13 May 2018

Lost in the Outback: Where is Paddy Moriarty?

If you’re like me and spend time on local history groups on Facebook – I do have a life outside of death, you know – you’ll see endless laments from Baby Boomers that life in Australia was better, kinder, more peaceful back in the day when the population was largely Anglo-Celtic and people respected their elders. So what happens if you put a group of older Anglo-Celtic Australians in a small town to themselves? They fight bloody murder. Possibly literally. Welcome to Larrimah, Northern Territory where Paddy Moriarty has gone missing.

Paddy Moriarty. Photo: Kylie Stevenson via ABC

 Irish born Moriarty, 70, one of Larrimah’s 12 residents, has been missing, along with his red kelpie, Kerrie, since 16 December 2017. When someone goes missing, it leaves a huge hole in the lives of those who knew them; when someone goes missing from an isolated town of twelve, the shock is seismic. But those shockwaves turn sinister in this case. Behind the larrikin exterior of Larrimah is a sinister feud, with Paddy Moriarty at the centre. It started with pies; has it ended in murder?

No one seems to know too much about Paddy Moriarty’s early life. He came to Australia at 19, on the Fairstar which was later to become a cruise ship (fun fact: my best friend from high school was on the Fairstar when it broke down on a South East Asian cruise and had to be towed to Vietnam; meanwhile the ship was without power for days) apparently never to return to the Ireland of his birth, and had lost all traces of his Irish accent. He didn’t keep in touch with his relatives; it seems he was adopted or born out of wedlock or some such scandal of the times. Police, unable to identify any next of kin, broadcast an appeal on Irish radio for any family to come forward. Possible cousins heard the call, and DNA testing is underway to confirm a family connection.

 Meanwhile, we don’t know where Paddy Moriarty came from and we don’t know where he ended up. In between though, he was at the centre of a fight that bitterly divided Larrimah, and all over meat pies. Larrimah is an isolated speck in the red dust on the Stuart Highway, which run between Darwin and Alice Springs. The town, 498km from Darwin, relies on tourism, specifically on the passing trade along the highway; the road approaching the town is dotted with hand painted signs enticing the weary traveler to stop in for a cold beer or a hot meat pie. And that’s where the trouble started.

 Larrimah local Fran Hodgetts has operated a tourist stop, Fran’s Devonshire Tea House, and baked her own meat pies since the 1970s. (The reviews make for some interesting reading). It seems Ms Hodgetts claimed that this pedigree gave her the exclusive rights to sell pies in the town, and she was not at all happy when a since-closed local roadhouse, then Larrimah’s Pink Panther pub, began selling pies of their own. Paddy Moriarty was firmly on the side of the pub. He apparently discouraged visitors from eating Ms Hodgett’s pies, telling potential customers the food was overpriced and would make them ill. As one local put it, “Not much else to do in a small town, might as well fight over pies,”. And fight they did. Things escalated. Furniture and lawn umbrellas stolen. Violence orders applied for, and dismissed. A dead wallaby thrown into someone’s yard; someone else’s pet peacocks fed to a crocodile. (Tell me again how it’s recent immigrants who aren’t in keeping with Australia’s peaceful culture?)

Protecting the pub’s interests was personal. He was well loved there, as a creature of habit; every day, he’d ride his quad bike over with his dog Kellie, spending the day working as a general handyman, cleaning the toilets or mowing the lawns. He’d then grace the bar, drinking 8 XXXX Gold beers, before heading back home on the quad bike. The routine was no different on 16 December 2017. He spent the day at the pub then headed home, and was never seen again. He apparently made it as far as his house; his dinner was on the stove ready to be heated up. Moriarty was known as a neat and organised person. His home showed no signs of a struggle. The date was crossed off the calendar. His bed was made. The hat he always wore was on the table along with his keycard and glasses. Yet Paddy, and Kellie, were missing. Publican Barry Sharpe went to check up on Paddy when he didn’t show up at the pub the next day; when there was no sign of him, he notified police.

 The search was thorough. Police scoured the local bushland, divers have searched the Larrimah Dam, disused mine shafts have been inspected, all with no sign of Paddy. There was the possibility that Paddy had wandered off and gotten into strife in the bush. But if that was the case, where was Kellie? Why had his loyal dog not been found or tried to return to town to notify people her owner needed help?

 Police, and Paddy’s friends, stated early on that Paddy’s disappearance is suspicious and they don’t believe he will be found alive. Nearly six months on, that is looking less likely than ever. And of course, the town’s bitter divisions have come out in the open. But just because people have argued, that doesn’t mean they’d kill each other. In court, whilst unsuccessfully applying for a restraining order against Paddy Moriarty, Fran Hodgett of the tea house said “I just want the mongrel to leave me alone”. Police have seized hammers and a hacksaw from her shop. But there’s an awful lot of bush that Paddy could have gotten lost in. It's also a lot of space in which to hide a body. But either way the loss has left a big hole in the lives of his friends, and a mystery no closer to being solved now than it ever was.


Lost in Larrimah: Police not treating Paddy Moriarty theory as pie in the sky https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/lost-in-larrimah-police-not-treating-paddy-moriarty-theory-as-pie-in-sky/news-story/

Outback mystery: what happens when one of a town’s 10 residents disappears? https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/feb/07/outback-mystery-what-happens-when-one-of-a-towns-10-residents-disappears

Paddy Moriarty's Irish family comes forward as NT police request DNA tests to confirm link http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-21/paddy-moriartys-family-comes-forward-as-police-request-dna-test/9469622

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