The Charters Towers Province, of the northern Thomson Orogen, records conversion from a Neoproterozoic passive margin to a Cambrian active margin, as characteristic of the Tasmanides. The passive margin succession includes a thick metasedimentary unit derived from Mesoproterozoic rocks. The Cambrian active margin is represented by upper Cambrian���Lower Ordovician (500���460 Ma) basinal development (Seventy Mile Range Group), plutonism and metamorphism resulting from an enduring episode of arc���backarc crustal extension. Detrital zircon age spectra indicate that parts of the metamorphic basement of the Charters Towers Province (elements of the Argentine Metamorphics and Charters Towers Metamorphics) overlap in protolith age with the basal part of the Seventy Mile Range Group and thus were associated with extensional basin development. Detrital zircon age data from the extensional basin succession indicate it was derived from a far-field (Pacific-Gondwana) primary source. However, a young cluster (<510 Ma) is interpreted as reflecting a local igneous source related to active margin tectonism. Relict zircon in a tonalite phase of the Fat Hen Creek Complex suggests that active margin plutonism may have extended back to ca 530 Ma. Syntectonic plutonism in the western Charters Towers Province is dated at ca 485���480 Ma, close to timing of metamorphism (477���467 Ma) and plutonism more generally (508���455 Ma). The dominant structures in the metamorphic basement formed with gentle to subhorizontal dips and are inferred to have formed by extensional ductile deformation, while normal faulting developed at shallower depths, associated with heat advection by plutonism. Lower Silurian (Benambran) shortening, which affected metamorphic basement and extensional basin units, resulted in the dominant east���west-structural trends of the province. We consider that these trends reflect localised north���south shortening rather than rotation of the province as is consistent with the north���south paleogeographic alignment of extensional basin successions.KEY POINTS Northern Tasmanide transition from passive to active margin tectonic mode had occurred by ca 510 Ma, perhaps as early as ca 530 Ma. Cambro-Ordovician active margin tectonism of the Charters Towers Province (northern Thomson Orogen) was characterised by crustal extension. Crustal extension resulted in the development of coeval (500���460 Ma) basin fill, granitic plutonism and metamorphism with rock assemblages as exposed across the Charters Towers Province developed at a wide range of crustal levels and expressing heterogeneous exhumation. Protoliths of metasedimentary assemblages of the Charters Towers Province include both Proterozoic passive margin successions and those emplaced as Cambrian extensional basin fill.