Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica will make up the second row at Melbourne’s Albert Park.
Lewis Hamilton starts from the back, the worst position of his F1 career, as his McLaren suffered gearbox troubles.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa split the Toyota drivers Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli in seventh in a very competitive session.
Former Honda team Brawn GP – whose survival was secured by owner Ross Brawn in early March after the British-based Japanese team pulled out of F1 because of the global financial crisis – backed up their impressive performances in testing and practice in some style. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/7969559.stm
This is the first time any team has been on pole position with the first car they have built since Scotland’s Jackie Stewart for Tyrrell at the Canadian GP in 1970.
We [Renault] arrived here to fight for the podium, but this might not be the case tomorrow
"The last five or six months have been so tough for both of us, not knowing if we had a drive in F1," said England’s Button, whose time of one minute 26.202 seconds secured pole.
"The pace seemed good on both sets of tyres early on but the others seemed closer to us than I thought. I think it was down to about two hundredths.
"I was struggling a bit with fuel as well, I just couldn’t get the car to work, but when we got the fuel in it was great and I think that bodes well for the race."
Compounding a scintillating team performance Button was less than one tenth of a second behind, while, lagging beyond, the next eight drivers were split by just two tenths of a second – giving an indication of how close the field could be in Sunday’s race.
Yet world champion Hamilton may struggle to catch that leading pack after failing to appear for the second qualifying session following more problems with his McLaren, who have been struggling to put the downforce back into their car in pre-season testing.
The Englishman finished in 15th but will now start at the back of the grid as a result of McLaren deciding to change the car’s gearbox following the fourth-gear failure.
"There was no more drive in the gearbox, there is an issue there," Hamilton told BBC Sport.
Vettel starts third on the grid with Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in 10th
Other notable names qualifying outside the top 10 include Renault’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who will start in 12th.
The Spaniard said he felt the car was quick enough to have qualified in the top 10, but that he made a mistake on his final flying lap.
"We arrived here to fight for the podium, but this might not be the case tomorrow," Alonso said.
"We were very close to Q3 times, only two or three tenths of a second off, but I made a mistake as I tried to make up some time in the final corner.
"I’m disappointed as I thought I could be fifth or sixth on the grid."
Williams driver Nico Rosberg, who clocked the quickest lap times in all three practice sessions, will start in fifth as the teams being protested against by Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault for the legality of their diffusers – Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams – all hit the heights.
But, after both struggling with their cars at various points in practice, Vettel and Kubica put in a much-improved performance when it mattered.
Constructor’s champions Ferrari start from relatively disappointing grid positions with Felipe Massa – who missed out on the 2008 world title by one point – in seventh and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in ninth.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber went well in the second qualifying session but will start in 10th after making a mistake and running wide at Turn Nine on his last lap in the final session.
The Australian GP starts on Sunday at 0700 BST, with coverage on BBC1 from 0600 BST.