Last Stop Larrimah


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Last Stop Larrimah
"Arson, sabotage and intimidatory tactics involving kangaroo penises all get their moments, and although the film is crammed full of incidents and ‘accidents’, one can’t help but feel that the filmmaker has only seen the tip of the iceberg." | Photo: Jesse Goher Fleet

“Kind of in the middle of Australia,” about 268 miles southeast of Darwin, the small town of Larrimah takes its name from the Yangman term for ‘meeting place’, at a natural crossroads in a desert. In other words, it’s a place which lots of people visit but where nobody stays. On 16 December, 2017, just 13 people were resident there. Then one of them disappeared.

What happened to Paddy Moriarty? The last confirmed sighting of him and his dog Kellie was in the pub. Though the discovery of his absence was followed by a massive search, with people coming in from all over the county to help, no trace of either of them could be found. One thing stood out to all the investigators, however, and that’s that somebody else in town must have known something about it.

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Playing out like a locked room mystery in the vastness of the outback, Thomas Tancred’s documentary, which screened at SXSW 2023, is compulsive viewing. It begins by introducing the players. Karen and Mark Rayner, relative newcomers, not yet absorbed into local feuds, who come across as prim but pleasant; Karen feeds young kangaroos. Barry, who owns the Larrimah Hotel – which is also the aforementioned pub, as well as the town’s shop, post office and zoo; Barry feeds his pet crocodile. Cookie, introduced as a candy thief, who wanders down the street drinking, speaking of the good old days of tinnies and barbecues. Karl and Bobbie, the town’s first responders, who reminisce about cricket and sing-alongs.

We also meet Lenny, ‘the old man’; Richard, the bartender; and Dave, who collects beer cans. Then there’s Billy, who was the first resident to have TV and is also know for having spent a bit of time behind bars. He gets along with everyone, he claims – except of course for Fran, his ex-wife, who lives in what used to be the town police station (there’s no law there anymore) and makes what she proudly claims are the best pies in the Northern Territory. The only person we don’t get to know directly is Owen, Fran’s gardener, bodyguard and, who knows, perhaps more. He doesn’t want to talk on camera, for reasons which will become obvious.

Did one of these people kill Paddy? If so, how did they dispose of the body? If you think for a moment, a number of solutions will present themselves, but nothing here is simple. Interviews recorded by a TV documentary team some time previously let us see these people before the incident – and Paddy too, a smiling, heavily tanned Irish expatriate who made his living as a cattleman before settling down to prop up Larrimah’s bar. On a cursory viewing, these interviews suggest a warm, friendly community where everyone knows everyone and they cope with isolation through mutual support. The more you watch of Tancred’s film, the more you will find your jaw dropping not just at the destruction of this myth but at the scale of the loathing, resentment and backstabbing apparently possible in such a tiny place.

An early scene in which an English visitor asking for directions is abruptly told where he can get to sets the stage for our tour of a community which feels like the setting for Wake in Fright a few decades on. Tancred filmed over several years, following residents after some of them moved away and also speaking to people who lived there and left prior to Paddy’s vanishing. It takes in business rivalry, battles to ‘control the town’ (whatever that means), a bitter divorce and a war over pies. Arson, sabotage and intimidatory tactics involving kangaroo penises all get their moments, and although the film is crammed full of incidents and ‘accidents’, one can’t help but feel that the filmmaker has only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Is it exploitative to treat these isolated people in this way? Every time one starts to feel concern, the person one was wondering about will come out with a wildly derogatory theory about somebody else. Accusations fly thick and fast as old secrets are spilled. At times you may wonder if all of them had a hand in doing away with Paddy and their subsequent enmity is just part of the cover-up. There’s almost a folk horror quality to this film. Police officers and volunteers who helped search for Paddy report the locals watching them with hostility and suspicion throughout their stay. Though it opens like a geriatric variant on Picnic At Hanging Rock, you may end up reminded more of Wolf Creek.

As we are reminded here, though Australia has a population of just under 26 million, someone disappears in it every three hours. Last Stop Larrimah reminds us that this is a land which guards its secrets closely. It’s a must-see documentary for anyone drawn to the unknown.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2023
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It was December 16th, 2017 in the remote Australian Outback town of Larrimah when Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie left the local pub and vanished, never to be seen again. As the investigation unfolds, a portrait is painted of this curious town and its 11 eccentric residents, but what ultimately matters is everything that happened before that fateful day.

Director: Thomas Tancred

Year: 2023

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: US


SXSW 2023

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