Cape fear: Inside the Aurukun ‘war zone’

Cape fear: Inside the Aurukun ‘war zone’. By Sarah Elks. Australia, 2020.

It’s sweltering in Aurukun, far north Queensland, on January 4. A mob has been burning down houses and terrorising locals since a 37-year-old man was allegedly stabbed to death on New Year’s Day.


The victim’s grieving relatives and allies have taken to the streets of Aurukun, torching six houses and smashing two more, hunting for those allegedly responsible and their families. …

Two teenagers, 17 and 18, have been charged with murder, and 29 people have been charged over the violence that followed.

The police station in the Aboriginal community, on the far northwest coast of Cape York, is in lockdown. Police inside are watching the violence via a network of CCTV cameras lining the streets.

[Army veteran Tim White], a veteran of the bloody Somalia conflict in of the 1990s, was in Aurukun when the man’s death ignited old tensions between two of the town’s clans.

But unrest had been growing for months. Local authorities had lost control of daily fighting in the streets, fuelled by sly grog in the dry community over Christmas.

Now, in early January, senior police are calling White, asking him to find and remove Freddy, a local man being pursued by the rioters after he threw insults at the grieving family of the dead man that morning.

White is in his armoured vehicle. Two elderly women step onto the dusty road, pleading to be evacuated to a camp 80km out of town, where White is already providing sanctuary to more than 100 terrified locals. He loads them up, and they have a message: “Freddy is on the back of your truck.”

He turns back to the road. About 60 men “of fighting age” are in front of him, and 30 behind. They’re brandishing weapons — axes, metal bars — and they want Freddy. The urgent voice of a police senior sergeant crackles over White’s CB radio: “Evacuate! Evacuate.”

But there’s nowhere to go. He panics for a second, and then stops still, and the advancing mob stops too, before ransacking the truck, digging through the back for Freddy. White insists he’s got only women and children onboard. Freddy somehow slips away unnoticed and White and his evacuees are allowed to leave. …

The signs were there:

Warning signs had been obvious for months. School attendance, a symptom of community social health, had slumped to an all-time low of 38 per cent in the second term of last year.

By November, the police station had seven vacancies — two sergeants, one senior constable, and four constables — with the empty roles being filled by temporary deployments from elsewhere in the region.

There were still tensions between two of the community’s clans after a 30-year-old man was run over by a car and murdered in late 2015. The same families were allegedly involved in the New Year’s Day murder, with the roles reversed.

Minutes of council meetings tell of rising tensions, escalating violence, consumption of sly grog and home brew, regular break-ins, and daily fighting in the streets. …

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad is the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. Asked whether she knew of the unrest in Aurukun last year, whether she was personally warned, and what she did about it, Trad says: “No concerns were brought to my attention.” …

More bureaucrats and more money to pay them is always the answer, right leftists?

Someone has lost their life, eight homes have been destroyed, 400 people have been left homeless, because people are making a cheap buck from sly grog, from someone else’s misery.”

[Aboriginal leader Dion Creek] says there needs to be an overhaul of the way government deals with Aurukun.

“This idea of throwing (government) money at problems needs to stop. There’s been tens of millions of dollars pumped into Aurukun. This situation now is unprecedented. Hundreds have fled the community fearing for their lives. If this was anywhere else, there would be a royal commission.”

When are all Australians going to be held to the same standards of behavior? To ask the question is to answer it…

hat-tip Stephen Neil