The term "Desert Sandstone" was featured on geological maps and in the literature of Australian geology for more than eighty years from 1872. The name was suggested by Richard Daintree (1832-1878) (1868) for what were later described as "a promiscuous lot of sediments that form a dissected tableland in some of the drier portions of the continent" (Howchin, 1918). The name became current, particularly in Queensland, but there were many problems in mapping the unit, which was at first thought to be of Tertiary age, but then became largely accepted as Late Cretaceous.
While some geologists thought the unit was of marine origin, others believed it was aeolian, even partly made of volcanic dust, but most geologists thought it was largely lacustrine. In many areas the rock appeared to be highly silicified, and opinions differed as to the source of silicification—a former covering of basalt, or siliceous hot waters from below?
Complications arose when Glossopteris, regarded as a Late Palaeozoic fossil, was found in the "Desert Sandstone," and arguments arose about the possibility of this plant having persisted in Australia until the late Mesozoic.
The stratigraphic/palaeontological problems were eventually sorted out by detailed mapping, which showed that there were in fact a number of sandstones of similar appearance but quite different ages. It took longer to realise that the apparent uniformity of sedimentary rocks of different ages was largely the result of weathering, which produced the silicified "duricrust" in many parts of inland Australia.
The "Desert Sandstone" played an important part in the unravelling of three important lines of earth history in Australia (and there were even repercussions abroad). These were: (a) sedimentation during the Mesozoic and Cainozoic; (b) the clarification of the temporal range (and lateral extent) of the Glossopteris flora; and (c) the weathering processes that produced some of the characteristic scenery of inland Australia.