Reg Cribb and Jeremy Sims were inspired to write Last Cab to Darwin from two stories: one about a terminally-ill Broken Hill cab driver, Max Bell, who drove to Darwin in 1991 hoping to take advantage of the NT’s voluntary euthanasia laws; the other about Bob Dent, the first person to die from a voluntary lethal injection in Darwin in 1996. Cribb and Sims cast iconic Australian actor Michael Caton to play their lead character, Rex, a cab driver born and bred in Broken Hill. Rex is a bachelor but his close relationship with his neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) is an open secret.
With his stomach cancer having spread to his liver, Rex is given three months to live. Determined not to die in hospital, he sets out to drive to Darwin, where Dr Nicole (“call me Nic”), Farmer (Jacki Weaver) has developed a voluntary euthanasia machine. On the way to Oodnadatta, he picks up Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a complex young Aboriginal man who both charms and irritates Rex. Tilly ends up travelling all the way to Darwin with him. In Daley Waters, where Rex’s parents met, they are joined by Julie (Emma Hamilton), a backpacking British nurse, who appoints herself Rex’s carer when she realises how ill he is. She develops an intimate bond with Rex and encourages him to admit his true feelings for Polly. The relationships between Rex and his friends, both old and new, are woven in and out of the major narrative. Back in Broken Hill, things are changing. Rex’s drinking mates Dougie (David Field), Simmo (John Howard) and Col (Alan Dukes) have been making decisions, too. Polly’s family has come to visit and it looks like they’re staying. Several awkward telephone calls gradually make Rex acknowledge that not only do people care for him, but that he cares for them, too.
Broken Hill, Oodnadatta, Alice Springs, Daley Waters, Darwin and the thousands of kilometres of countryside between them look amazing. Familiar faces pop up in cameo roles in the authentic settings visited en route. While Steve Arnold’s cinematography alone is worth the price of admission, so too is Ed Kuepper’s music.
Cribb’s comments that “comedy and laughter and tears sit really close together”. This is certainly true of Last Cab to Darwin, a film not to be missed.