Twenty-five men have been arrested for allegedly being involved in riots in Wadeye, with 10 having been remanded in custody to appear in Darwin Local Court, NT Police have said.
Sources however have expressed concerns about others in the community coming to prominence following the latest arrests.
Superintendent Kirk Pennuto said in a statement that over recent months the remote community had been the site of “intermittent disturbances” resulting in one death, numerous minor injuries, property damage and the displacement of a large number of people.
In the hearings, the Territory Families and Housing Department housing operations deputy chief executive Brent Warren said 545 people had been made homeless, with close to half the houses in the community in some way damaged, or 125 out of 288 public houses. NT Police had previously said 37 houses had be burnt.
Mr Warren said out of the 125, 80 homes had been assessed for damage, with an “early estimate” of $4 – $5 million to fix them.
“At the moment, by our count, there’s 545 people, adults and children who have been displaced, or who have chosen not to stay in town while the troubles are occurring,” he said.
Supt Pennuto said police had arrested the 25 men on Tuesday, and 10 had been remanded to appear in Darwin Local Court over the coming days “in relation to the riotous behaviour that has been occurring”.
He did not say what any of the men were charged with.
One source, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions, said an NT Police plane landed on Wednesday, and most of the men arrested were from the Kurdantiga outstation – including the head traditional owner – which was the most displaced outstation.
“It will turn to shit out there. The next TO is one of the original gang enthusiasts,” they said.
“While they’ve got the TO in Darwin, his brother will have to take over as interim TO. He is a very unstable bloke. He has threatened council and workers after all we’ve done for his family.”
Supt Pennuto said police were playing a leadership role in Wadeye, and they had been systematically removing the instigators of the violence for the last two months, and the “targeted arrests” were a “large step forward” in bringing stability back to the community.
On June 22, Supt Pennuto said that since May 1, police had responded to “a number of community disturbances” resulting in a total of 13 arrests, six notices to appear being issued, and three youths being diverted.
“The situation in Wadeye remains complex, police will continue to tirelessly support the community both from a safety perspective and in participating in discussions with stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to what are deeply entrenched cultural conflicts,” he said.
The majority of public disclosures by police about Wadeye have come after questions have been put to them by the NT Independent, or following NT Independent articles with revelations about the violence and extent of the displacement in the town, which federal NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy called a “humanitarian situation”.
In late April, the NT Independent reported NT Police continued to suppress information about violence in Wadeye, issuing a press release an hour and a half after being sent questions about the ongoing rioting, but which lacked vital information about bloodshed in the community and the reasons why the Territory Response Group had not been sent in to restore safety.
By late May, the NT Independent had reported sources had said more than 400 people were displaced, with hundreds living in tents on the edge of town too scared to buy food; the school has been closed after a teacher was assaulted, a man was speared in the leg and the Health Clinic attacked, children were walking around with homemade tomahawks, a worker’s camp was ram-raided, and at least 45 houses have been left unliveable due to damage from riots and ongoing violence.
None of which had not been made public by the NT Government or NT Police.
Around that time, police issued a media statement in which Senior Sergeant Bradley Fox said about 300 people gathered on the oval, to fight using blunt and edged weapons on Sunday night and had to be stopped with chemicals.
The NT Independent also reported late last month that Mitchell’s Adventure in Berrimah had been broken into for the third time for the month, with thieves interrupted soon after the break-in, after smashing knife display cases and attempting to steal a crossbow.
The week before that, crossbows and bows were stolen in one of two ram raids on the Darwin business that had been used to shoot at least four people in Wadeye, sources had said. Eight bows and four crossbows were stolen on June 19, with eight bows and two crossbows stolen on June 2, along with about 200 bolts and arrows in total.
None of the thefts or the shootings had been made public by the NT Police media unit.