (lavas of the Central Volcanic Province). In fact, the Armidale beds were preserved by this blanket of basalt both directly and through metamorphism beds in the area of contact. This metamorphism of the Armidale beds created a layer of hard silcrete (once known as greybilly) which itself was resistant to erosion and helped preserve the underlying un-silcretized sediment from being washed away.

The picture above is an example of the Armidale Beds that occur near the Armidale garbage disposal centre. A very accessible example is located on Madgwick Drive on the way to the University. It is actually one of the best remaining exposures of the unit and has been used for years by local schools and the university. Indeed, Banaghan & Packham 2000 have the road cutting as a stop on their Armidale-Yarowych geological tour.


*Branagan,, D.F. & Packham, G.H. 2000. Field Geology of New South Wales. Department of Mineral Resources.
*Fitzpatrick, K.R. 1979 The Armidale area. Geological Survey of New South Wales. Geological Excursion Handbook 1
*Voisey, A.H. 1938. The Geology of the Armidale District. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales.
*Voisey, A.H. 1942. The Geology of the County of Sandon, NSW. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. V67.


  1. Hi Rod

    I think it's most probable that it is a series of time trangressive lakes rather than one big lake. Madgwick Drive deposit also has an interesting character in that the conglomerate beds contain no granite clasts, which is really weird! Nice post!!


    1. Hi Dylan,

      I agree with your thoughts about a series of lakes rather than just one. Rarely does one place remain the same for long. In the case of Armidale I'd say it would be likely the lake or lakes would be situated in different areas over a period of ten or hundreds of thousands of years.

      I seem to recall that the cutting on Madgwick drive did not have granitic clasts. I don't think it is too strange, it is just an indication that the catchment area for that area was entirely metasedimentary at the time.

      Great to hear from you again.