Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Monday, 2 February 2009

Safe house for abused Aborigines

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney


The first refuge for domestic violence victims has opened in Australia's Northern Territory, and is designed to help vulnerable Aboriginal women.

The project in the remote settlement of Ngukurr is part of the Australian government's intervention into dozens of troubled Aboriginal areas.

More safe houses are planned along with "cooling off" centres for men.

Aborigine women are said to be 50 times more likely to suffer domestic abuse than their non-indigenous counterparts.

They know that violence is a way of life and it shouldn't be
Malarndirri McCarthy
Northern Territory's families minister

The centre in Ngukurr, 500km (310 miles) south-east of Darwin, is comprised of four shipping containers, which sit behind a high barbed wire fence.

Its high security appearance is an illustration of the sort of protection women often need in areas which are self-destructing through drug and alcohol abuse.

Way of life

The safe house aims to be a circuit-breaker to give sanctuary to vulnerable women in small communities where they have few places to seek help.

One of the co-ordinators, Cathy Huddleston, says the facility will allow women to escape the violence.

"When they're here they know they are safe," she said.

In recent weeks about 100 people armed with spears, machetes and rocks fought a pitched-battle in Ngukurr in a dispute between rival families.

Poverty, unemployment and substance abuse are often blamed for a tidal wave of violence that continues to blight so many lives in Australia's Aboriginal communities.

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