England captain Joe Root won the toss, opted to bat and lost opener Rory Burns on the very first delivery of the Ashes series, a late swinging yorker from Australia paceman Mitchell Starc.
It set the tone for the opening two sessions Wednesday, which were more like open season for Australia's pace bowling pack.
Pat Cummins took the last three wickets and finished with a five-wicket haul in his first innings as Australia captain. The England innings finished with ominous thunder and lightning starting to the west and south of the Gabba.
Heavy rain and bad light combined to prevent any further play on Day 1.
The overcast conditions rapidly grew more gloomy for the visitors after Starc's early strike, with Josh Hazlewood dismissing Dawid Malan (6) and Root (0) as England slipped to 11-3 in the sixth over.
When Cummins took his first wicket — star allrounder Ben Stokes (5) caught low at third slip by Marnus Labuschagne four balls after the first drinks break — England was reeling at 29-4.
Opener Haseeb Hameed defied the attack and helped England to 59-4 at lunch, but was out for 25 early in the second session when he edged a Cummins' delivery that moved away off the seam and was caught by Steve Smith at second slip.
Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler settled the innings, combining in a 50-run stand to staunch the flow of wickets before both were out in their 30s.
Buttler played an expansive drive for his fifth boundary to reach 39 but was out next ball from Starc, edging behind to Alex Carey as England slumped to 112-6. England added six runs before Pope (35) top-edged an attempted hook and was caught by Hazlewood diving forward near the fine-leg boundary, giving allrounder Cameron Green his first test wicket.
Cummins had Ollie Robinson (0) caught behind and Mark Wood (8) caught at short-leg and the stadium lights were turned on before he had Chris Woakes (21) caught in the deep by Hazlewood to finish off the innings.
Cummins returned 5-38 from 13.1 overs, with Starc and Hazlewood taking two wickets apiece.
It turns out, it was a good toss for Cummins to lose in his first test since replacing Tim Paine as Australia's captain. That left Root with a difficult decision to make, considering the greenish wicket at the Gabba in overcast conditions and with rain in the forecast.
For the first time since 1936, a wicket fell on the first ball of the Ashes series Down Under. England lost a wicket first ball at the Gabba in '36 and slumped to 20-3, but recovered to win that match.
That seems a long way off for this England lineup, given the lack of preparation caused by regular rain in recent weeks and having to quarantine for two weeks after arriving in Australia.
England hasn't won a test match in Australia since winning the Ashes here in 2010-11, and hasn't won a test at the Gabba since 1986. After the first two sessions, it'll be an uphill struggle to reverse that sequence.
The England batters struggled to cope with the extra bounce and carry which are characteristics of the Gabba pitch, and Australia's pace trio bowled an excellent line and length in the conditions.
England's bowling attack will be missing a lot of experience, with Stuart Broad cut from the 12-man squad confirmed at the toss.
Broad and Jimmy Anderson have a combined nine Ashes tours to Australia but are both missing the opening match, leaving Wood, Woakes and Robinson as the specialist fast bowlers and Leach as the specialist spin option.