Sulawesi has generally been interpreted as the product of convergence in the Cretaceous and Cenozoic, and high mountains in west Central Sulawesi have been considered the product of magmatism and metamorphism related to Neogene collision. New SHRIMP and LA-ICP-MS U-Pb zircon dating of metamorphic and granitoid rocks has identified protoliths and sources of melts, and indicates an important role for extension. Schists, gneisses and granitoids have inherited Proterozoic, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Paleogene zircons. Mesoproterozoic and Triassic age populations are similar to those from the Bird’s Head region. Their protoliths included sediments and granitoids interpreted as part of an Australian-origin block. We suggest this rifted from the Australian margin of Gondwana in the Jurassic and accreted to Sundaland to form NW Sulawesi in the Late Cretaceous. Some metamorphic rocks have Cretaceous and/or Late Eocene magmatic zircons indicating metamorphism cannot be older than Late Eocene, and were not Australian-origin basement. Instead, they were metamorphosed in the Neogene after Sula Spur collision and subsequent major extension. Associated magmatism in west Central Sulawesi produced a K-rich shoshonitic (HK) suite in the Middle Miocene to Early Pliocene. A later episode of magmatism in the Late Miocene to Pliocene formed mainly shoshonitic to high-K calc-alkaline (CAK) rocks. I-type and silica-rich I-type granitoids and diorites of the CAK suite record a widespread short interval of magmatism between 8.5 and 4 Ma. Inherited zircon ages indicate the I-type CAK rocks were the product of partial melting of the HK suite. S-type CAK magmatism between c. 5 and 2.5 Ma and zircon rim ages from gneisses record contemporaneous metamorphism that accompanied extension. Despite its position in a convergent setting in Indonesia, NW Sulawesi illustrates the importance of melting and metamorphism in an extensional setting during the early stages of mountain building.