The Quilalar Formation and correlative Mary Kathleen Group in the Mount Isa Inlier, Australia, conformably overlie rift-related volcanics and sediments and non-conformably overlie basement rocks. They represent a thermal-relaxation phase of sedimentation between 1780 and 1740 Ma. Facies analysis of the lower siliciclastic member of the Quilalar Formation and the coeval Ballara Quartzite permits discrimination of depositional systems that were restricted areally to either N-S-trending marginal platform or central trough palaeogeographic settings.

Four depositional systems, each consisting of several facies, are represented in the lower Quilalar Formation-Ballara Quartzite; these are categorized broadly as storm-dominated shelf (SDS), continental (C), tide-dominated shelf (TDS) and wave-dominated shoreline (WDS). SDS facies consist either of black pyritic mudstone intervals up to 10 m thick, or mudstone and sandstone associated in 6–12-m-thick, coarsening-upward parasequences. Black mudstones are interpreted as condensed sections that developed as a result of slow sedimentation in an outer-shelf setting starved of siliciclastic influx. Vertical transition of facies in parasequences reflects flooding followed by shoaling of different shelf subenvironments; the shoreface contains evidence of subaerial exposure. Continental facies consist of fining-upward parasequences of fluvial origin and tabular, 0·4–4-m-thick, aeolian parasequences. TDS facies are represented by stacked, tabular parasequences between 0·5 and 5 m thick. Vertical arrangement of facies in parasequences reflects flooding and establishment of a tidal shelf followed by shoaling to intertidal conditions. WDS facies are preserved in 0·5–3-m-thick, stacked, tabular parasequences. Vertical transition of facies reflects initial flooding with wave reworking of underlying arenites along a ravinement surface, followed by shoaling from lower shoreface to foreshore conditions.

Parasequences are stacked in retrogradational and progradational parasequence sets. Retrogradational sets consist of thin SDS parasequences in the trough, and C, TDS and probably WDS parasequences on the platforms. Thick SDS parasequences in the trough, and TDS, subordinate C and probably WDS parasequences on the platforms make up progradational parasequence sets.

Depositional systems are associated in systems tracts that make up 40–140-m-thick sequences bounded by type-2 sequence boundaries that are disconformities. Transgressive systems tracts consist of C, TDS and probably WDS depositional systems on the platforms and the SDS depositional system and suspension mudstone deposits in the trough. The transgressive systems tract is characterized by retrogradational parasequence sets and developed in response to accelerating rates of sea-level rise following lowstand. Condensed-section deposits in the trough, and the thickest TDS parasequences on the platforms reflect maximum rates of sea-level rise and define maximum flooding surfaces. Highstand systems tract deposits are progradational. Early highstand systems tracts are represented by TDS and probably WDS depositional systems on the platforms and suspension mudstone deposits in the trough and reflect decreasing rates of sea-level rise. Later highstand systems tracts consist of the progradational SDS depositional system in the trough and, possibly, thin continental facies on the platforms. This stage of sequence development is related to slow rates of sea-level rise, stillstand and slow rates of fall. Lowstand deposits of shelf-margin systems tracts are not recognized but may be represented by shoreface deposits at the top of progradational SDS parasequence sets.