The village of Larrimah, 500 km south of Darwin, has a population of 11. It should be 12, but one of their regulars went missing the week before Christmas in 2017. His name was Paddy Moriarty, and if both names suggested Irish background, he had indeed come originally from County Limerick. In February this year, the NT police offered a reward of $250,000 for information that might help them understand what had happened to him. Right now, we do not know whether he is alive or dead, though the most common belief is that he is dead. Most likely, murdered.
This book, by two Darwin-based journalists, is a comprehensive account of the Moriarty mystery. It revisits all elements of the story, interviewing almost all of the residents of Larrimah and examining every possibility, including the opinion of one of Paddy's former friends that he is still alive. The writers also give full coverage to the inquest into his disappearance, an inquest that is still open.
Paddy said that he came to Australia on the Fairstar in 1966, but his name does not appear on their list of passengers or on lists from other ships examined by the authors, covering the same period. This raises the possibility of one solution involving a Dutchman who claimed that Paddy took his place and left him in some distress; the theory is that half a century later, that man's son chased Paddy and was the driver of a mysterious vehicle which was seen in Larrimah at the time of the disappearance.
In some ways, Paddy Moriarty is almost an accidental subject of the book. Many of us on the southern or eastern fringes of this country have little appreciation of either the vastness of the continent, the struggles of the inhabitants or the background stories of the way that the Aboriginal people were treated in the not-so-distant past. This is a place where a stranger may be lost in a sinkhole or be attacked by wild pigs who won't leave as much as a bone of evidence.
These elements and more are covered, almost in passing, but they are what will stay in the reader's mind. Even if we were tempted to visit some of the places the two brave women authors reach - Tennant Creek, Borroloola, Mataranka, Katherine, Daly Waters - we would be advised to keep to main roads and respectable accommodation.
Larrimah, we are told, is a place of "open space and open ears", but also of long-lasting feuds. Depending on who they speak to, the authors are told that Paddy was a good mate, a helper, a great storyteller, a larrikin or a vindictive interfering neighbour, especially to a woman who lived across the road from him. Written in clear, polished prose, where the transition from one writer to the other is seamless, this is a story for the ages.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.