Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I hear Australia is an awesome country to live in. Check this out...
Gang wars tear Aboriginal town apart
23 May 2006
By LINDSAY MURDOCH
NORTHERN TERRITORY: Gang violence has turned Australia's remote indigenous community of Wadeye into a war zone.
People are camping in tents like refugees in their own country, too afraid to return to their homes as two rival gangs run riot through the community, 450 kilometres south-west of Darwin. Scores of others have fled into the bush. Even the gang leaders are frightened.
"Somebody's going to die," said Gregory Narndu, 32, a leader of the Evil Warriors gang. "What can we do? That other mob attacks us with rocks, boulders, spears and anything else they can get hold of," he said.
Almost every day and night the Evil Warriors and their enemy the Judas Priest boys fight a turf war that is threatening the future of the largest Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.
The situation is so grave, the community's chief executive Terry Bullemor said yesterday, that the local council is looking to evacuate up to 300 threatened people to Darwin, where they could receive basic services.
But the only road to the community remains blocked by wet season floodwaters. Community elders interviewed by The Age yesterday said they would welcome the army to help keep the peace.
Wadeye, a former Catholic mission called Port Keats, looks like a Third World refugee camp. Women and children are often too frightened to walk the streets of the town that nestles into coastal mangroves.
An average of 20 people are living in each sweltering, graffiti-covered house.
Almost half the population of 2500 is under 15. Most teenagers cannot speak English, indicating they have had no formal education. Life expectancy is 20 years less than that of non-indigenous Australians. And an acute housing shortage will worsen over the next two decades as the population doubles.
"Our cry is for help," says Theodora Narndu, Gregory's 54-year-old mother.
Mrs Narndu is one of Wadeye's most respected elders. "Seeing what's happening, my tears are never dry," she says. "I hear the screams at night; terrified women and children; It has never being like this before. Our kids are not safe."
Wadeye has only five full-time police officers.
"When there's trouble around here and I call the police to come and protect my mob they never come," Mrs Narndu says. "Where are the resources that the politicians kept promising us?"
Pleas to boost police numbers to levels that are maintained in the Northern Territory's non-indigenous communities have gone unanswered despite the fact that Wadeye has had law and order problems for years.
The community's only doctor, Patrick Rebgetz, has been told by the Northern Territory Health Department not to speak about the six-year-old boy he recently treated who had been raped.
But Dr Rebgetz refuses to remain silent and insists he can talk as a member of the Australian Medical Association, which has warned that all of the community's 1300 children are at risk.
"Australia should be ashamed at what's happening in remote indigenous communities," Dr Rebgetz told The Age.
"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.
Mandy Leggett, a council worker, drives past one of many houses that have been trashed in the rioting that has caused more than $450,000 (NZ$545,000) damage to houses and other property in the past three months.
"Two young kids hid in the roof as they did that one," she says. "Imagine how terrified they were."
Three years ago Wadeye was chosen as a trial site for what politicians called a "bold experiment" to end disadvantage in remote indigenous communities.
They called it the Indigenous Communities Co-ordination Pilots program under the Council of Australian Governments umbrella.
Ministers and other MPs, even Prime Minister John Howard, along with bureaucrats arrived in droves.
But yesterday, as the gangs massed for their daily conflict, the trial was in tatters.
"It's time to walk away," Mrs Narndu said. "What did it get us? Nothing."
Mr Bullemor said the community was angry and frustrated that the trial program never improved the delivery of basic services as the politicians and bureaucrats promised it would.
He said elders were "pretty disheartened" when NT Chief Minister Clare Martin refused last week to attend a national summit with federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, insisting that problems in indigenous communities should be handled through the Council of Australian Governments.
"When the people here saw that they asked where has Clare been for the past three years," Mr Bullemor said.
He said the gang violence was a symptom of much deeper issues that elders had been trying to get governments to address for many years.
"The gangs to some extent are militia for various interest groups," he said.
Mr Bullemor said unresolved issues, such as land tenure, were fuelling the violence.
"We have gangs trying to solve problems that we should be solving ourselves if governments were working better together," he said.
"One of the main problems is that there has been no serious development strategies for emerging territory towns."
Mr Bullemor said people in the community were confused by the territory's legal system.
"There's no real enforcement of the Child Welfare Act, for example," he said.
"We have the Government saying there are laws in place but the people here see that they are not enforced."
Mr Bullemor said sending soldiers to Wadeye could act as a confidence-building circuit-breaker.
"The whole underlying issues would remain but the arrival of soldiers would help us cap the situation for the moment at least," he said.
"We need some breathing space so that we have time to consider how to resolve some of issues."
Wadeye's problems are creating tension in Ms Martin's Labor Government as serious questions are being asked about the territory's discretionary spending of Commonwealth grants earmarked for remote communities.
An internal Labor paper suggests that Commonwealth money that is supposed to be spent in remote communities is being redirected to projects that mostly benefit non-indigenous people, such as a $160 million (NZ$193.7 million) wharf convention complex in Darwin.
Wadeye receives 50 Australian cents in the dollar for the education of a local child compared with the full dollar distributed to children on average across the territory, a recent report found.