The Lions' next opponents almost relinquished the win at the death but a Luciano Orquera penalty just sailed wide of the posts to deny the Italians a famous draw.
A second try in successive weeks from Wallaby wing Nick Cummins had the visitors 13-3 ahead on the 20-minute mark and they appeared to have the game as good as won when they surged further ahead later in the half.
With Kurtley Beale adding a brace of penalties to Berrick Barnes' three earlier efforts, Robbie Deans' side were suddenly 19 points clear just past the half hour.
But expectations of an Aussie rout failed to materialise and it was almost all Italy from that point in.
A second Orquera penalty cut the gap slightly before half-time and the Italians began the second period in style as Robert Barbieri crossed for a try on 42 minutes. Sitaleki Timani's fumble saw the hosts hack the ball downfield before back row Barbieri powered over to give his team real hope.
Orquera's boot raised Italian hopes even further on 50 and 55 minutes as the Wallabies saw their lead slashed to just three points with 25 minutes still left to play.
And Italy should have surged ahead on 67 minutes when skipper Sergio Parissee drove towards the line but the man who is so often the hero for his country lost control of the ball at the last second as the Wallabies breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Digby Ioane then saw yellow late on to hand Orquera the chance to secure a maiden draw in stunning circumstances but the fly-half saw his previously perfect kicking record come to a cruel end in the closing seconds.
Australia will now turn their attentions to Saturday's final tour match with Wales in Cardiff but Deans will be looking for a far more impressive performance in their last scheduled Test before the Lions arrive Down Under next summer.