The Darwin River Tavern serves up fresh, local ingredients via a constantly changing, elegant menu.

Story + Photos Kerry Sharp

At his popular bush pub an hour south of Darwin, Scott Olive is clearing the decks ready for his fortnightly delivery of freshly caught ‘goodies’ from the Timor Sea. Two trawler skippers are regulars at Scott’s Darwin River Tavern and will drop off the freshest, sweetest wild-caught seafood. 

Succulent local seafood – pan-fried, stir-fried or tossed into sensational gourmet offerings – has helped create a menu of elegant meals more likely to be found in high-class city restaurants than in a little pub in the bush. 

Former Balmain publican and Gold Coast businessman Scott discovered the once-named Litchfield Tavern during a Top End holiday 20 years ago. “We were driving on a back road from Litchfield National Park and saw two cardboard signs saying, ‘Rodeo tonight 6pm’ and ‘Cold beer 1km’,” he says. “We came to a bush service precinct with a little pub and two old dears with beehive hair and blue eyeliner serving behind the bar.” They stayed for the rodeo, camped the night – and loved it!

It wasn’t until Scott returned to Queensland that he discovered the 121ha property was being sold by its owner – Scott’s former Balmain neighbour, Norm Forster. He flew back to Darwin, tracked down Norm at his waterfront home and negotiated a deal that was signed 10 days later. 

The new owner’s top priority was to upgrade the rodeo facility. Some 6000 fans converged for its grand opening fundraiser for an injured barrel racer. Future professional rodeos brought thousands to the site and exposed a need for expanded bar and dining facilities. The pub subsequently underwent a year-long refit. Special timbers were milled for the rustic decor, giant mahogany slabs were honed and polished for furniture, and a crocodile enclosure and rock structures were built to replicate giant termite mounds. “I wanted to recapture that outback character that had largely disappeared from bush pubs,” Scott says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #134

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2021