School closed as unrest continues in Wadeye, man arrested after police used pepper spray to disperse gun-toting crowd

Pupils in the remote community of Wadeye have been unable to attend school since Tuesday, after a riot between rival families broke out on the grounds, sending classrooms into lockdown.

Scott McIntyre, chief executive of local development company Thamarrurr, said a crowd armed with rocks was eventually dispersed by police, before a second scuffle broke out later in the day.

On Tuesday evening, a 29-year-old man was arrested by Northern Territories Police when they were called to a disturbance involving around 100 people brandishing rocks and weapons.

The incident was the second time in three days that police said they had used force, including the use of pepper spray, to disperse crowds.

Another man was taken to the local clinic with a foot injury, police said.

a woman votes in a rural voting booth
Voting in the remote community of Wadeye was undisturbed, despite ongoing tension.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

The Australian Electoral Commission has confirmed early community voting this week has not been disrupted.

“We completed our planned service offering from start to finish. Three and a half days and good numbers were reported,” an AEC spokesperson told the ABC.

Mr McIntyre said heavy fighting has become a daily occurrence in Wadeye, where around 500 people have fled the community, south-west of Darwin, in recent weeks after a man was killed and dozens of homes were destroyed. been destroyed – or seriously damaged – by fire. .

He said Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrurr Catholic School – which caters to students from kindergarten to grade 12 – would likely remain closed for the duration of the week and teachers are now preparing for further disruption.

Mr McIntyre said teachers were shifting ‘their focus from what would have been quite a difficult situation for staff and students to what could happen next week’.

“They are looking at the processes that they can put in place to bring education to camps and homelands, and some of the places where people have been displaced,” he said.

Chief Minister Natasha Fyles was due to visit the community on Friday and, in a statement, Northern Territories Police said they were working with traditional owners to restore calm to the community.

Mrs. Fyles at a press conference.
Chief Minister Natasha Fyles will travel to Wadeye on Friday to speak with the community.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

The devastation in Wadeye reaches an unprecedented level

Matthew Eastham, chief executive of West Daly Regional Council, described the situation in Wadeye as “serious and unprecedented”.

He said the council called for the urgent creation of a dedicated high-level task force to address deep-rooted issues.

“Council staff, many of whom are Indigenous, are doing their best under extremely difficult circumstances. Their exposure to social disruption, shame, workplace violence, constant safety fears and cumulative stress is a serious concern and is not sustainable,” said Eastham.

“Enough is enough. We all know these are complex and historic issues that cannot be resolved overnight, so let’s work together to stop the violence now and protect our community in the future.”

Aerial photo of Wadeye community
The community of Wadeye, about 400 km by road from Darwin, has a population of about 3,000 people.(ABC News: James Dunlevie)

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