Australia

Wadeye community unrest: Hundreds of Aboriginal residents flee amid violent clashes in NT outback

A ‘war’ has erupted in an outback Aussie town forcing hundreds of residents to flee as 37 houses are burnt down amid violent clashes between feuding rival families. 

Police have been evacuating vulnerable Indigenous Northern Territorians from Wadeye, 400km southwest of Darwin, as community unrest descends into lawlessness with groups roaming the streets armed with ‘crossbows, manchettes and bowie knives’.

Tensions in the remote town escalated in late March and have continued rising since a 32-year-old man died last week from injuries sustained in a brawl.

Vehicles have been set alight and 37 homes have been extensively damaged, displacing hundreds of residents in the community of 3000.

Footage posted online shows more than a dozen people smashing the windows and walls of a building during the night as onlookers yell and scream.

Police are evacuating vulnerable Indigenous Northern Territorians from remote community Wadeye (pictured) amid an ongoing violent feud between rival families

Residents say the argument has turned into a full-scale conflict, with members of the warring families walking down streets carrying ‘machetes and Bowie knives’. 

‘It’s a full on war,’ one local told NT News.

‘Since that lad was killed its all picking up, it’s all revenge.’

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said there have been riots every night since February, including one during which six cars exploded after being set alight. 

There have also been reports of people being injured with cross bows and axes as well as cars being run off the road.  

Superintendent Bradley Fox said ‘police have responded to numerous instances of violence within the community recently’. 

‘It is believed historical tensions between local families are the cause of the unrest,’ he said on Wednesday. 

Thamarrurr Development Corporation chief executive Scott McIntyre said residents have been living in fear and are unable to access vital services – including health centres, schools and aged care centres – due to the violence. 

Footage posted online shows more than a dozen people smashing up a building in the community at night time

Footage posted online shows more than a dozen people smashing up a building in the community at night time

‘People are scared. People are feeling unsafe. People are literally at their wit’s end because they can’t sleep,’ Mr McIntyre said.

‘People are walking around the streets with machetes and Bowie knives — and it’s unclear if the police are removing the weapons.’

Territory Families and Urban Housing Minister Kate Worden said the destruction of homes was extremely disappointing.

‘Not just for us as the asset managers but also for the community,’ she said.

‘It’s really devastating for the families that are in those homes.’

An estimated 10 people live in each home in remote NT communities, with Mr McIntyre estimating between 400-500 people could now be homeless.

He said the exodus has sparked supply shortages and overcrowding issues as displaced residents flee to neighbouring communities. 

‘We ran out of fuel for a couple of days because there’s just a massive run on fuel from people trying to get out of town,’ he said.

Thamarrurr Development Corporation chief executive Scott McIntyre said the situation has sparked supply shortages as members of the community flee to neighbouring towns

Thamarrurr Development Corporation chief executive Scott McIntyre said the situation has sparked supply shortages as members of the community flee to neighbouring towns 

Superintendent Bradley Fox said 'police have responded to numerous instances of violence within the community recently'

Superintendent Bradley Fox said ‘police have responded to numerous instances of violence within the community recently’

‘People are taking their blankets out to the bush, people are heading out to Country and homelands.’

Minister for Territory Development Eva Lawler said historic issues were behind the violence.

‘The large number of different language groups, a large number of clans were brought together into that community and there is conflict,’ she said.

Police are working to move at-risk community members out of the area and mediate a settlement with Elders to bring the unrest to an end.

Wadeye resident Ezekiel Narndu, 18, was charged with manslaughter last Wednesday over the man’s death.

His alleged victim sustained serious head injuries in a fight on April 16 and later died in Royal Darwin Hospital, triggering more violence.

Two other men were also injured.

Narndu has since appeared in the Darwin Local Court and his case was adjourned to Thursday when the teen is likely to apply for bail.

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