Local investors stuck to the sidelines amid global worries about an escalation of the conflict in Syria coupled with expectations the US Federal Reserve will soon cut its huge stimulus.
The S&P/ASX 200 Index edged 5.8 points higher to 5141.2, while the broader All Ordinaries finished up 3.73 points at 5130.8.
Investors kept their hands in their pockets as they awaited the next chapter in the Syrian conflict after US Secretary of State John Kerry called the Middle Eastern nation's use of chemical weapons "undeniable".
Arab Bank Australia treasury dealer David Scutt noted that emerging-market stocks were being hit by the double whammy of uncertainty around the removal of Fed stimulus and Syrian worries. That sell-off was weighing on the local mood.
The intensifying Syrian conflict also weighed on the dollar, which skidded against its main counterparts. The Aussie fell as low as US89.56¢ after opening at US90.29¢ in local trade. The drop was sparked after Asian currencies, particularly the Indonesian rupiah and the Malaysian ringgit, came under pressure, and there were steep falls in Turkey, Brazil and Mexico's currencies.
Rivkin analyst Tim Radford said he thought the market volatility would be short-lived, saying it was unlikely that the US would launch a military assault on Syria given the sensitive political environment in the Middle East.
"At this stage, while governments continue to gather information on the matter, comments from politicians on the attacks should be taken with a grain of salt," he said.
Goldminers had a good day, as bullion prices hit an 11-month high.
Australia's biggest listed gold producer, Newcrest Mining, strengthened 0.3 per cent to $13.74.
BHP and Rio were mostly flat.
Troubled surfwear company Billabong was one of the ASX's worst performers, plummeting 5.3 per cent to 53.5¢ after its annual net loss more than tripled.
Flight Centre was the best performer among the top 200 stocks, soaring 8.5 per cent to a record high of $48.41, after posting another record earnings report.
Among the big banks, Commonwealth advanced 1.2 per cent to $73.47, while NAB and ANZ rose 0.4 per cent to $32.66 and 0.2 per cent to $29.88 respectively. Westpac finished down 0.2 per cent at $31.61. With agencies