WORDS AND PHOTOS BY JONATHAN WEST
At the beginning of 2008, the Australian national news reported on a small, isolated Aboriginal community deep in the Northern Territory, aka the middle of nowhere, aka Satan’s Asshole, aka East Bumblefuck.
Violent riots had erupted between two of the town’s largest gangs and for a moment it looked like the Australian Army (because there really is such a thing) was going to have to be brought in to settle the fighting. But what really blew us away was that the town, which is named Wadeye (pronounced “Wad-air”), was split up into gangs named after heavy metal bands. There were the Judas Priest Boys, the Evil Warriors, and the Slayer Mob. We immediately dropped everything else we were working on and embarked north from Melbourne to Wadeye to see it for ourselves. Nothing could have prepared us for what we found.
In Wadeye, over half of the town’s population is under 20 years old. Couple this with the fact that there wasn’t a high school in town until a few years ago (even now, the attendance record for both primary and high school is under a third) and you have a lot of bored kids roaming the streets with fuck-all to do besides fuck about. The community’s solution? Hire a “kid wrangler” who drives around town in a flatbed truck with a cage mounted on it, rounding up errant kids. When that didn’t accomplish anything, they built a swimming pool and instituted a “No School, No Pool” policy. Things looked up for a while, but then the school began to burst at its seams. Teachers were breaking down and the classrooms were too small to cope with the influx of students who wanted to be able to swim. The new solution? Encourage less kids to come to school. Welcome to Wadeye.
Every single bench, wall, and door—regardless of whether it is inside a house or on the outside of the local council building—bears the scars of a whole array of scratched or scrawled gang names, logos, and taunts. Throughout the different neighborhoods, entire roads are marked with huge “Iron Maidens” and “Judas Priests” just to let you know whose turf you’re on.
There was an underlying feeling of suppression among the girls and women of Wadeye. They were far more shy and inhibited than the men but projected this incredible feeling of tenderness. Wandering around the town and meeting the young girls and women, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them had suffered or were still suffering from the town’s reportedly rampant physical and sexual abuse. This girl, seen here with her daughter, was 17. She lived in a house with her cousin, who was a 24-year-old grandmother.
We met these younger members of the Slayer Mob one morning in the schoolyard. They were on the roof trying to nail parrots off branches high up in the eucalyptus trees with slingshots made from the insides of soccer balls. This parrot was unlucky enough to survive the hit, and the kids told us they were taking it back to their house to domesticate it. Judging by the amount of bright green feathers and plucked carcasses lying around the area, I didn’t really fancy its chances.
These were some of the older members of the Slayer Mob at their gang house. I’m a huge Slayer fan but I’d say I have absolutely nothing on these guys. I asked about their disputes with rival gangs, which can escalate to full-scale riots. The reply, which was delivered without an ounce of jest, explained one massive brawl that started because members of the Judas Priest gang claimed that Rob Halford was the best heavy metal singer to have ever existed.
Can you imagine watching these guys fight the Judas Priest gang during a lightning storm in the desert in the middle of the night while “Angel of Death” plays at deafening volume from some magical speaker in the sky? Maybe I’m gay for wanting to see that so bad that I can taste it… but I don’t think so.
Wadeye was originally named Port Keats back in the 1930s when it was founded as a Roman Catholic mission station. Today the town still follows strong Christian traditions but also embraces the native Aboriginal spiritual beliefs. To an outsider, this gets pretty confusing. Jesus is black and all the kids wear Satanic heavy metal t-shirts, yet around their necks hang rosary beads. One of the strangest things I saw when we were there was while attending the baptism of a newborn baby at the local church. Heavy metal music from the surrounding neighborhood drowned out the priest’s blessing. Oh, and the dad was wearing that old Anthrax tour t-shirt that reads “Follow me and die!”
Piling 12 people from an Aboriginal heavy metal gang into a rental vehicle and driving it through the bush for a few hours to a soundtrack of Judas Priest is a recipe for trouble. Luckily for us the only things that got hurt in the end were Skippy the kangaroo here—and the jeep. Immediately after hitting the ’roo, but before we had slowed to a stop, all the doors swung open and the younger gang members rushed back down the road to the dying animal. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Shit, where’s the nearest animal hospital?” The first thing that came to the ten-year-old boys’ minds was, “Let’s bash it over the head with a stone and then cut its balls off.”
We had been told that there had not been any gang violence for a few months in Wadeye but it didn’t stop us from feeling somewhat apprehensive when we were invited to a party that every rival gang in the town was also heading to. Instead of fighting or huddling in their respective corners glaring at each other, each gang brought with them their favorite album from their respective band and handed it to the DJ upon entering. So when, for example, “Run to the Hills” kicked in, the entire Maiden gang rushed to the front lawn to play air guitar and mosh in front of the other gangs to prove their allegiance to their mob and band.
This guy was incredible. His name was Sebastian and although he was a member of the Judas Priest gang he claimed he didn’t like heavy metal but preferred country music and rock and roll. When it was his turn to rock the dance floor all the gangs cleared the front lawn and he came out of nowhere and absolutely killed it. When his song was up he disappeared back into his house without saying anything to anyone, then shut the door.
These photos were taken inside the family house of two brothers from the Slayer gang. You can see how the walls are covered in graffiti. Aside from that there was absolutely nothing else in the rooms. No tables, chairs, couches, or even beds.
Signs warning of the dangers of petrol sniffing and smoking weed scattered the town. We saw no evidence of any petrol sniffing, but ganja was pretty much ubiquitous.
The kids in Wadeye are amazingly friendly and confident. And they all fucking love metal.
This drunk pig was on the wall of a pub we stopped at on the way home.
For a town so obsessed with music, it was strange that these five CDs were the extent of the music available in the only store. And like everything for sale in Wadeye, they were really expensive—almost twice what you’d pay in a bigger city. When we asked, most of the people told us they get their music from Darwin, a six-hour drive northwest of Wadeye.