Australia assumed control of the fourth Investec Test thanks to opener Chris Rogers' maiden century at the age of 35.
Rogers defied a seaming Chester-le-Street wicket, and an initially-inspired Stuart Broad, to help Australia to 222 for five - a deficit of 16 runs - when bad light stopped play just before 6pm.
Rogers was unbeaten on 101 at the close after rescuing the tourists from 76 for four after Broad (four for 48) sliced through the top order.
The left-hander combined with Shane Watson (68) in a 129-run stand to slowly wrest the advantage back Australia's way after England failed to add to their overnight 238 at the start of play.
Last-man Jimmy Anderson fell in the second over when a Jackson Bird leg-cutter cannoned into his middle stump.
That seam movement was a sign of things to come as Broad produced one of the unplayable spells he is inclined to as David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke all departed inside the first 14 overs.
Tim Bresnan then removed Steven Smith shortly after lunch only for Rogers to take over.
The veteran had to ride his luck at times - he correctly reviewed a caught behind when he was on 20 - before Graeme Swann spilled a tough chance at second slip to allow him to reach his half-century.
And while he nervously progressed through the nineties - he was stuck on 96 for 19 balls - he eventually swept Swann to the rope to reach his century.