The hosts came into the game having lost 16 of their past 18 ODIs and with the reverberations of a ball-tampering scandal this year still hanging over them.
The Proteas opted for a four-pronged pace attack on a fast pitch and after winning the toss and choosing to bowl it quickly paid dividends with Australia soon in trouble.
Travis Head got a thick edge to Quinton de Kock off veteran quick Dale Steyn for just one and then D'Arcy Short, in the side for Shaun Marsh who needs minor surgery on an abscess, followed him back to the pavilion for a duck two balls later.
Captain Aaron Finch, who can be explosive when in full flight, totally misjudged the bounce from a Lungi Ngidi delivery and was out lbw soon after for five.
He mistakenly opted not to review with Australia floundering at 8-3 as replays revealed the ball would have gone over the stumps.
The first four of the innings didn't come until the 12th over when Chris Lynn drove a full-toss to the boundary but he couldn't build on the momentum, caught behind for 15 on review after the umpire initially gave him not out.
Another review saw a fuming Glenn Maxwell gone for 11 with Phehlukwayo just getting his fingers under the ball for a catch at mid-on.
Some late fireworks from Coulter-Nile, including a big six, took Australia past 150.
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