About 500 people displaced from Aboriginal township Wadeye after weeks-long violence

The violence in Wadeye has been going on for several weeks.
The violence in Wadeye has been going on for several weeks. Photo credit: ABC / screenshot

About 500 people from a remote indigenous community in Australia's Northern Territory are homeless after recent intense, violent unrest.

Dozens of homes have been extensively damaged by fire in Wadeye, about 400 kilometres south of Darwin, and the community's only food shop has been forced to close several times, ABC reported

The violence, which has been sustained for several weeks, is being blamed on tensions between 22 clan groups living in close proximity among a total population nearing 4000.

Social media videos from Wadeye show large groups of men fighting in the streets. Pictures show men standing in front of burning buildings in the town where dozens of homes have been torched, leaving more than one in 10 people without shelter.

News.com.au said that there is a large police presence in the region, which has been bolstered since the fighting began, but it's done little to ease tensions and stop the violence. 

It's meant that many are left without basic needs. Northern Territory Labor Party Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said last week that women and children have been forced to leave and flee into the bush with nothing.

"[They need] shelter, food, sanitation, and medication," McCarthy said.

"It's unacceptable what is taking place in Wadeye, in terms of hundreds of people being forced out of the township and into surrounding homelands and bush camps."

Many people have been arrested during the unrest. McCarthy said she believed that living conditions had improved since her visit, thanks to the police and the Northern Territory government, but it's still "terribly sad" in the township.

Northern Territory Police Acting Commissioner Michael Murphy said shops in Wadeye are now "well supplied" with essentials.

While he told ABC Radio Darwin last week that there had been a string of days without violence, he said that law enforcement alone won't fix the problem.

"Incarceration and penalising people through the justice system isn't the answer," he said. 

Instead, he pointed to long-term investment in education, employment, housing, and community connection as the solution "because when police are arresting people, it's too late".

"I think there's about 700 children enrolled in school, and there's only 10 percent attending - or possibly less," he said.

"It's quite sad to see all the young kids out there who are bright-eyed, very intelligent, energetic, love their footy, being displaced from what they can see as what might be normal - and it is absolutely not."

Acting Cmmr Murphy added there was a "feeling of hopelessness" among Aboriginal people and clan groups who had lost everything they owned and just wanted peace.

The Wadeye township was developed to bring local Aboriginals together, but the population has doubled over the past 10 years. It's now resulted in 22 different clans - who speak three or four languages - living close together.

According to the Daily Mail, some are now demanding they be given blocks of land outside of the township where they can make their own clan homelands on their traditional country.