The intensity and position of the sub-tropical ridge (STR) have strong relationships with rainfall variability in southern Australia. The combined effect of intensity and position in March-April-May (MAM) and June-July-August (JJA) is the focus of this research. Linear statistics were used first: area-averaged and Australia-wide spatial correlations of STR intensity and position with precipitation in south-west eastern Australia reveal that STR intensity has a much stronger and more widespread relationship with precipitation in both seasons. Over time, these relationships vary in magnitude and spatial extent with the sign of the correlation changing between two 50-year epochs. These nonlinearities were investigated further using classification trees. Area-averaged precipitation data (terciles) for south-west eastern Australia was classified on the basis of STR intensity and position. In both seasons the classification trees identify STR intensity as the primary partition defining the dry group, supporting the linear analysis. In the transition season of MAM, the time of year when the mean position of the STR is more southerly, STR position is important in distinguishing between a ‘winter-like’ and a ‘summer-like’ wet groups, providing STR intensity is low. Vector wind analyses were computed to explain the composite seasonal precipitation anomaly results in terms of different circulation patterns associated with these two wet groups. The frequency of wet and dry cases in each group was examined with changes evident over the recent years. The research confirms that STR intensity is more important than STR position in explaining inter-annual rainfall variability across southern Australia but also demonstrates the additional role of STR position in MAM. These results explain the low correlation between rainfall and STR position and why this relationship has evolved during the 20th century as the mean location of the STR has shifted south in MAM.