Not the Third World, just Australia’s first war zone

23 May

Thus does this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald announce its story today on Gang wars, and politics, are pulling an Aboriginal town apart.

Scores of Aborigines have fled their homes and are living in squalid refugee-like camps as two rival gangs, the Evil Warriors and the Judas Priests, fight for control of the Northern Territory’s largest black town.

Wadeye’s chief executive, Terry Bullemor, said yesterday the local council was considering evacuating about 300 people to Darwin and elders called on politicians to send in the army to help the town’s five full-time police officers keep the peace.

However, the only road to the town remains blocked by floods…

Wadeye, formerly the Catholic mission of Port Keats, has been plagued by warring gangs for years but three months ago the violence started to increase, reaching a crisis point last week.

The rioters have caused more than $450,000 worth of damage to houses and other property.

“Our cry is for help,” said town elder Theodora Narndu… “Seeing what’s happening, my tears are never dry. I hear the screams at night … terrified women and children … It has never been like this before. Our kids are not safe.”

She blamed the problem on the lack of police and a lack of resources. “When there’s trouble around here and I call the police to come and protect my mob they never come,” she said. “Where are the resources that the politicians kept promising us?”

Almost half of Wadeye’s 2500 people are under 15 and cannot speak English. Life expectancy is 20 years less than that of non-indigenous Australians and an acute housing shortage – set to worsen over the next 20 years – means an average of 20 people to a house. The camps, created in response to the recent bouts of violence, lend an air of Third World poverty to the town.

Wadeye’s only doctor, Patrick Rebgetz, said the violence had put the town’s 1300 children at risk and accused the territory’s Health Department of trying to gag him. “Australia should be ashamed at what’s happening in remote indigenous communities,” Dr Rebgetz said.

“We as Australians need to stand up with these people to reclaim their town from the groups that are trying to destroy it.” He said the Health Department had told him not to speak about a six year-old rape victim…

This really is dire, but some of what I noted when I mentioned this at the weekend remains true; read the “afterthoughts” on the comments there as well.

Bear in mind also that there are instances in northern and central Australia where first contact between Aborigines and Europeans dates back not two hundred years but less than one hundred; the mission at Wadeye was established the year my brother was born!

Review Wikipedia on Indigenous Australians and the Northern Territory. See also Crime in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory of Australia has the highest level of crime per capita of any state or territory in Australia. Darwin has per capita the highest crime rate of any Australian city, while Alice Springs has the second highest crime rate of any Australian city (and the highest murder rate). In spite of this, the Northern Territory has no known organised crime, and the majority of crime is alcohol related or in relation to issues surrounding indigenous Australians.

The Northern Territory is sparsely populated, with the lowest population per square km of any state or territory in Australia (and one of the lowest in the world), which leads to the general feeling that you can do anything, and that nobody will be able to help you if something happens to you. On average 30 000 people go missing in Australia every year, some of which occur in this isolated area.

M is travelling there in the next two weeks!

Note that the last major massacre of Aboriginal Australians happened at Coniston Downs (NT) in 1928.

Some media to watch on recent events:

1. Message Stick News (ABC).

2. Living Black News (SBS).

3. National Indigenous Times breaking news page.

4. ENIAR NEWS “highlights news from European and Australian based media on Australian Indigenous issues and publishes media releases and speeches from Indigenous and European organisations.”

5. White Australia’s black shame on

6. Sydney Indymedia for this story and then search for others. No pretence of objectivity, mind, but often hits accurately.

We should also beware of concluding that this situation, bad as it is, represents the totality of indigenous issues in Australia. But I still wish our government had not sold out to conservative and mining interests in its avoidance of a true apology and a treaty, substituting the “safe” idea of “practical reconciliation”.

History of Wadeye

See Marluk Link-Up.

Modern-day Wadeye is a community of over 2,000 people and growing quickly. The Kardu Diminin people continue to play host to members of the other 19 clan groups who moved to the mission in the early days of Fr. Docherty and other missionaries. This has caused, and continues to cause, tension in the region.

It is now a regional centre of some note with employment, housing, banking and retail facilities, and an all-weather air strip. As a result, Wadeye caters for the diverse needs of many individuals throughout the south-west corner of the Territory’s Top End (and even the north-east corner of Western Australia), attracting population either on a short-term or long-term basis…

There are many other items of vital interest on that site, such as: “Aboriginal death rates in the area are 4 times higher than for the non-Aboriginal population of the Northern Territory”; “There are only 144 habitable homes. The occupancy rate is 16 persons per dwelling or 5.6 persons per bedroom”; “It is estimated that only 28 people in the region have completed Year 12.”

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One response to “Not the Third World, just Australia’s first war zone

  1. Owner's further thoughts

    May 31, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    Go to three posts which certainly deserve thinking about on Club Troppo:

    1. Rapping on race (instalment 297)

    2. Streets paved with gold?

    3. Indigenous employment: is tourism the answer?.

    Read the transcript of The Road to Nowhere, Four Corners (ABC 29/05/2006.)

    You may think I’m a dreamer, as John Lennon wrote/sang, but I still wish we had the foundation of an apology or treaty to build on; I can’t help thinking not having that poisons everything, even when it comes to practical considerations. Even the shitting in their own nest syndrome, and there has undoubtedly been quite a bit of that, might better be addressed if something that can honestly be called “reconciliation” was really at the root of all policy.

    This entry from my Blogspot Lines from a Floating Life (August 2005) is kind of relevant too: From Mormon splinter groups to Australian Aboriginal child abuse. And you get to see my Aboriginal nephew there too.

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