Extra police officers have been flown into a remote Indigenous community in Far North Queensland after the fatal stabbing of a 37-year-old man on New Year’s Day and a riot overnight, with police saying the situation remains volatile.
- Two men, aged 17 and 18, have been charged over the murder of a man in Aurukun on New Year’s Day
- Six homes were firebombed and burnt down as members of the community rioted following the death
- The local police station and Queensland Government buildings were placed in lockdown overnight
More than 250 residents at Aurukun in Cape York took to the streets in the early hours of this morning, armed with star pickets, metal bars and spear guns.
Six homes were burnt to the ground and a further two are now uninhabitable.
The town’s police station and government buildings were put in lockdown as an angry mob went from house to house “seeking retribution” after the man was stabbed in the stomach on New Year’s Day.
He died in the local health clinic and two men, aged 17 and 18, have been charged with his murder.
The 18-year-old appeared at the Cairns Magistrates Court this morning, via phone link from Weipa. He was remanded in custody and will reappear in April.
The younger man will be dealt with under the Youth Justice Act.
‘All armed, all aggressive’
Police Superintendent Geoff Sheldon said a group had targeted the health clinic at 6:00pm on New Year’s Day, before moving on to the airport and the homes of the accused men.
“They were seeking vengeance for the stabbing that occurred and they were going house to house looking for what they believed were two offenders responsible for the death of the man,” he said.
“It become a violent confrontation at each and every residence.
“There were 250 people wandering the streets of Aurukun — all armed, all aggressive — and it became a dangerous situation, not only for our staff, but members of the public and other government staff.”
Superintendent Sheldon said there were a dozen officers at Aurukun at the time of the incident, but more police were being flown in from Cairns and Brisbane, as well as neighbouring areas, including Weipa and Coen.
He said many of the police officers would sleep on the floor of the local courthouse to “bring peace” to the community.
Superintendent Sheldon said the situation still remained volatile.
“There’s still hundreds of men, women and children that are cowering in their own houses,” he said.
“There is every instance and every chance of something happening, so that’s why we are working with the members of the community, the elders, the justice group.”
Cape York Inspector Mark Henderson said the community was in severe unrest and that officers were doing everything they could to keep the community safe.
“A number of houses have been totally incinerated after being firebombed by offenders,” Inspector Henderson said.
“Extra police are being flown in from right across the north to secure the Aurukun region and return some sort of law and order to the community.”
Dog squad officers from Cairns arrived in the community early this morning.
A spokeswoman for Aurukun Shire Council said it was working with police to assist where required, including finding alternative accommodation for families who could not return to their homes.
Sly grog a contributing factor
The alleged murder at Aurukun happened less than a day after another man was stabbed in the chest at a home at Kowanyama, also in Cape York.
The 40-year-old victim was flown to the Townsville Hospital in a critical condition.
Detectives have not yet laid charges over that incident.
Inspector Henderson said sly grog was a contributing factor to both alleged disputes.
A complete alcohol ban is in place in most communities in Cape York, under the Queensland Government’s alcohol management plans.
“Alcohol has played a huge factor in both the Kowanyama and Aurukun matters,” Inspector Henderson said.
“Alcohol getting into these communities in an absolute evil that brings nothing but evil.
“The Indigenous mayors work with police and myself daily to try and stop the alcohol coming in and we are doing everything we possibly can.”
Earlier this week, police seized 65 bottles of rum on the way into Aurukun.