The Early Palaeozoic Cape River Metamorphics consist mainly of psammitic gneiss and schist and occur as an extensive linear belt at the western margin of the Charters Towers Province 200 km southwest of Townsville in the northern Tasmanides. A prominent foliation (S2) is the main structure in the belt and is associated with tight to isoclinal folds, subparallel mineral and intersection lineations, and boudinaged pods of vein quartz and pegmatite. In the southwest, the main foliation is a crenulation cleavage (S2) related to D2 deformation. It overprints steeply dipping foliation (S1) formed in a D1 deformation but no associated folds have been found. Gently plunging, upright, open folds (D3 deformation) with axial planar S3 crenulation cleavage have affected the main foliation (S2). These deformations were associated with upper greenschist to lower amphibolite facies metamorphism. Amphibolite-grade orthogneiss containing S2 and S3, deformed granite and migmatite of the Fat Hen Creek Complex occurs in the northeast. In the southwest, the main foliation (S2) is folded around a map-scale, gently plunging synclinorium indicating that S2 formed with a subhorizontal orientation. In metamorphic rocks, the origin of widespread, intense subhorizontal foliation, usually associated with recumbent folds, has been considered problematic and in many cases is attributed to crustal extension. We relate the origin of D2 structures to subvertical shortening (i.e. extension) resulting in orientations that are strikingly divergent to those of upright D1 and D3 structures that were induced by compression. The proposed extensional event is poorly constrained in timing but it affected much of the Fat Hen Creek Complex, the oldest known phase of which is 493 Ma, and occurred prior to 40Ar/39Ar cooling ages at 423 – 409 Ma that also post-dated the D3 deformation.