Larrimah couple Ondra and Lucie welcome outback town's first new baby in decades
Tourists Ondra Hadras and Lucie Minarikova could not have imagined they would land jobs feeding emus and crocodiles in one of Australia's smallest outback towns, infamous for a dark mystery that may never be solved.
Then, mere moments after touching down in the Northern Territory – thousands of kilometres from their Czech Republic home country, they were swept off to Larrimah – a dot on the Stuart Highway with no schools, petrol stations, restaurants or even a grocery store.
Population, fewer than 11.
"When we got here the internet connection was very poor, we didn't know about the history of the town, or about the missing persons case," Lucie said.
"We're used to travelling around to different places, so we just packed our bags and headed here to work."
Larrimah's first baby in decades
The couple planned to stay for a fleeting few weeks as the newest publicans of the Pink Panther Hotel to earn some extra money on their travels.
But then the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, trapping them for far longer than expected.
They became parents just a couple of months ago when they welcomed the first baby born in Larrimah in more than two decades.
Mathew's birth single-handedly grew the population by about 10 per cent and significantly lowered the median age of a town where residents are closer to 100.
"This is something which not many people do … our family can't even imagine [what it's like] when we tell them all the things we do.
"When Mathew grows up, we'll be telling him he grew up next to a crocodile cage, in a really special place."
Mysterious case remains unsolved
In a town where every single resident now gathers together for Christmas, and most convene at the Pink Panther Pub for an end-of-day beer about 5pm, Mathew "gets a lot of attention," Ondra said.
But attention is not out of the ordinary for the residents of Larrimah, who are now accustomed to news crews rolling into town, documentary teams settling in for a couple of weeks and ongoing police probes.
A coronial inquest into the missing persons case of Larrimah larrikin Paddy Moriarty, who disappeared without a trace in 2017, last month found he was dead.
Even without a body, coroner Greg Cavenagh said he believed Mr Moriarty's colourful life came to an end in suspicious circumstances.
"Paddy was killed in the context of and likely due to the ongoing feud he had with his nearest neighbours," he stated in his official findings handed down in April.
The case has captured global attention, yet remains unsolved despite a probing book and a podcast.
A shrinking town sees new life
These days, if asked to describe their hometown, most of Larrimah's residents do not hesitate to say it's nearing its demise, even with the most recent population explosion.
"We're all in our 70s and 80s now … we'll all die out eventually," long-term resident Karl Roth said.
But it hasn't always been that way.
During World War II, about 10,000 troops were stationed at Larrimah and years later it served as a railhead until the line closed in 1976.
"It was never a big town … when we first moved here the population was about 28, including kids, but all the stations would come in back in those days," Mr Roth said.
For Ondra and Lucie, the quietness of Larrimah was a major selling point, and as the sole managers of the ageing hotel, they are usually run off their feet keeping a zoo of animals alive and catering to the flocks of grey nomads on their travels around Australia.
"It gets really crazy with the tourists here during the dry season," Lucie said.
"We are the chef, the waiter, the cleaner. We do it all."
'An interesting extreme'
Ondra and Lucie say they would look back on the journey as a once-in-a-life-time experience.
They have no plans to leave just yet.
"There is something about this place. We have emus that stick their heads in our rooms in the morning," Lucie said.
"We never liked the big cities … but for me this is more like an interesting extreme, where you will live for a period of time … and we plan to stay for a few more years."
She said it was not a job where she went into an office and sat for eight hours.
"When you work here you go and feed Sam the crocodile, and the emus, and our parrots, and long-billed corella," she said.