Larrimah, Caroline Graham & Kylie Stevenson
When Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie disappeared into thin air, an investigation was launched, a search undertaken, but this is sinkhole territory, and it's Larrimah and it seems nothing is ever straight-forward in these parts.
Oddly enough, you'd think in a town of 11 people somebody would have seen / known something of where Paddy and Kellie went, but in this case not only is what happened to Paddy a total mystery, it turns out most everything to do with Paddy is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, buried in layers of minding your own business.
There's nothing in LARRIMAH the book that solves the problem of what happened, and to be fair, whilst it might have started out as an investigation project, it did indeed become a love letter, to the town, the area that it's in, the people thereabouts, and Kadaitja country in general. Journalists Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham have spent years trying to work out what happened, how this place works, and why in hell there were 11 people interested enough in living in the middle of nowhere in a town like Larrimah. Feuding with each other is the main sport, and the place seems to be dying, particularly as the older residents start to drop (or in the case of Paddy - disappear).
I will admit I'd no idea what I was getting into when I started this book - and the only reason I started it was the subtitle to be honest. I mean "Larrimah: A missing man, an eyeless croc and an outback town of 11 people who mostly hate each other" has got to be one of the great titles, and it's all true. Of course that doesn't mention the pub (The Pink Panther with its gyrocopter); the zoo of animals out the back of it (including the blind croc); the teashop that does a good line in pies and signs; the antics with roadkill; the Caravan Park; the constant defacing of the aforementioned signs; and the full scope, breadth and creativity of the feuds. This is a town that could feud for the Olympics.
But the action isn't just set in Larrimah. Stevenson and Graham, working around COVID restrictions, seek out Paddy's past, places he's known to have worked (and did), places where it's less clear whether he was ever there. There's hints of relationships and kids that are never explained; there's stories of past feuds in other towns; and it all goes back to when he's supposed to have arrived from Ireland. It turns out that Paddy's a mystery right from the very beginning.
The thing I most came away from LARRIMAH with was just how easy it is for somebody to reinvent themselves in the wilder parts of outback Australia. How difficult it is to track somebody who obviously doesn't want to be tracked, how hard to pin down who they really are, or how they came to be where they end up. And when they disappear off the face of the planet - it could be a natural feature that's swallowed them up; it could be foul play; or it could be yet another reinvention. Turns out you may never know, no matter how much effort is expended.
Told in a slightly tongue in cheek manner, with a real love for the area shining through, LARRIMAH was fun, sad and highly entertaining (right up to and including mealworms in the air-conditioned backseat and fake holdups of tourist buses). Of course I'd like to think that Paddy and Kellie are out there somewhere hoping the fuss will die down, but there's the sneaking suspicion that we'll never know, no matter how hard these two journalists try to find out.
Larrimah: hot, barren, a speck of dust in the centre of the nothingness of outback Australia. Where you might find a death adder in the bar and a spider or ten in the toaster. Maybe it's stupid to write a love letter to a town that looks like this, especially when it's someone else's town. A town where there's nothing to see, nothing to buy and the closest thing to an attraction is a weird Pink Panther in a gyrocopter whose head falls off intermittently. A town steeped in ancient superstition and pockmarked with sinkholes. It's Kadaitja country. People go missing in the bush there, the traditional owners say.
It's doubly stupid to write a love letter to a town where someone did go missing and one of the remaining residents might be a murderer. A town at the centre of one of the biggest mysteries outback Australia has ever seen - a weird, swirling whodunnit about camel pies and wild donkeys and drug deals and crocodiles, a case that's had police scratching their heads for years, while journalists and filmmakers and Hollywood turn up, from time to time, to ask what the hell happened here.
And it makes no sense to fall for a place when the town is crumbling into the dust and it looks a lot like your love letter might end up being a eulogy. But whatever happened in Larrimah, it's strange and precious and surprisingly funny. Journalists Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham have spent years trying to pin it down - what happened to Paddy Moriarty and his dog, how they disappeared, how they might take the whole town and something even bigger with them.