Palaeoproterozoic metasedimentary migmatite reflects the highest temperature parts of a regional aureole at Mt Stafford, central Australia, comprising rocks that experienced 500-800 °C at ≈3 kbar. Whole-rock major element concentrations are correlated with Zr content, psammitic compositions having nearly twice the Zr content of pelitic compositions. Zirconium is concentrated in mesosome compared with leucosome. Zircon is largely detrital, mostly lacking any overgrowth contemporary with migmatite formation. Comparatively small proportions of micro-zircon (<10 μm) in sub-solidus rocks are mostly hosted by quartz and plagioclase. Much higher proportions (three to five times) of micro-zircon in migmatite are hosted by prograde K-feldspar, cordierite and biotite. T-X and P-T NCKFMASHTZr pseudosections constructed using thermocalc model the distribution of Zr between solid and silicate liquid phases. Half of the detrital zircon (~100 ppm Zr) is predicted to be dissolved into silicate liquid at ≈800 °C and all dissolved by 850 °C, if all zircon is involved in the equilibration volume. Melt segregation at relatively low temperature is predicted to enrich the residuum in Zr, consistent with the observed distribution of Zr between mesosome and leucosome. The limited development of metamorphic zircon rims or overgrowths at Mt Stafford is explained by three concurrent processes: (i) Zr liberated during prograde metamorphism formed micro-zircon, rather than following the prediction that Zr will partition into silicate liquid; (ii) some detrital zircon was probably armoured by other rock-forming minerals, reducing Zr content in the effective bulk rock composition; and (iii) small proportions of melt loss during migmatization removed Zr that otherwise would have been available to form metamorphic rims.