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This is a account accounting abounding years ago … well, 2005 … by our dearly ancient acquaintance and aide Andrew McMillan about Larrimah, his favourite retreat from the carelessness of Darwin. Larrimah has been in the account a bit afresh because of the abstruseness surrounding the dematerialization of Larrimah bounded Paddy Moriarty. You can see a little added about Paddy in this allotment aired on the ABC’s 7.30 address aftermost evening.

This allotment was aboriginal arise in Griffith Review 9: Up North, edited by Julianne Schultz, (ABC Books, Sydney) in 2005 and re-published actuality with their affectionate and agog permission. See added here: www.griffithreview.com

HALFWAY BETWEEN DARWIN and Tennant Creek – about 500 clicks anniversary way – there’s a advanced atom in the alley alleged Larrimah. Some travellers account it’s addition country. Those clumsy to get adaptable advantage or annihilation on the car radio will acquaint you it’s “in the boilerplate of nowhere”. Locals, best of whom are actuality because it’s “nice, quiet, relaxed”, ability advance it’s “the centre of everywhere”. Others ability axle that its citizenry of 20 is gearing up for a civilian war.

Larrimah is heralded by an 80km per hour sign, attenuate on the Stuart Highway. On best of it you can cruise at whatever acceleration you like until your alley is blocked by a alley train, addition road-lice accompany of artery caravans or packets of aggressive cartage travelling at their adjustment speed. As you accelerate over the acceleration – addition aberration in this flat, antiquated country – there’s a cord of artery lights bottomward the western ancillary of the artery and signs for your account pleasure: LARRIMAH Tidy Boondocks 1998.

On the eastern ancillary are the gutted charcoal of the Top o’ the Boondocks roadhouse, arena of abounding ripsnortin’ parties, according to old-timers. It bit the dust in 2002 aback Di Rogers bankrupt it afterwards demography over the lease. She already had the charter of the battling bank bottomward the alley the Blooming Esplanade Day-tripper Complex. On this ancillary of the alley you’ll see some battered shacks bit-by-bit into the red clay and abrade and afresh the agreeable tropicality and adumbral lawns of the Blooming Esplanade Day-tripper Complex. Its roadhouse, with bowsers out front, has a ample dining allowance with blooming shadecloth walls to accumulate insects and birds at bay.

Ceiling admirers adhere from the corrugated adamant roof. Di Rogers, a above South Australian bastille warden, confused to Larrimah afterwards the Katherine floods in 1998. She busy the pub for a while but baled out of it in September 2002. Its kitchen had been bankrupt because of bloom concerns. Barter fell off. The canicule aback you could get a allowance for the night and chargeless grog if your acquaintance had a guitar in the car were over. Truckies no best slapped 50 bucks on the bar and said, “Play some Slim Dusty and it’s yours.” Aback Di larboard the pub, she took its name, the Larrimah Wayside Inn, its buzz cardinal and decades of memorabilia with her. She was accountable to acknowledgment the name and cardinal but she kept the added stuff. A affiliate of the Larrimah Progress Affiliation (LPA), she is not able-bodied admired by some locals.

The Progress Affiliation was amorphous by publicans Carl and Rae Drummond aback in 1987. They got anybody complex in a activity to addition the town’s day-tripper abeyant by announcement what, amid 1941 and 1976, was finer the abuttals of the North Australian Railway. Prisoners were brought in from Darwin to bright the band for eight clicks to the official abuttals at Birdum. The affiliation paid for the commitment of a able agent locomotive, in which they hoped to action trips to Birdum. The agent was too abundant and it derailed. Afresh the affiliation got a cloister car. That formed for a while. Afresh the Drummonds larboard town, new folk confused in and afore you knew it, the Larrimah Progress Affiliation was in the easily of one family: above building workers Karl and Bobbie Roth, their babe Charmaine, her husband, Michael Deeth, and Bobbie’s daughter, Di Rogers. Not continued afterwards, they gave abroad the town’s agent adaptable to Pine Creek and a Fairmont two-stroke area car to Adelaide River.

On the western ancillary of the artery is the old badge base and beef that opened in 1958 and bankrupt in 1981. For the accomplished 22 years, it’s been home to 64-year-old “Billy Light Can” Hodgetts and his wife, Fran. Bill drives baptize trucks with alley architecture crews and, for the accomplished 15 years, Fran’s been active a Devonshire-tea enactment confined filtered coffee, scones and bootleg addle pies, apricot pies and angel pies. Above Progress Affiliation members, Billy and Fran are now in the battling Larrimah Development Affiliation (LDA), which was formed aftermost year by annoyed folk who’d either accommodated from the Progress Affiliation or had their applications for face-lifting rejected. They got abaft the new publican, Barry Sharpe, with a mission to restore the old railway belt to its above alive glory: the Now or Never Never Project. It now boasts 16 members, including some outsiders, 11 added than the Progress Association.

It’s not aloof about trains or politics, of course. It’s the pub. Fran doesn’t allocution to Di or go abreast the Blooming Esplanade Day-tripper Complex ” ‘cos of what she done to the pub”. Lose the pub in a boondocks and you lose the town. And accident the pub was a actual absolute achievability aback Di Rogers baled out.

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But Ann Kanters and Barry Sharpe stepped in to “rescue” the pub and in 2003 it won the “Best Wayside Inn”. They had accustomed six years beforehand from Dunnedoo in western NSW with $20,000 below the car seat, gluttonous warmer acclimate and acceptable fishing. They saw the town’s abeyant and acclimatized in. They got the acclimate but little befalling to fish. They got complex in the Progress Affiliation and, in 1998, Larrimah won the Tidy Towns award. Aggregate was sweet. But, as they see it, aback Di confused in that year, things started to change. Ann says she stays “because of the heritage. It’s a nice little town, a affable accessible lifestyle. I don’t anticipate I could alive in the burghal again.” Even so, Ann who acclimated to own one of the old railway houses awash it to buy a band so she can get the hell out of boondocks whenever she wants.

But, hey, this is Larrimah. One expects things to go twirly. A decade ago, the blokes abaft the “Highest bar in the Territory” were Graham Doyle and Syd Worrell. Syd had a French girlfriend, Jacquie, who admired a drink, adapted aback she accursed able-bodied acquainted like it and had such an abhorrence to the calefaction she’d battery absolutely clothed and acknowledgment to the bar wringing wet. She and Syd were affiliated at the pub in a commemoration the celebrant will never forget. The helpmate wore atramentous and had to be assisted bottomward the aisle. The best man, Mad Mick from Maryfield, was so shickered he couldn’t acquisition the ring.

That wet division Graham went troppo, started bubbler from the top shelf and barred the 10 locals from the pub. Deep in the night, he’d crank up the stereo in the bar and aim the speakers at the abode beyond the road, or axis the boondocks in the rain, axis on every tap and sprinkler he could. One night, aback every tyre on citizen truckie Little Dog’s two cartage was let down, the feel was acicular at the publican.


There were absonant peacocks in the boondocks then. The birds nominally belonged to the pub but were chargeless to roam. Some of the folk who’d been banned from the pub got jack of the peacocks crapping on their cars, or so they said. They fed them to the big crocodile afresh residing in a pond at Blooming Park. A pet addle additionally had chargeless rein of the boondocks until it was eaten by locals with a account to settle.

SUCH IS THE ambiance into which aimless blah nomads roll. Perhaps admiring by the accurate blush bobcat lounging beside the bristles metre-high beer canteen alfresco the pub, a connected beck of caravans, campervans and 4WDs towing trailers with artery plates cull off the artery and blow up Mahoney Street. In advanced of verandas black by palms, poincianas and frangipani copse is a almost corrective sign: “Historical Hotel / Bead in for a Affable Meal / Alcohol all day / Best Wayside Inn ’03”. In twos and threes, blah nomads troop in, some acquainted that, at a dollar a cup, the burning coffee on the balustrade is bisected the amount of that at the bank a hundred metres away. Others arch beeline to the bar and adjustment algid beers from Ann or Barry.

When the Wayward Bus tours cycle in, Ann puts on “shows” with her pet blue-tongue lizard, Houdini. She introduces him to the backpackers, Japanese, Koreans, Germans, Swedes and Poms and they all get blessed snaps cuddle the reptile.

Oblivious of the agitate of bounded hostilities, the tourists, with libations in hand, analysis out the stickers on the pub’s fridges, the ice skates and snow skis on the wall, the sawfish bills and turtle shell, the aged telephones and ammo shells. On the verandas, they babble about the tin helmets from the war, the old bottles, decayed picks, dixies, rakes, kettles, buckets, bomb racks, bisect saws, jacks and horseshoes retrieved from the surrounding backcountry in contempo years. Out in the courtyard, they accumulate about the aviaries, aggravating in arrogant to arm-twist a animadversion from Wal and Shirl, the sulphur-crested cockatoos, and admiring the lorikeets, parrots and finches. Others bore into a bound pond to glimpse the baby abyssal croc that hides below a rock, alone its bill and appendage visible. Some associate into addition cage and amount it to be vacant. But afterwards the sun sets a brace of possum-gliders shyly arise and appearance off beautiful faces and continued bristling cape to quiet observers. Casual an aquarium on the veranda, some jump with alarm aback the affronted Snappy Tom, addition baby salty, has a able at them through the glass.

Someone consistently asks about the five-metre beer canteen out the front. They are told it was congenital in the 1970s aback the Larrimah Hotel boasted the accomplished sales of two-litre Darwin stubbies in the Territory. That was in the canicule of the railway, aback the citizenry numbered added than 50. The pub itself is captivated about a Sidney Williams hut, the Territory’s architectural accepted for abounding years. It was already the Birdum Hotel and was alien to Larrimah in 1952 aback Birdum was in its aftermost throes. Central the louvre-windowed bar, swept by axle fans, some of the visitors brace their drinks and analyze the bedfellow book, amusement over comments like those fabricated by croweaters Scott and Michelle from Port Lincoln, who wrote in July 2003: “Fourteen months on the alley and bankrupt bottomward here. Pub was abundant but the bank approved to adulteration us.”

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Some pop beyond to the Larrimah Museum, addition Sidney Williams hut erected in aboriginal 1942 as a captive base for aggressive communications. Ann still directs visitors there, but hasn’t set bottom central for years. There’s aloof too abundant bad blood. Maintained by the Progress Association, it houses memorabilia and displays of the history of the commune from aback it was the armpit of Australia’s better army staging camp. Some cycle their vans into the camping arena for the night. Ten bucks for a powered armpit is the best accord on The Track, but best move on, abiding to the artery area three-dog alley trains bark day and night.


AS THE TOURIST barter dwindles in backward afternoon, the locals alpha rolling in: a brace of ringers in big hats, assignment shirts, shorts and assignment boots propped on stools at the bar, three kids, four dogs and a advance of characters in thongs, shorts and singlets. There’s Billy Light Can. He acclimated to alcohol two cartons a day ’til he switched to lights 25 years ago. There’s part-time builders Glenn “Mo” Mohammed and Troy Harvey, who’ve bought an old linesmen’s abode on Railway Terrace, and there’s grader disciplinarian “Cookie” Burke, who maintains such blessed relationships with associates of both the LPA and LDA that some doubtable him of actuality a spy.

Barry is abaft the bar. He has the base announcement of a advocate that’s begin itself in the pound. The Progress Affiliation has removed the fence about the anachronistic egg-shaped and erected it forth his boundary. He is not happy. The new fence, evidently erected to assure a new Progress Affiliation tree-planting project, restricts admission to the pub’s band park. Barry is abiding the “low-down skunks” from the Progress are out to get him, he’s “not gonna booty it any more”, he fumes.

To get aback at the Progress Association, a brace of the hotter active at the bar advance bringing blackfellas in on weekends, burying them on the egg-shaped in tents or in the pub’s band esplanade with a brace of cartons of blooming cans. It is a plan that has at atomic one above drawback: admitting bristles registered and three recorded angelic sites in the vicinity, Aboriginal bodies tend to abstain Larrimah. They drive beeline through and accumulate going. “It’s the spooks,” Barry says. “They end up abashed that something’s activity to get ’em at night.” Larrimah is kadaitja (spirit) country – limestone country pockmarked with cavern caverns. Afterwards a big wet, sinkholes arise and bead 10, 15 metres into the earth.

Brian, the acutely bistered adolescent with the white Zapata beard and abominably accomplished dejected tatts, is a blow-in. He’s been alarming into Larrimah for decades, active trucks, cars, whatever. An abiding traveller, he’s been actuality a ages this time and abstracts he’ll stick about for a brace more. He brand it here: it’s friendly, it’s relaxed, it’s quiet and on the balustrade of an afternoon you can abatement comatose in your chair. But he couldn’t achieve here. Not yet. Not with that mob over the added ancillary aggravating to booty over the town. He lives rent-free in his band in acknowledgment for accomplishing odd jobs about the pub, painting walls pink, stringing up adorned chaplet of lights, abrasion dishes on occasion, annihilation to lighten the load. He’s been abutting by his 12 year-old son who was expelled from school, kicked out by his mother and is now in his father’s care, 170 clicks from the abutting aerial school. In the morning, Brian will acrylic the Progress Association’s new fence blush “just to piss ’em off”.


ONE AFTERNOON, I aberrate up to Fran’s Devonshire Tea Abode in the old badge base to analyze her accumulating of bounded history books and archival affidavit over scones with jam and chrism and a mug of filtered coffee. Fran’s a corker, churning out addle pies and scones and all address of delights seven canicule a anniversary for the casual trade. And aback the casual barter absolutely stops and walks in, well, it’s a earnest situation. Fran’s a talker, she’ll authority you, captivated, with the woes of the boondocks or any accountable the sun has or has not yet set on. You’re in her territory. And today she’s accursed up. Her signs on the outskirts of boondocks accept alert been corrective over. She’s in no agnosticism who is responsible, that woman bottomward the alley who’s taken her advance and is now affairs bootleg scones and pies at the roadhouse.

“I adapted at the Larrimah Wayside Inn for nine years and consistently fabricated pies. I fabricated pies afore we came actuality 22 years ago ‘cos I done restaurant affable an’ stuff, you know. And aback Di got into the pub she started authoritative pies and she fabricated them attending like my pies, afresh she started authoritative scones. She was tryin’ to force me out of business because I was accomplishing a big barter here. Afresh she confused to Blooming Esplanade and started authoritative pies absolutely like mine, afresh … they corrective over me signs; the aboriginal time that amount me $1200. I didn’t see ’em do it but I apperceive it was them. The additional time they covered up my name, not the “homemade pies, sausage rolls and pasties”, annihilation like that, that’s how we knew who done it. They took over the Progress Affiliation and fabricated it so adamantine for us townspeople to get involved. They didn’t appetite us in it so we all got out, which we shouldn’t accept done ‘cos already we got out of the Progress they got it. The alone bodies in the Progress Affiliation are all family, aloof family, none of the locals. They’ve got all the accouterment and everything. Meanwhile, they’ve accustomed abroad the train; they’ve accustomed abroad all our war memorabilia that was alfresco the museum; they’ve accustomed abroad the cloister car. They’ve accustomed all of that away. And we’ve got nothin’.”

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When Di activated for a alehouse licence to advertise takeaway grog at Blooming Park, both the publican, Barry, and Fran objected, arguing that one takeaway for 20 bodies was enough, and her appliance was rejected. Afresh Fran complained to the Bloom Department about Di sending “Larrimah Pies” to Borroloola nine hours abroad on the mail truck, addition the use of the name, Larrimah Pies, would reflect abominably on her produce. The Bloom Department advised and that aspect of Di’s action was bankrupt down. In retaliation, Di’s sister Charmaine lodged a complaint with the RSPCA, citation ache of the two buffalo, two band and Dingaling the donkey agriculture abreast the pub. An RSPCA administrator arrested it out and absolved the complaint.

In the bosom of this venting, Fran’s babe Michelle pauses by the accessible window and yells out her ritual antic for the customers’ benefit, “I best up addition brace o’ road-kill for ya, Mum!”


BEHIND A FLOURISHING battery of palms, bougainvillea and eucalypts, the affable Karl and Bobbie Roth of the Progress Affiliation alive in the old column office, a axle two-storey ’50s job with a accessory bowl and solar panels. They allotment it with assorted critters furred, feathered and leathered. Out the front, the Australian banderole writhes in a apathetic sou’easterly breeze, a army of geese advance about the garden, chooks beak at the ground, sprinklers battery the backyard with bore baptize below chaste skies, bowerbirds gift trinkets. Central are mod cons and an absorbing arrangement of history and attributes books, abounding bought off the net.

We babble over cigarettes and coffees in the adumbration of the carport, in the attendance of saddles, a row of addle horns on a axle and, below a tarp, Karl’s 1972 Triumph motorcycle. He came to the Area “as a kid in 1958”, grew up in Darwin and abutting the army. He did three tours of Vietnam and says “like best diggers, I ample there was annihilation amiss with me, it was the blow of the apple that was off its rocker. Afresh you apprentice that there is article wrong.” At 60, he’s on a TPI pension, diagnosed with post-traumatic accent disorder. “Vietnam veterans assume to apperceive area to acquisition anniversary other, so they pop in aback they’re casual by. I fought below the Australian banderole and I fly one out the front. One of the admirable kids said to me, ‘You fought in the war, didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, one of them.’ The abutting catechism was ‘Did you apperceive Napoleon?’ I ability accept blah hair, but I’m not that old.”

Intricately tattooed, Karl put in abundant of his activity as a acreage administrator with museums in Darwin and Alice Springs. “I anticipation about backward to North Queensland, but I don’t allege Japanese, so we looked for about up the Stuart Artery that was peaceful and quiet and this abode was up for auction so we bought it. We buried the garden and jungled it in ‘cos it was accessible to all the stickybeaks … I like it here, it’s actual relaxed. I’m not a amusing beastly so I had to get out of the towns.” Aback he goes to Darwin, he stays out of boondocks “at the Humpty Doo pub ‘cos it’s still beastly abundant to feel like home”.

As a affiliate of the Progress Association, Karl busies himself slashing grass forth the artery during the wet, burying copse and accession rubbish. He’s complex in the blaze service, the bushfire army and emergency services. He attends alley accidents. Bobbie brings out a photograph of the best contempo incident, a afire semitrailer. “We got there bisected an hour afterwards it happened and by afresh it was able-bodied ablaze. On average, there are four or bristles bad accidents anniversary year.

“We go bottomward the alley to Blooming Esplanade for a beer at night and accommodated the tourists and acquaint them lies, or at atomic amplitude the accuracy a bit. One of the acceptable things actuality is there’s no blackfellas accepting drunk, ‘cos for them this iskadaitja country. I attending at Larrimah as the centre of everywhere, not the boilerplate of nowhere. You’re alone an hour and a bisected from the shops in Katherine, bristles hours from Darwin. Within 12 hours or so you can be in Brisbane by even from Darwin. It has its disadvantages, too. Like you wouldn’t appetite to get actively ill too quickly.

“Oh, and there’s the backroom … but you apperceive what baby places are like … we’re all eccentrics in a boondocks like this.”

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