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Wadeye in Northern Territory burns as 22 clans war in brutal tribal rivalry violence

There was never much in Wadeye, a remote township 420 km south-west of Darwin. It only got its first coffee shop a few years ago. It still doesn’t have a public toilet.

But after days of brutal clan warfare, there’s even less there now. 

About 500 people have fled the township of 4,000 to hide out in surrounding bush after the savage violence erupted and left them homeless.

Famous for its gangs named after heavy metal groups or performers – like the Slayer Mob, Judas Priest Boys, Metallica Mob and, for female locals, the Celine Dion gang, the Kylie Girls and the Madonna Mob –  Wadeye has been riven by violence for decades.

But in the latest eruption, one man, 32, is dead, allegedly speared through the head, and another is seriously injured after being shot by a bow and arrow.

Frightening photographs from the township – which is the Northern Territory’s biggest Aboriginal community – have revealed the extent of the war between the tribal rivals. 

Likened by some to ‘the Wild West’, Wadeye has seen pitched battles after dark between rival gang members wheeling around the streets and setting houses and vehicles alight. 

Gangs of locals armed with axes, hammers and machetes roam the streets of Wadeye, searching for victims with authorities apparently powerless to stop them

Gangs of locals armed with axes, hammers, iron bars and machetes have roamed the streets searching for victims, with authorities apparently powerless to stop them.

About 40 houses have been torched and abandoned, with some armed thugs posing for pictures in front of the burning properties.

Shocking video footage showed locals looting buildings, snatching expensive computer equipment and then jubilantly destroying it.

An attack on the local school also saw 25 teachers being evacuated to safety.

About 40 houses in Wadeye have been torched and abandoned, with some armed thugs posing for pictures in front of the burning properties

About 40 houses in Wadeye have been torched and abandoned, with some armed thugs posing for pictures in front of the burning properties

The Northern Territory government has now sent a taskforce into the area to offer food, shelter and support to the hundreds of desperate locals surviving on their wits in makeshift bush camps.

But back in Wadeye, formerly known as Port Keats, tensions remain high.

Wadeye’s rival ‘heavy metal’ gangs named after ‘Slayer’, ‘Megadeth’ and ‘Judas Priest’  

Wadeye has a history of being ruled by rival heavy metal gangs devoted to different bands whose pitched battles make the Northern Territory’s biggest Aboriginal community like the Wild West. 

Armed with metal rods, machetes and bottles, members of the ‘Slayer’ and ‘Megadeath’ mobs or the Evil Warriors or Judas Priest Boys hunted down their ‘enemy’ gang.

Nights in Wadeye were filled with screaming, the clanging of metal and rocks being hurled at dwellings and vehicles, which were then set alight.

Being out on the streets of Wadeye after dark meant risking an encounter with a Troopy (a Landcruiser which seats eight people) full of boys and men armed with iron bars and axes.

One local gang known as the German Boys used to daub walls and corrugated iron fences with swastikas.

Even women had their own musically-themes gangs, including the Madonna Mob, Kylie Girls and the Celine Dion Gang. 

Armed with metal rods, machetes and bottles, members of the 'Slayer' and 'Megadeath' mobs or the Evil Warriors or Judas Priest Boys hunted down their 'enemy' gang

Armed with metal rods, machetes and bottles, members of the ‘Slayer’ and ‘Megadeath’ mobs or the Evil Warriors or Judas Priest Boys hunted down their ‘enemy’ gang

Members of the Madonna Mob out at night in Wadeye, where female gangs include the Celine Dion Gang and Kylie Girls, thought to have been inspired by watching the ABC's Rage

Members of the Madonna Mob out at night in Wadeye, where female gangs include the Celine Dion Gang and Kylie Girls, thought to have been inspired by watching the ABC’s Rage

 Inspired by watching the night time ABC music program, Rage, at a time when half of Wadeye’s population was aged under 20, up to 14 gangs operated in the early 2000s.

By 2015, this had dwindled to eight, who on certain nights would team up into two fiercely rival supergangs.

At that time, the Northern Territory AFL appointed a regional manager to Wadeye, who revived a football competition in the footy mad town which, for a while, helped keep rivalries on the oval.

AFL Wadeye still operates, but the town’s latest outburst of violence may have put that along with everything else in the volatile community in jeopardy.   

 

‘This has been happening for the past six weeks,’ one worker in the town revealed. 

‘We are okay and we are safe. These fights are not directed at us non-locals. 

‘However it does impact on our way of life but nowhere near the extent it is impacting on the local women and children.’

There was never much in Wadeye, a remote township 420 km south-west of Darwin. It only got its first coffee shop a few years ago and still doesn't have a public toilet Now there's even less

There was never much in Wadeye, a remote township 420 km south-west of Darwin. It only got its first coffee shop a few years ago and still doesn’t have a public toilet Now there’s even less

The township was developed to bring local Aboriginals together so they could get access to modern facilities, but the population has doubled over the last 10 years

The township was developed to bring local Aboriginals together so they could get access to modern facilities, but the population has doubled over the last 10 years

The township was developed to bring local Aboriginals together so they could get access to modern facilities, but the population has doubled over the last 10 years.

The scheme has now resulted in 22 different clans – speaking three or four different languages – living in close proximity, often with 10 people or more in each home.

Some are now demanding they are given blocks of land outside of the township where they can establish their own clan homelands on their traditional country. 

But even before the current lawless rioting and plundering, Wadeye lived on the edge of civilisation.

Old social media footage revealed clan rivals stoning each other in running battles on the outskirts of town.

Others – including girls and young women – settled their differences with bare knuckle fist fights in the middle of the road, cheered on and supervised by elders.

Locals - including girls and young women - settled their differences with bare knuckle fist fights in the middle of the road

Locals – including girls and young women – settled their differences with bare knuckle fist fights in the middle of the road

Social media footage reveals fights being cheered on and supervised by elders

Social media footage reveals fights being cheered on and supervised by elders

Gang violence under the guise of rival 'heavy metal gangs' such as the Slayer gang, the Judas Priest Boys, the Metallica Mob has bene going on in Wadeye for up to two decades

Gang violence under the guise of rival ‘heavy metal gangs’ such as the Slayer gang, the Judas Priest Boys, the Metallica Mob has bene going on in Wadeye for up to two decades

Facilities in town are limited. Mobile phone reception is patchy, internet is limited and most landlines have been disconnected.

What little infrastructure there is was mostly either government-run or government-backed, which means few will publicly discuss the problems facing the town for fear of being sacked or their funding being axed.

The medical centre and the women’s art centre T-House has been at the heart of the community for the last 32 years, focusing initially on arts and crafts but since expanding into other areas and business.

Its main industry is the lucrative Kakadu plum crop, harvested, graded and freeze-dried by locals and sold at home and abroad as the latest superfood beloved by foodies. 

It also has a bakery and a butchery, and fresh seafood is trucked in once a week after a seven hour journey from Darwin when the road’s not impassable in the wet season.

But the township’s long-term future now hangs in the balance.

Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy said locals were in ‘desperate situations’ which urgently needed to be addressed.

‘This means shelter, food, sanitation, and medication,’ she said.

‘It’s unacceptable what is taking place in Wadeye, in terms of hundreds of people being forced out of town and into surrounding homelands and bush camps.’

The local NT member Dheran Young was in Wadeye on Thursday to assess the situation for himself and meet community leaders

The local NT member Dheran Young was in Wadeye on Thursday to assess the situation for himself and meet community leaders

The local NT member Dheran Young was in the area to assess the situation for himself on Thursday. 

‘These are tough times but I know the people of Wadeye will get through this,’ he posted in a message to the warring locals on Facebook.

‘The conversations you and I have been having are important and I am absolutely here for you – even if you just need to sound off and vent to someone about how things are going.

‘Wadeye is a strong community full of good people. We know this.

‘The only way we’re going to move forward is by being respectful of one another, listening to one another and by working together.’

Old social media footage revealed clan rivals stoning each other in running battles on the outskirts of town

Old social media footage revealed clan rivals stoning each other in running battles on the outskirts of town

But former Alice Spring deputy Mayor Jacinta Price says the issues may not be easily solved, even by giving in to the demands for clan homelands, and is demanding strong police action.

‘I think there’s other deeper issues going on here that separating people further won’t necessarily actually solve,’ she said.

‘As unfortunate as it is, it’s certainly not unusual for this particular community. I would hope that there are serious consequences for them.

‘There aren’t necessarily the sorts of punishments delivered to those who commit such crimes, which would deter them from continuing to commit them.

‘There’s a lot of vulnerable people that need to be protected in these communities.’

former Alice Spring deputy Mayor Jacinta Price says the issues may not be easily solved, even by giving in to the demands for clan homelands, and is demanding strong police action

former Alice Spring deputy Mayor Jacinta Price says the issues may not be easily solved, even by giving in to the demands for clan homelands, and is demanding strong police action

Another former local blasted the town as a failed project that had now been abandoned by state and federal governments.

But he said local elders needed to share the blame too.

‘This is a great stuff up by all concerned,’ he said. 

‘Elders need to stop drinking and playing cards and start their own programs for the youth.

‘It’s a lack of care by all. RIP Port Keats – God be with you!’ 

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