James Anderson and Stuart Broad shared six wickets for 80 runs as Australia faltered to 164 for nine in reply to 255 all out at the MCG.
It was a heartening improvement in fortunes, if too late to affect the residence of the Ashes for the next 20 months after England lost the urn with three shuddering defeats down under already.
Anderson alluded to that frustration, and suggested he himself was possibly flattered by his figures of three for 50.
Even so, after Mitchell Johnson (five for 63) had yet again set an ominous tone with another rush of wickets on a cloudy morning, England bowled with great discipline to at last give themselves something to smile about.
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"Days like that have been few and far between on this trip," said Anderson. "(But) we're just really hungry to get something out of this tour, and we showed that today.
"Cooky set really good fields; we bowled to them, and it was a really complete performance."