Australia started the second day's play at 2-9 in reply to England's first innings of 201, but the home side then lost 3-15 in the space of five overs to be in desperate trouble at 5-37.
However, captain and wicket-keeper Jodie Fields then started the recovery mission with 43 before all-rounder Ellyse Perry took over with an outstanding 71 and Erin Osborne added 40 as Australia just managed to take a first innings lead of six having made 207.
Fields and Perry began Australia's recovery coming together at 5-37 but put on a 55-run stand to steady things, and then Perry and Osborne combined for 85 to put Australia within touching distance of a lead, which came just before they were bowled out for 207.
The innings wasn’t without drama, though, with England opening bowler Katherine Brunt disqualified from bowling the rest of the innings after just eight overs and having taken 1-30 for bowling two beamers, the second of which was directed right at Perry's head.
England captain Charlotte Edwards also injured her knee in the field and the opening batter won't be able to come to the crease now until her team is five wickets down.
Anya Shrubsole led the way with the ball for England taking 4-51 with debutant Kathryn Cross claiming 3-35.
England's batters had been in the middle of 40-plus degree heat in the middle of the WACA Ground all day and then looked tired when they came out to bat.
Rene Farrell bowled Heather Knight in the second over and then Perry bowled Lydia Greenway for five with Sarah Taylor caught by Meg Fanning off Farrell for a duck as England slumped to 3-10.
At stumps, the English were 3-18 with Natalie Sciver not out on eight and Arran Brindle on three with a lead of just 12 with seven wickets in hand.
Perry was delighted to play her part in the key partnerships with Fields and Osborne to help Australia take a first innings lead as she top-scored with 71 in what was her first Test century, but she knows Australia can't take their foot off the pedal despite being in a strong position.
"The biggest thought was that we had a lot of time today to play out in the middle and for all intents and purposes, it was a pretty nice wicket to bat on and given the heat we really wanted to leave England out in the field as long as we could," Perry said.
"It's been a really funny match so far and it has tossed and turned a lot. There has been parts of the match where we've been on top and other parts with us on top so it's a bit hard to call, but certainly we did a great job tonight and it has put us in a great position.
"Both of their batters at the crease are key wickets for us and hopefully we can hammer home some more momentum in the morning, but I think it's going to be another tough and competitive day of cricket."