Sediment tracing using geochemical properties is an efficient way to identify the spatial sources of transported sediments delivered to waterways. Here, the contribution of soil sources to river bed sediments has been quantified in Emu Creek, a headwater catchment in south eastern Queensland, Australia. Soil samples were collected from the eight major rock types present in the catchment and were related to river bed sediments collected from eight sites along the main channel. Geochemistry, as characterized by 39 elemental concentrations, was measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry. Three particle size fractions were examined, <10, 10–63 and 63–212 μm, with the three resultant mixing models showing divergent results. We conclude that the results of sediment mixing models based on the analysis of one grain size should not be assumed to apply across the entire particle size range of transported sediment, emphasizing the need to match the size fraction used in tracing studies to that size fraction of interest in downstream sinks. Furthermore, we present results highlighting the control transport distance plays in source dominance, with this particularly evident in the coarser fraction, where local sources dominate over more distant sources. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.