Australia (9) 21
Tries: Ashley-Cooper, O'Connor Pens: Giteau 2 Drop-goal: Giteau
South Africa (6) 6
Pen: M Steyn Drop-goal: M Steyn
Adam Ashley-Cooper broke South Africa's resistance after 63 minutes
Australia put in a storming display to notch up their first Tri-Nations win of the season in Brisbane and inflict a first defeat on South Africa.
Matt Giteau slotted two penalties and a drop-goal to Morne Steyn's penalty and a drop-goal as the Wallabies led 9-6 after a breathtaking first half.
After a rash of near-misses, the Springboks' defence finally gave way when Adam Ashley-Cooper burst over.
And James O'Connor added a late try to seal a well-deserved win for the hosts.
Australia's win snapped a six-game losing streak in the Tri-Nations and means New Zealand still have an outside chance of winning the tournament.
The All Blacks host the Springboks in Hamilton next weekend before playing Australia in Wellington the weekend after.
South Africa are now winless, and tryless, in their last four games at Suncorp Stadium and have won only two of their last 14 matches in Australia.
South Africa came out of the traps the fastest, but it was Australia who struck first, soaking up some early pressure before revealing their intentions and attacking from deep.
Fly-half Giteau flung a long pass wide from inside his own 22, releasing Ashley-Cooper on the bounce, and the centre hared into the Springboks half before being hauled down.
Giteau was then rewarded for his risk-taking, finding the target with a long-range penalty on six minutes after South Africa had strayed off-side.
After a period of cut and thrust, with both sides running the ball from all parts, Lachie Turner almost squeezed over in the right-hand corner, but he lost the ball under a fine try-saving tackle from Bryan Habana.
Giteau unlocked the Springboks defence again shortly after, skipping through the opposition midfield, but he was unable to off-load in the tackle.
Then it was South Africa's turn to attack in waves, and when Jean de Villiers rounded Giteau and released Jaque Fourie, it looked like the first try would follow.
However, wing Drew Mitchell and full-back O'Connor combined to bring Fourie, making his 50th international appearance, down a few feet short of the line.
Giteau doubled Australia's lead with another penalty on 26 minutes, but Springboks fly-half Steyn hit back with a drop-goal after a poor line-out throw from Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Giteau restored his side's six-point lead with a right-footed drop-goal, before Steyn replied once again with a penalty kick.
South Africa thought they had taken the lead on the stroke of half-time, but Fourie du Preez's flipped pass to Heinrich Brussow was deemed to be forward.
It was a miracle that no tries were scored in a breathtaking first period, and Australia had a golden opportunity to cross shortly after the restart, but Giteau fumbled with men outside.
Will Genia thought he had crossed when he decided to tap and go from five metres out, but he lost the ball under a magnificent tackle from opposite number Du Preez.
Remarkably, the visitors saved another try in-goal when Giteau was shoved into touch by Fourie, but the South Africa dam finally broke when Ashley-Cooper romped over after being released by Berrick Barnes.
Giteau had a chance to increase Australia's lead, but hooked his penalty kick, before Peter Hynes pushed a drop-goal attempt just wide.
However, South Africa had nothing left, and O'Connor put a gloss on Australia's victory when he followed up his own high kick to score in the dying minutes.
Australia: O'Connor; Turner, Ashley-Cooper, Barnes, Mitchell; Giteau, Genia; Robinson, Polota-Nau, Alexander, Horwill, Chisholm, Elsom, Pocock, Smith (captain).
Replacements: Moore, Cowan, Mumm, Palu, Burgess, Cooper, Hynes.
South Africa: Pienaar; Ndungane, Fourie, de Villiers, Habana; M Steyn, du Preez; Mtawarira, du Plessis, Smit (capt), Botha, Matfield, Brussow, Smith, Spies.
Replacements: Ralepelle, du Plessis, Rossouw, Burger, Januarie, Jacobs, F Steyn.