The McArthur River drains from a semiarid, sandstone catchment into a shallow embayment behind the Sir Edward Pellew Group of islands in the southwestern Gulf of Carpentaria. It has built a broad Holocene delta, presently with two active distributaries and several abandoned, mangrove-lined, former distributaries. Augering indicates that much of the delta is underlain by shelly sands which contain distinct shell beds in their position of growth. These are interpreted as delta front deposits, and the elevation of the landwardmost beds above high tide level implies emergence of 1-2 m over the last 4000 years. This relative sea-level fall appears to have been a major cause of rapid mid-Holocene delta progradation. The eastern margin of the delta has undergone little net progradation over the last 2000 years, though there has been accretion of small mangrove-covered islands to the northwest of the delta. Distributaries have migrated across the upper deltaic plain by lateral migration, leaving nested sequences of fluvial ridges. In the lower deltaic plain, channel migration appears to have occurred mainly by avulsion; former distributaries have been infilled with fluvial sands and are now tidally dominated. © 1993.