Up to 100 residents have fled the Western Cape York community of Aurukun and are hiding in bushland as clan violence wracks the troubled town.
Up to 100 residents have fled the Western Cape York community of Aurukun and are hiding in bushland as clan violence wracks the troubled town.

‘Exodus’ as residents flee violence-torn Aurukun

UP TO 100 refugees have fled the Western Cape York community of Aurukun and are hiding in bushland as clan violence wracks the troubled town.

It is understood the Aurukun residents camped outside the town boundaries overnight and are being fed and supported by volunteers.

The mixed group of refugees - mostly women, children and the elderly - have fled violence that erupted in the wake of the alleged murder of a 37-year-old resident by two teens on New Year's Day.

Police photos of Aurukun community unrest after the alleged murder of a man on New Year’s Day. Supplied by Queensland Police Service
Police photos of Aurukun community unrest after the alleged murder of a man on New Year’s Day. Supplied by Queensland Police Service

"It's just crazy, there is a big mob running around the town smashing things up at the moment," a volunteer, who remained anonymous for fear of reprisal, said.

We finished a food run from town and were heckled, people said we were supporting murderers.

The volunteer likened the overnight column from Aurukun to an "exodus".

It is understood the Federal Government has contributed funds to purchase food, water and essentials for the refugees.

Eight houses were destroyed in rioting and targeted arson on Wednesday - the structures were torched in an effort to "smoke out" the alleged killers and those perceived to be aiding and sheltering them.

One of eight houses destroyed during riots in Aurukun on New Year.
One of eight houses destroyed during riots in Aurukun on New Year.

The two teens, aged 17 and 18, surrendered to police rather than face the lynch mob.

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said Aurukun Council had not been in communication with the federal government over what was resembling a humanitarian crisis.

"People are hiding in the bush - trying to escape the violence in Aurukun," Mr Entsch said.

"It is just awful."

Mr Entsch said the community leadership remained an issue.

"The sly grogging there is a problem, we need a lot of leadership in the community," he said

It's just unbelievable - I know it's a complex issue but this was appalling behaviour.

"At the end of the day this was about payback."

Despite the efforts of Weipa Inspector Mark Henderson to strengthen local ties with Aurukun-posted police and the job skill training initiatives by veteran NGO Kapani Warriors, tensions have been simmering for months in the community between warring family groups.

Generational vendettas have regularly flared into street fights among "fighting aged males" aged between 16 and 49, armed with bows and spears.

The 1200 people within Aurukun Shire are culturally divided into five clan groupings: Wanam, Winchanam, Puch, Apalech, and Sara.

The town was established as a mission in 1904, managed by the Presbyterian Church, and populated with indigenous people from a wide surrounding area - quite often against their will.

One of six houses in Aurukun which was destroyed by a rioting mob after a fatal stabbing. Picture: Supplied
One of six houses in Aurukun which was destroyed by a rioting mob after a fatal stabbing. Picture: Supplied

Up to 60 families speak 19 different languages, complicating an environment marred by tension dating back to the mission days.

"The distribution of families is based on historical family holdings ... this led to a branding of families as either 'top end' or 'bottom end'," Aurukun Mayor Derek Walpo wrote in the 2013 Community Safety Plan.

Mr Walpo has declined to speak about the crisis that has gripped his community.

"I'm not making any comment about what happened, it is culturally inappropriate," he said.

But in a statement released through a PR firm, Mr Walpo thanked police "for their work in our community over the past few days and urge residents to co-operate with them."

"I ask all members of our community to keep calm so we can move forward and begin the healing process," it stated.

Mr Walpo had referred media requests for an interview to the Council CEO's department.

CEO Bernie McCarthy is currently on leave, leaving Director Corporate Services Ron Fenner to speak on events in the Cape York war zone.

He has yet not returned calls by The Cairns Post for comment, nor has State Member for Cook Cynthia Lui.


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