Our small Australian country towns are supposed to be peaceful places where their dwindling populations have strong community bonds.
It seems the only thing the 10 or so residents of Larrimah, such a town on the Stuart Highway, a few hours south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory share, is an abiding hatred of each other.
So much so that the mysterious disappearance, and likely murder of one of their own, has not come as great a shock as it should.
Residents lined up at an inquest into the disappearance of Paddy Moriarty, 70, to speak of their dysfunctional town.
“The town is a little fragmented,” resident and town mechanic Mark Raynor said on Thursday.
“Communication lines aren’t what they should be.”
The townsfolk, most of whom gave evidence at the inquest which continued on Friday (but more on that later), gathered in a group outside the Katherine Local Court smoking and talking rarely.
As the inquest was to learn, it was probably the only time the town had shown such unity in years, perhaps decades.
A single man, born in Ireland, Mr Moriarty was displayed before the inquest as a creature of habit.
Each day he woke early to walk his dog Kellie, who is also missing, and head to the pub come post office, shop and just about everything else.
Mr Moriarty did some odd jobs about the Wayside Inn, which has been painted bright pink to attract tourists off the highway, and made up in a Pink Panther theme.
Oh yes, it has about 600 animals out the back including a saltwater crocodile in a mini zoo.
Mr Moriarty sat down about noon to work his way through about eight cans of beer, as is his usual habit, and left for home about 5pm.
Although the residents agreed they don’t generally follow the calendar, and don’t always know the days of the week, police established it was Saturday, December 16, when Paddy disappeared.
A passerby gave Mr Moriarty a partially eaten barbecue chicken to feed his dog.
It was the date stamp on the chicken, later found uneaten on his kitchen table, and the last electronic bank transaction made by Mr Moriarty to buy beer, which provided the day of the disappearance.
He was not seen for days, most unusual for a person with his regular routines, and the alarm was not raised until Tuesday, which angered some residents.
A search of his home found no sign of him, everything was untouched, his wallet, his phone.
The back door was unlocked, his cap was on the table, he never went anywhere without a hat.
Once alerted, Northern Territory police spared no expense and conducted three large searches of the area – people, cars, motorbikes, helicopters.
Divers checked the town’s dam, volunteers helped scour the local tip.
Experienced search co-ordinator Sgt Robert King said despite all their efforts “nothing turned up of any interest”.
“If he was lost he would have seen the lights of Larrimah, or heard the sound of the road trains on the highway, you could hear that for miles,” Sgt King said.
“It (the disappearance) didn’t sit right with me.
“There is something that has happened in this case.
A local would know of lots of hiding places, he said. “It would be advantageous.”
Chief police investigator Sgt Matthew Allen said: “If he was above ground we would have located some sign of Paddy or his dog.”
Kelvin Currie, the Counsel assisting the Coroner, said: ”It is likely someone in Larrimah has evidence that may be helpful in establishing what happened to Paddy.”
Chief suspect is Mr Moriarty’s neighbor Fran Hodgetts who everyone agreed shared an abiding dislike for each other.
In evidence on Friday, the colourful Larrimah local broke down.
Several witnesses had told the inquest that Mrs Hodgetts “detested” Mr Moriarty.
"He used to come over my place hassling me," she said. "I've never abused him and I've never done anything to make him do the things he done to me."
"Through all this I've got breast cancer, I found out a couple days ago," Mrs Hodgetts explained.
She was overcome with emotion but when Judge Greg Cavanagh asked if she wanted a break, she was adamant.
“I don't want a break, I want this to be f…...g over," she said. "I don't lie and I don't talk bullshit.
"I've been accused and abused. I have breast cancer now.
"I wouldn't hurt a flea.”
This is the truth that I'm telling you today.Fran Hodgetts
However, Mrs Hodgetts told the inquest her relationship with Mr Moriarty had been “neighbourly”, until he started “doing a bit of stirring”.
The police has only hinted at Mrs Hodgetts’ possible involvement, she took the unusual step of calling into the Katherine Times’ office several times, even writing a letter, outing herself as suspicious but protesting her innocence.
While it seemed most of the residents liked Mr Moriarty, as much as people in this town cared for anyone else, he had a strong larrikin spirit.
A larrikin spirit which sometimes went what others might consider too far.
He dragged rotting road kill from the highway under Mrs Hodgett’s bedroom window at night.
He snuck across the highway to turn off her gas or interfere with her coffee house, disparaging her home-made pie business, which a former employee yesterday said she bought from supermarkets at a fraction of the $13 she charged for each.
Mrs Hodgetts gave back equal in return, they often traded four-letter tirades across the highway at each other.
“There was a lot of animosity between Paddy and the people across the road,” publican Barry Sharp agreed.
Mrs Hodgetts has told Katherine Times she did hate Mr Moriarty “but I didn’t kill him”.
This is the land of the movie Wolf Creek and Peter Falconio, the British backpacker who went missing in 2001, believed murdered and has never been found.
Police believe someone knows something, and that someone is probably still living in Larrimah.
The inquest adjourned on Friday with Judge Greg Cavanagh saying he would now consider his finding.
Katherine Times – additional reporting Roxanne Fitzgerald