Despite rainy conditions, the hosts were on the verge of taking full control of the match as they reached 111 runs before England's late fightback.
The tourists desperately needed one of their experienced men to change the flow of the game and unsurprisingly, it was James Anderson who stepped up to the task.
England's greatest ever wicket taker dismissed Marcus Harris to hand his side a lifeline in the penultimate Test.
Moments later, Mark Wood followed up with a wicket of his own. The 31-year-old powered through Australia's defences to take out the world's number one batter, Marnus Labuschagne.
Earlier in the day, Stuart Broad produced the opening breakthrough as he dismissed David Warner for the 13th time - more than any other bowler. Australia rallied and bagged 60 more runs before Wood and Anderson gave England hope.
Just 46.5 overs had been possible in the opening stanza of the New Year Test, but for the first time in the series England left the field with a genuine foothold in the game.
England lost a rain-delayed toss but, with a scattering of live grass on the pitch, there were signs of encouragement for the reunited duo of James Anderson and Broad.
The first ball of the innings gave England further cause for optimism, Anderson's opening delivery leaping off a good length and rapping Warner on the glove. Just for a second it was tempting to think Pat Cummins had delivered his top order into a booby trap.
That proved something of a red herring, though, with no further unnatural bounce to aid Anderson's swing and Broad unable to generate anything untoward in his initial burst.
Both he and Ben Stokes had been described by assistant coach Graham Thorpe as 'caged tigers' coming into the match, but the 35-year-old took a while to bare his teeth.
Had Warner lasted just four more balls, he would have made the safety of the next weather interruption. Instead, the sides broke up at 56 for one leaving England something to carry back with them.
It took more than two hours for conditions to clear and, barring an intriguing early tussle between Broad and Labuschagne which saw an edge, a flick for four and an lbw appeal in the space of three deliveries, Australia were on top.
Harris was doing a good job of eating up time, with Stokes looking short on energy and the ball going dead. England took 37 overs before changing the pace in the form of Jack Leach, but he began with defensive lines that seemed to reflect English caution.
In the end it took Anderson to change the script, shaping one across Harris on 38 and taking a low edge which Root swallowed at first slip. The arrival of hometown favourite Steve Smith brought out a hunch in Root, who immediately brought his quickest bowler back into the attack.
But, for the second innings in a row, it was Labuschagne who was unsettled by the speed. Late to get his bat down to one that held its line outside off stump he nicked through to Jos Buttler, a vital double strike for a side in need of inspiration.
They were denied the possibility of another 40 minutes at the middle order by the familiar sight of dark clouds overhead but will resume on the second morning in good heart.