O’Keeffe House was intended as a recreation hut, built by the army in World War II, but became the Officer’s mess. It was a simple structure with the walls and ceilings made from bark, cypress pine and flywire and the roof from corrugated iron. The floor was local aggregate and concrete. When the war ended the shortage of housing was immense and most people in Katherine scraped together homes from whatever materials were left behind by the army. It is one of the few structures from the war to have survived in the Katherine region.
In 1963, Johnno and Olive O’Keeffe purchased what would become known as O’Keeffe House. Johnno turned out to be an excellent handyman, making furniture from all sorts of scrap and territory timbers. Olive loved her garden, so between them they made their own little paradise between the trees on the banks of the Katherine River.