Australia were 65 for four after 20 overs as they were strangled by England's bowlers after electing to bat first.
Stuart Broad was rewarded for a tight new-ball spell, in which he found seam and swing movement, to remove Aaron Finch and Shane Watson.
Tim Bresnan bowled Australia skipper Michael Clarke, before Ben Stokes had Shaun Marsh caught at mid-wicket in his first over.
The clatter of wickets came after England had made a sloppy start in the field, dropping Finch twice before Broad bowled him with a peach of an off cutter.
Skipper Alastair Cook reacted late to a sharp chance over his head, off Chris Jordan, at first slip before Finch had scored. Ravi Bopara then spilled the simplest of chances at cover.
But Broad ensured it hardly mattered, though, with a delivery that Finch was late on and sent his off stump cart wheeling.
Broad struck again in his next over when Watson flashed at a wide delivery, a ball after he narrowly survived an lbw review.
Broad's wickets were deserved reward for tidy bowling, his six-over spell returning two for 14 with two maidens.
Australia therefore crawled to 30 for two after 10 overs with just three boundaries.
Marsh hit two of those from consecutive balls off Jordan, but Australia's next boundary took 53 balls to arrive.
The pressure paid off as Bresnan bowled Clarke, who took 26 balls for his eight, when the Australia captain tried to pull a ball that also seamed.
Marsh had seen his top-three partners all fail to reach double figures and while he progressed steadily to 36, he fell meekly.
The left-hander clipped Stokes' fourth ball to Cook at mid-wicket.
England were therefore threatening to play the role of party-poopers, as the hosts sought to complete a 4-1 series scoreline with victory on Australia Day.
England recalled Joe Root, in place of Gary Ballance, as the only change from the team that secured their first win over Australia on tour, by 57 runs in Perth on Friday.
Clarke returned as one of four changes for the hosts, along with Watson, Clint McKay and Xavier Doherty.
Mitchell Johnson, Steve Smith, Dan Christian and James Pattinson were left out.