109: Last Cab to Darwin

8 Jul

Reg Cribb’s Last Cab to Darwin fairly leaps off the page to throttle the reader with heat, dust and humour. The play is based on the true story of Broken Hill taxi driver Max Bell, a man suffering from stomach cancer, who drove from Broken Hill to Darwin to try to access the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to die on his own terms.

Broken Hill

Broken Hill photo by John O'Neill

Max became a cause celebre, but his long drive was to no avail. A second specialist couldn’t be found to countersign the paperwork giving him the right to end his own life and, disgusted by the whole thing, Max drove all the way back to Broken Hill.

Reg Cribb has painted a brilliant picture of Max, an Aussie battler if you’ve ever seen one, and of the many colourful characters he meets on his drive.

MAX: Oh, did I tell ya about the dust? It gets into everything. Into ya ears, ya clothes, ya hair, ya bones, every God-given orifice ya possess. It crawls into your furniture and your porridge and… Will ya shut that bloody mongrel up!!!!! Somebody? Will ya!! It’s in pain! Anyone can hear that?! Somebody put it out of its misery. If you don’t, I will. It’s easy. Ya hold its snout down with ya boot and… Bang! A 22 in the back of the head! Simple!!
Only someone who loves it will do that for it. So… It’s not gonna happen.

Max and his neighbour and closest friend Polly talk about life, death and the city.

MAX: Somewhere out there Pol, many miles from here, the world is moving faster than we could ever understand or ever want to know. It’s moving away from us.
POLLY: Do ya reckon they ever think about us in the city?
MAX: Nope. But that’s okay. I don’t lose any sleep over them either.
POLLY: Ever feel like ya missin’ out?
MAX: Nope.
POLLY: Yeah. It’s amazing the things you don’t see from a front porch in Broken Hill.

I laughed out loud many times while reading this play. No mean feat while reading on a computer screen! My only criticism of it is its length. At three acts and at least three hours in playing time, it goes on a few too many digressions that, while delightful, don’t drive it forwards.

Cribb captures the regional voices beautifully and many of his characters are the salt of the earth types we associate with the dry open spaces in the centre of Australia.

TED: Sydney. I have nightmares about Sydney… and Melbourne. Never even been there.
JACK: Why do you have nightmares?
TED: They’re just…perched on the edge of this country and nearly everyone lives there. And if they don’t live there already then they want to. One day… we’ll all live there. It’s obscene. The sheer weight of them will tip this country over. Upend us all and send us hurtling into the ocean.

Last Cab to Darwin is a plea for dying with dignity, a shout for city folk to stop buggering up the lives of those in the regions and a celebration of spirit.

REPORTER3: And what are your impressions of the country?
MAX: This country? (Shakes his head) I love it to death but…it’s hurting. It doesn’t think much of itself and it’s not happy. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, doesn’t know where it’s going and has no bloody idea how to make itself happy. It’s a rotting carcass. Everything that it thought it ever was is disappearing before its eyes.
REPORTER3: What do you mean?
MAX: Put it this way, I met a lot of arguments for euthanasia out there. You’re lucky I didn’t bring an entire convoy up here.

Last Cab to Darwin is available as a PDF from Australian Plays.

Cast: 34 roles – can be played with 5M, 3F

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