CANBERRA, Australia -- Gang violence that is tearing apart a remote indigenous community in northern Australia has focused attention on the shocking state of many Aboriginal families' lives.
In Wadeye, a former Roman Catholic Church mission of 2,500 Aborigines, hundreds have fled their homes to escape marauding Aboriginal gangs toting spears, crowbars, and machetes.
``It's been going on for years," Tobias Marrumbu, a 22-year-old member of the Evil Warriors gang, said yesterday in a telephone interview.
``It started because a young man got shot a couple of years ago and [rival gang Judas Priest] want to kill one of ours -- it's payback."
Violence has intensified in recent months, and on Saturday gang members torched cars and burned about 20 houses. Local authorities are considering the drastic step of evacuating hundreds of people living in makeshift refugee camps, but the roads are blocked due to heavy seasonal rains.
Wadeye is 155 miles southwest of Darwin in the Northern Territory, just inland from Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. The territory is the size of France, Italy, and Spain combined, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics says almost 25 percent of the people are of indigenous origin.
On the outskirts of the troubled township, Michelle Parmbuk has allowed more than 60 people, mostly women and children, to pitch tents and camp in her backyard for the past two weeks.
``They were scared they might get bashed up, so they had to come and stay at my place because it's safe here," Parmbuk told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television on Tuesday.
Many Aboriginal communities are in remote parts of the outback, like Wadeye, or on the fringes of cities. Although violence is endemic in many of those communities, it rarely makes the front page of metropolitan newspapers as the Wadeye gang war did this week.
Many of Australia's more than 400,000 Aborigines live in conditions of poverty commonly found in developing countries. Among Australia's 20 million people, they have the highest rates of infant mortality, preventable disease, unemployment and incarceration. On average, they die more than 20 years younger than other Australians.
The federal government has responded by calling for a June summit of Australian state and territory leaders to discuss solutions to the violence and child abuse plaguing Aboriginal families.