Adelaide River

Adelaide River, Australia

A quick tour of Adelaide River, a dot-on-the-map town along the Stuart Highway that was saved by a war

A star of the film Crocodile Dundeee remains at the bar in the pub of the Adelaide River Inn, Australia
A "star" of Crocodile Dundeee remains at the bar in the pub of the Adelaide River Inn, Australia.
Adelaide River, famed for its barramundi (bloody big fish; four-footers are not uncommon), was named for the widow of King William IV by sailors aboard no less than the HMS Beagle herself (the ship upon which Darwin sailed).

In 1839, a contingent from the ship put into the river's mouth at Adam's Bay on the Timor Sea and explored the 80km or so upriver in hopes of finding a water highway to the interior.

That highway now exists, only it's paved, called "Stuart," and is plied by truckers driving 82-wheeler "Road Trains"—like an 18-wheeler, only four times as long (though, to be fair, most are only 62-wheeled triple trailers).

One of their favored stops along this 3,025km ribbon of reddish road stretching through the Outback from Adelaide on the south coast to Darwin on the north is the hamlet of Adelaide River, about halfway from Darwin to Katherine and the best base from which to explore Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park, and Litchfield National Park.

There's not much to the tiny town itself. Just an 1888 train station, three general store/gas stations (one of them doubles as the post office), and, of course, a pub.

The Adelaide River Inn and Pub

The Adelaide River Inn ( has been slaking the thirst of Stuart Highway truckers and travelers since the 1950s (and now offers cheap motel rooms and cabins).

There are picnic tables set out on the grass in front where you can carry your stubbie or schooner of ale (A$3.60) and plate of grilled barra and chips (A$19.50).

At the far end of the bar stands the town's most famous resident, Charlie, stuffed and mounted and standing on a table surrounded by his souvenirs.

Actually, "Charlie" was really called "Nick" (b. 1970). "Charlie" was merely his stage name back when he co-starred with Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee as the water buffalo that old Mick Dundee put to sleep with his finger waggling voodoo and the aid of some spooky didgeridoo music on the soundtrack.

Saved by the War

The Memorial War Cemetery in Adelaide River, Australia
The War Cemetery in Adelaide River.
Adelaide River is just one of what were once dozens of Outback whistle-stop towns servicing miners from the Pine Creek Gold Fields, buffalo hunters, and local cattlemen.

Even with its prime location at the intersection of a river and the 1888 Palmerston Pine Creek railway, the town might very well have dried up and blown away like so many others had not the army dallied with the idea of creating a farm and rest camp here in the 1939.

The farm was largely a bust, but when the Japanese bombed Darwin in a surprise attack on December 19, 1942, the Allied armies suddenly found themselves pulling back to establish the new NT headquarters, the rear echelon arms depot, and a hospital in tiny Adelaide River.

Thousands of soldiers quartered here during the war, comprising some 150 different units—including an administrative corps of American troops, who set up their own regional HQ here.

After the war, the army either sold or pulled down all their infrastructure. All that remains is the war cemetery behind town (, some overgrown little cement bunkers and largely abandoned airstrips scattered throughout the region, that trio of stores, and a pub with a stuffed water buffalo by the side of the Stuart Highway on the banks of the sweet Adelaide River.

Where to stay near Adelaide

Mount Bundy Station (, Reserve it) is a vast cattle station on the outskirts of Adelaide with simple bunks in the old farmhand outbuildings and spots for motorhome parking and tent camping. It is a taste of the true Outback, and well worth a stay.

(By the way: If you Google this place, you will probably still see news stories about a supposed arsenic poisoning on the land. There are, and never were, elevated levels of arsenic at Mount Bundy. It turned out all to be a huge mistake traced back to a single faulty hospital lab test on the owner's son, who had tragically just died of leukemia. The rumor, however, leaked to the press and got out of control, with an inept local official mistakenly believing all the Mount Bundy staff tested positive for arsenic, leading the local government shutting the place down for a while. I only mention this because, in the age of the Internet, faulty information and outdated, disproven news stories still sit around, perfectly preserved in Cyberspace, pretending to be true, and you might stumble across one of these lies and assume there is something wrong with Mount Bundy. There is not. I have stayed here, and drunk the water, and it is all fine. In fact, this is the first place I ever saw the Southern Cross constellation, so it holds a special place in my memory and I hate to see its reputation besmirched like this.)

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.