It’s not the most historic, the most glamorous or even the quirkiest pub in Australia’s Northern Territory. Unlike the Mataranka Hotel, around 390km to the south, it can’t trace its origins back to the 1920s. And, unlike the Daly Waters pub 160km further down the track, it’s not famous for a bar hung with discarded lingerie. But the Humpty Doo Hotel is something of an icon for top-end travellers, as much for its memorable name as for the characters associated with it.
Foremost among these was Norman the beer-drinking Brahman bull who, according to legend, once sculled a 2.25-litre “Darwin stubby” in 47 seconds. During the 1980s, the publican, Don Parmenter, held drinking competitions in the bar which the bull invariably won. Parmenter claimed he had to follow the bull around with a hose and a bucket but, since the bar had a concrete floor, this wasn’t a problem. It’s not recorded what became of Norman, but regular production of the Darwin stubby was discontinued by makers Carlton & United Breweries in 2015.
The pub and its beer-drinking bull were immortalised in Slim Dusty’s bush ballad ‘Humpty Doo Waltz’. In part, the lyrics ran:
Mine hosts, Don and Swiggie, how they do oblige you
With cold beers straight from the tap,
Then Bluey comes in with Norm right behind him,
Six gallons and then off for a nap.
My story sounds far fetched, I’m sure, but it’s true,
So please don’t regard me a fool,
Old Bluey’s a big man who’s gotta big thirst
Young Norman’s his pet brahma bull.
Oh the lanterns were swinging and the beer it flowed free,
And the patrons all sung themselves horse,
With sand flies an’ mozzies as swinging companions,
We dance to the Humpty Doo Waltz.
The Humpty Doo Hotel opened in 1971. It was built by local land developer, Neville Skewes, who came to the Territory in 1942. His construction business weathered some ups and downs before he built a store in Humpty Doo in 1968. Skewes ran the pub for nine years but was shot and wounded by his wife, Helen, when she caught him in a dalliance with one of the barmaids. She was gaoled for 12 months. He made a full recovery.
There are various colourful stories about how Humpty Doo got its name. The most likely is that it’s a corruption of “Umdidu”, the name of an early buffalo shooting station in the area, said to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning “meeting place”.
Despite its relatively recent founding, the Humpty Doo Hotel claims to be one of the Territory’s longest continually licensed premises. It also offers accommodation and a bistro where the star attraction is the “world-famous trio burgers”. This dish consists of mini-size barramundi, buffalo and crocodile burgers served, of course, with chips. Local produce, to be sure.