Linear dunes occupy more than one-third of the Australian continent, but the timing of their formation is poorly understood. In this study, we collected 82 samples from 26 sites across the Strzelecki and Tirari Deserts in the driest part of central Australia to provide an optically stimulated luminescence chronology for these dunefields. The dunes preserve up to four stratigraphic horizons, bounded by palaeosols, which represent evidence for multiple periods of reactivation punctuated by episodes of increased environmental stability. Dune activity took place in episodes around 73-66, 35-32, 22-18 and 14-10 ka. Intermittent partial mobilisation persisted at other times throughout the last 75 ka and dune activity appears to have intensified during the late Holocene. Dune construction occurred when sediment was available for aeolian transport; in the Strzelecki and Tirari Deserts, this coincided with cold, arid conditions during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 4, late MIS 3 and MIS 2, and the warm, dry climates of the late Pleistocene-Holocene transition period and late Holocene. Localised influxes of sediment on active floodplains and lake floors during the relatively more humid periods of MIS 5 also resulted in dune formation. The timing of widespread dune reactivation coincided with glaciation in southeastern Australia, along with cooler temperatures in the adjacent oceans and Antarctica. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.