Woomeras used in mass brawl as violence spikes in East Arnhem town after cyclone watch: police

Updated March 27, 2019 15:07:23

A remote Territory town saw a dramatic spike in booze-fuelled crime — including a mass brawl with more than 100 people armed with woomeras and other weapons — after coming off cyclone watch for Cyclone Trevor.

Key points:

  • Police saw a 40 per cent spike in crime over the weekend, which included two mass brawls in the centre of town
  • Despite the spike, the latest crime figures show that crime continues to fall in Nhulunbuy
  • The town’s MLA said he wanted to see more rehab centres set up to deal with substance abuse issues

Police attended 57 incidents between Friday, March 22 and Monday, March 25 — “a 40 per cent increase in activity compared to most weekends” — in the East Arnhem Land town of Nhulunbuy.

One 16-year-old teen was understood to have been arrested on weapons and aggravated assault charges over the weekend.

Frustrated by the “incredible amount of violence and intoxicated antisocial behaviour”, Senior Sergeant Daniel Whitfield-Jones wrote an email to East Arnhem leaders, seen by the ABC, voicing his concern.

Senior Sergeant Whitfield-Jones said following the removal of the cyclone watch, a boozy three days of violence — which was not reported to police by the public — ensued in the town.

“Of this there was an overrepresentation of DV (domestic violence) and other disturbances, all of which involved intoxicated persons,” he wrote.

“My greatest concern however was the level of intoxication linked to large amounts of public displays of antisocial violence.”

This violence included a fight with more than 60 people in the centre of town at 3:20am on Saturday, he said, where “early indications were that multiple people were armed with weapons including knives”.

At midday on Saturday, “100-plus people” allegedly from warring clan groups took to the town’s Hindle Oval “armed with woomeras [a traditional Indigenous spear-throwing tool] and other weapons and proceeded to brawl”.

Police were forced to use capsicum spray to try and disperse the violent scuffle and helped drive those injured to hospital.

“Enquiries are continuing and prosecutions will be forthcoming once evidence gathering has [been] completed,” the senior sergeant said.

The ABC understands mediation efforts are being made regarding the clan brawl.

Alcohol clampdown triggers outcry

Nhulunbuy was placed on cyclone watch to prepare for Cyclone Trevor last week, which saw the town’s pubs and bottle shops closed at short notice — a move which triggered an “outcry of community angst”.

Cyclone Trevor eventually changed course and made landfall near the NT-Queensland border on Saturday, and the cyclone watch for Nhulunbuy was called off.

“Within six hours of closing the licensed premises during cyclone watch, there was such an outcry of community angst that significant pressure was placed on other government agencies who voiced their concerns to me and my staff,” said Senior Sergeant Whitfield-Jones.

“Over the space of the last three days however there has been an incredible amount of public violence … which has caused a substantial amount of harm within the community.

“Yet there remains no public outrage, no rallying cry for change and worst of all, next to zero reporting has occurred despite being in full view of the public during daylight hours.”

Residents from coastal communities around Blue Mud Bay were evacuated to Nhulunbuy due to the cyclone threat, but Senior Sergeant Whitfield-Jones said “not all the fighting … over the weekend can be attributed to … communities evacuated from Blue Mud Bay”.

Authorities in Nhulunbuy are currently reportedly working to repatriate the evacuees, which included a number of Groote Eylandt residents.

Crime rates ‘lowest in years’

Despite the weekend’s crime spike, Nhulunbuy has been recording recent reductions “in property offences and offences against the person”, Acting Commander Brendan Muldoon said.

In the latest available crime statistics for the region, assaults dropped from the previous year, as did break-ins and property damage offences.

In a message from Acting Commander Muldoon, he said for the 12 months ending January 2019, “Nhulunbuy Police have also continued their commitment to reducing domestic and family violence”.

In his email, Senior Sergeant Whitfield-Jones pointed out the distinct relationship between booze and the offences committed.

“While our levels of crime are the lowest they have been in five years, there remains an overdependence of alcohol in this district, with nearly 44 per cent of all offences within the current period attributed to alcohol,” he said.

Nhulunbuy MLA Yingiya Mark Guyula said while he was unsure what caused the violence, he “would like to listen to both sides of the story”.

“As a mediator from another clan I’d like to encourage people to drink safely, and not take problems with them,” Mr Guyula said.

“I’d like to see Government support some rehab centres on country to try and help remote communities address substance abuse issues.”

Topics: crime-prevention, crime, police, cyclone, cyclones, nhulunbuy-0880, darwin-0800

First posted March 27, 2019 12:09:56

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