Saturday 20 July 2013

It's a Demon of a Fault

Many people have requested that I do a post on the Demon Fault. I've struggled to put something together because structural geology is not one of my strong points and secondly because there was so little published information about it, except for some specific papers in the 1970’s. Thankfully, a few months ago Babaahmdi & Rosenbaum (2013) published a detailed paper summarising what was known in the 1970s, presenting how the fault appears, how it seems to have developed and how it may fit into the development of eastern Australia. It is worth noting that Gideon Rosenbaum from The University of Queensland has been the major researcher on New England structural geology for the last 5 years. If it was not for him and his student’s research we would be struggling to understand some of the basic features of the older rocks of the region including the Demon Fault.

Large faults are usually have quite distinctive landscape features. The Demon Fault is mainly a transverse type fault (movement on the fault horizontally rather than vertically) which displays very obvious topographical features.  Transverse faults often form valleys, where the rock of the fault has been broken down into what is called gouge or rock-flour. Gouge is very weak material. It is easily eroded and rivers often preferentially follow the route of the fault carving out the gouge into deep valleys.  The presence of deformational features in the surrounding rock can give an indication of how deep the fault was when it was active.

The Demon Fault is a prominent feature because it is evident from a series of valleys from near the Queensland Border to Dorrigo. At the Queensland end it is partly obscured by the Cenozoic Main Range Volcanics and in the Dorrigo area the end is obscured by the Cenozoic aged Ebor Volcanics. Geological maps of the area show a nice linear feature with obvious truncation of pre-existing geological units. Aerial photos also show the fault up nicely with streams preferentially flowing along the trace of the fault and contrasting with the rugged forested mountains surrounding it. I’ve never taken a photo of any part of the Demon Fault but a nice photo taken from an aeroplane can be found here:

The Timbarra River has followed the Demon Fault creating linear valley (used with permission)

Korsch et al (1978) observed that the Demon Fault had displaced several geological units including intrusions of the Bungulla Monzogranite (now known as the Rocky River Monzogranite), Dumbudgery Granodiorite and Newton Boyd Granodiorite as well as the Drake Volcanics. The fault was interpreted as a dextral strike-slip fault (a fault where the eastern side had moved south relative to the western side). Korsch et al (1978) calculated that the fault had displaced these units 17km which is substantial in Eastern Australia. Dating of the displaced granite intrusions provides a possible maximum date of within Triassic period (249-232 million years). The nature of deformation features adjacent to the faulting indicates that the fault was shallow and/or was created in a brittle environment. Badaahmadi & Rosenbaum (2013) speculate that the timing of the faulting may actually be similar to that of faulting and extension in the earth’s crust that formed the Ipswich and Clarence-Moreton Basins (more about this in future posts).

There are many factors in understanding the Demon Fault. It is interesting to note that other authors have come up with different lengths of displacement including 30km in the northern part of the fault and 23Km in the central part. Badaahmadi & Rosenbaum (2013) have calculated that the northern part of the fault displaced 35km, in the centre by 25km and south by 19km. Some components of reverse faulting (where one side of the fault slid down and away from the other side) were observed. Additionally, it was noted that the Demon Fault did not appear to follow one big long line but instead had numerous splays (deviations, splitting, etc) especially in the south. Badaahmadi & Rosenbaum (2013) suspect that there may be two causes to the different lengths:
  1. Splays may have created movement of the fault which had a vertical component as well as horizontal.
  2. There may have been some fault reactivation of the northern part of the fault as recently as the Cenozoic era.
Both of these possibilities really need a discussion in their own right, rather than cursory mention. So, I’ll get back to these in a future post.  I also want to cover the significance of the Demon Fault in formation of the Texas and Coffs Harbour Oroclines which are incredibly large features that I’ve briefly touched on in an earlier post about the South Solitary Island.

*Babaahmadi, A. & Rosenbaum, G. 2013. Kinematics of the Demon Fault: Implications for Mesozoic strike-slip faulting in eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences. V.60
*Korsch, R.J., Archer, R. & McConachy, G.W. 1978. The Demon Fault. Journal and Proceedings, Royal Society of New South Wales. V111.


  1. Hi Rod. When I look at Google Maps, there certainly is a distinct line of valleys running north south between the Queensland border to the Guy Fawkes River NP, which includes the Timbarra river valley. I assume this is the visible evidence of the Demon fault of which you speak. I very much look forward to your future posts on this prominent feature of the landscape which I was ignorant of until today!
    Thanks so much for your fascinating blog.

    1. Hi Alex,

      You are spot on with your observation. That is indeed the line of the Demon Fault.

      Thanks for the compliment on the blog. I appreciate you coming by and reading.

  2. Hi Rod. I'm very interested in the Demon Fault as I live 30kms from the Demon Nature Reserve, in Tenterfield. They are both to the east of me. Within the last 2 years I have seen the strangest white flash of lights coming from the Demon fault area. The lights were bizarre. The light comes from the horizon then went upward and outward and formed a semicircle shape, like that of the underside of a rainbow. When the light reached the outer edge of the semicircle shape it switched off just like a light bulb does when you turn it off at the switch. Within 10 minutes the light appeared again. A month or so later I saw the same light again but it only flashed once and was slightly to the left of the first ones I saw. I've been living in Tenterfield since 1986 and had never seen any light like that before to the east. I have also seen ball lightning, also to the east, during the last 2 years. Then today, actually this morning around 11 AM, my daughter and I heard the weirdest noise and it sounded like it was coming from the MT. MacKenzie area, to the south of Tenterfield. It sounded like it was above ground level but not as high as the mountain itself. It sounded like a semi trailer slamming on it's breaks (but a drawn out sound yet different) followed by a pause then an even weirder sound of what I can only describe as a large piano being dragged across a wooden floor. Then there was a pause and the sounds repeated in sequence 2 more times. The sounds were loud but faint. The nearby birds that were chirping were louder than these sounds we heard but you could still hear them over the top of the birds chirping. I am familiar with the many different types of semi trailers driving through town along with what semis sound like when they are breaking. I have not felt any earthquakes since I've been here but I suspect the Demon fault is active, or only recently become active.

  3. This is really interesting, and I appreciate you completing an informative and easy to read history about the Demon Fault. I am happy that I have found your blog, because you have covered the area that I am currently filming.

    I would be interested to see if the fault is currently active, and if these lights that Shirley saw were part of the movement. I have heard earth tremors from Paddy Flat area, sounding like a truck in the distance yet with no movement.