While the influence of Pleistocene climatic changes on divergence and speciation has been well-documented across the globe, complex spatial interactions between hydrology and eustatics over longer timeframes may also determine species evolutionary trajectories. Within the Australian continent, glacial cycles were not associated with changes in ice cover and instead largely resulted in fluctuations from moist to arid conditions across the landscape. We investigated the role of hydrological and coastal topographic changes brought about by Plio-Pleistocene climatic changes on the biogeographic history of a small Australian freshwater fish, the southern pygmy perch Nannoperca australis. Using 7958 ddRAD-seq (double digest restriction-site associated DNA) loci and 45,104 filtered SNPs, we combined phylogenetic, coalescent and species distribution analyses to assess the various roles of aridification, sea level and tectonics and associated biogeographic changes across southeast Australia. Sea-level changes since the Pliocene and reduction or disappearance of large waterbodies throughout the Pleistocene were determining factors in strong divergence across the clade, including the initial formation and maintenance of a cryptic species, N. 'flindersi'. Isolated climatic refugia and fragmentation due to lack of connected waterways maintained the identity and divergence of inter- and intraspecific lineages. Our historical findings suggest that predicted increases in aridification and sea level due to anthropogenic climate change might result in markedly different demographic impacts, both spatially and across different landscape types.