Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
‘Tense times’ amid NT community unrest

Some displaced Aboriginal residents may not return to their homes in a remote Northern Territory community over fears for their safety amid violent unrest.

May 5, 2022

Some displaced residents may not return to their homes in a remote Northern Territory Indigenous community over fears for their safety amid a violent feud between rival clans.

One man is dead after reportedly being speared in the head in Wadeye, 400km southwest of Darwin, and others have been seriously injured during the civil unrest over the past two months.

Families fled into the bush with little more than blankets during the violence, as police evacuated others to surrounding communities or Darwin.

Up to 500 people are displaced, many in bush camps without shelter, and about 100 or a quarter of all homes in Wadeye are damaged or destroyed.

NT Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison says government agencies are providing essential supplies to those displaced.

“We are working with those family groups about what is going to be the best option for them going forward,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“About where they are going to feel safe and secure … where they go.

“It’s going to be a difficult few months.”

Ms Manison said some families are fearful about returning to the community of 3000 people after their homes were damaged in the unrest.

“Tragically we have seen someone lose their life. There are still some very tense times on the ground in Wadeye,” she said.

“There’s a lot of grieving. There is a lot of sorrow.”

Wadeye is one of the largest Aboriginal communities in the NT and home to 22 clans and seven language groups.

“We’ve got very complex family relationships in Wadeye,” Ms Manison said.

The community is located in the second-most disadvantaged region in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A 2019 survey found 57 out of 400 homes in Wadeye were seriously overcrowded, some with more than 20 occupants.

A dozen NGOs, including Save the Children and Foodbank, have made their way into the region in recent days to help displaced people and the community.

The NT government has also set up an incident control centre to coordinate the welfare response and monitor the unrest.

Federal Senator Malarndirri McCarthy on Wednesday raised concerns over the situation, saying some displaced people were in “desperate situations” and basic humanitarian needs weren’t being met.

The Northern Land Council agreed, saying the NT government has a responsibility to enforce law and order.

Historic tensions between clans have caused the unrest in Wadeye, formerly known as Port Keats.

It was established as a Catholic mission in 1935 after traditional owners in the area murdered three Japanese fishermen.

A video published on social media and confirmed to be of the Wadeye unrest shows more than a dozen people smashing the windows and walls of a building during the night as onlookers yell and scream.

Other photos show youths armed with axes posing in front of burning homes and empty streets strewn with debris.

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