Our Country Our People – The country of the Top End South West of Darwin is wild and beautiful. Termite mounds give way to floodplains, wild horses and palm forests as you drive further West. Wadeye is remote and not on a tourist trail or ‘road to somewhere’ – it’s the end of the line. Visitors are asked to obtain a Northern Land Council to travel to Wadeye and the neighbouring Aboriginal lands.
The community of Wadeye (ex Port Keats) lies approximately 400 km South West of Darwin, towards the WA border in Australia’s Northern Territory and is cut off by road for almost half the year.
The township was formed as a Catholic mission in the mid 1930’s to serve the 22 family or clan groups spread throughout the 330,000 hectare Thamarrurr Region. The settlement was moved from its original coastal location because the Wadeye site had a better water source, building timber and space to clear an airstrip.
Families would come and go from Wadeye in the early days, trading food and other items in exchange for construction and gardening work, building the central service town for surrounding outstations.
Today people still move in and out of Wadeye seasonally. The township (part of the West Daly Regional Shire) is home to around 2,500-3,000 people; the largest Indigenous community in the Northern Territory. Most families move into available family homes within the township during the Wet Season months when road access to country is impossible; putting a lot of pressure on housing and essential services. Around Easter time each year, everyone waits for the first reports that someone has “got through” to an outstation – the roads are drying up. ‘The Dry’ is here!
Wadeye has undergone rapid growth in the last few years. Today it has a large community store, credit union, clinic, ranger base, a Council Office and the usual government services. Thamarrurr Development Corp manages the economic and employment operations in Wadeye and Our Lady of The Sacred maintain the primary and secondary school. Wadeye’s museum is undergoing digitalisation of its archives along with an upgrade of the local BRACS TV station.
In 2016, Palngun Wurnangat added a T-House and Retail Shop Our to its list of core business which already included a takeaway, bakery and butchers, women’s art centre and the Kakadu Plum harvesting business. Murin Travel & Freight flies to Wadeye daily and stores come in once a week by road or by barge.
Today, Wadeye is a large, bustling community; walking the fine line between maintaining its cultural strengths and participating in the modern global economy.
Murrin-Patha is the shared language of the Wadeye area and enjoys the rare status of being one of the few Australian Aboriginal languages that is growing in speaker numbers. More than a third of Wadeye’s population is under the age of 14 – making schooling and two-way education one of the most important issues for the community and Our Country Our People
Our Country Our People