Last train to Larrimah

Most of us would be lucky to get one wake after we kick off – a few maudlin mongrels standing around for just long enough to neck a few whiskies, exhale a few whines and piss off before the fights break out. But our mate Andrew McMillan got better than one miserable wake – he got four raucous sendoffs.

I told the tale of the first one his Living Wake at Darwin’s Railway Club – back in December 2010. Just after he met up with Jack the Dancer.

I was lucky enough to be at the second – posthumous – wake a few weeks back and that was followed by another in Sydney.

But for mine the best of the lot was that which followed his final drink this weekend just passed at a small town 6 hours (well three and a half if you know how to really drive like a Territorian) south of Darwin.

Darwin snapper Glenn Campbell and I picked up Andrew (“Its OK, he’s double-bagged and the box is sealed“) from the undertaker at 5am on a very wet and wild Darwin Saturday morning.

We caught up a few friends just out of town at Noonamah, and a few more a couple of hours later over a welcome breakfast at the best-roadhouse-on-the-Stuart-Highway at the Emerald Springs roadhouse.

Another hour and a half saw us fuelling up on Katherine – a town we are always pleased to see in our rear view mirror – and by the time we left Mataranka an hour later we had ourselves a nice little convoy.

We rolled into Andrew’s final resting place of Larrimah (Population 11 – none of whom speak to each other …) around midday and after doing a couple of mainies we stopped into the Larrimah Pub to meet up with the rest of the crew that had assembled overnight.

A short trip down a dirt road later and we’d loaded Andrew onto the flat bed trailer of the Birdum to Larrimah rail-motor for his last trip to town.

The cry of “anyone got a bloody hammer?” rang out after the tail-motor motor broke down – the chain driving the wheels was slipping off and needed to be bashed back into alignment. A few whacks with a hammer, a bit of tinkering with shifting spanner and a coupla beers later all was well and the rail-motor set off in a cloud of blue smoke back up the line to the crowd waiting at Larrimah.


The piper called the lad into town and soon after we’d formed up in a long procession for the final leg to Andrew’s final resting place at a site – perhaps known as “Pigeonhole” – next to Birdum Creek a few kilometres west of town.

I couldn’t think of a better place to be buried – side-by-side with a couple of other fellows that shared a great love for this part of the country.

We all gathered around the gravesite, the air filled with loving tributes, and a volley of rifle and shotgun blasts.

A dozen and more of Andrew’s typewriters followed him into the grave and it was fitting that Larrimah publican Ann Kanters – who had poured many a glass for the lad over many years – gave him his last drink, pouring a bottle of nice red over the coffin.

And the piper played “Good Old Collingwood Forever” …

Then I shed a small, dusty tear – and sang those glorious words as loudly as I could …

After the hole had been filled we adjourned to the Larrimah pub where minutes shrank into hours into drinks into song, the occasional tear and lots of laughter and sweat and more song.

Andrew may be gone but won’t be forgotten – there are plans for an annual writers’ retreat in the town and those of us lucky enough to pass through Larrimah from time to time will be be stopping in to share a drink or ten with Andrew – again. And the NT Writers’ Centre is accepting donations for the Writers’ Retreat …

You can see a nice tribute that made the Sunday night news on the ABC on Sunday night at the ABC Darwin website here:

Good old Collingwood forever,

We know how to play the game.

Side by side we stick together,

To uphold the Magpies name.

Hear the barrackers a shouting,

As all barrackers should,

Oh, the premiership’s a cakewalk

For the good old Collingwood.

All photos by Glenn Campbell