Prime Minister Abbott calls tragedy in Cairns an ‘unspeakable’ crime.
There's a grim day ahead for forensic experts and detectives in Cairns as they work through an horrific crime scene where eight children were stabbed to death yesterday.
The deaths of eight children - the youngest just 18 months old, the oldest 15 - in their Manoora home have shocked the Australian nation still reeling from the deadly Sydney siege.
The 34-year-old mother of at least seven of the children was in a stable condition in hospital last night with multiple stab wounds.
So far no formal suspects have been identified, and the children's mother is helping with inquiries.
Cairns Post reporter Scott Forbes said neighbours were describing her as a proud mother.
"[She is] hugely protective of her children so everybody lining the streets here is reeling, right now," he says.
Acting Chief Superintendent Russell Miller says children from the neighbourhood have been playing nearby.
"It's not a great place for children," he says.
"I know there's some children playing on the swings nearby here. Perhaps there might be better off finding another set of swings in another park at this point in time."
Police would be interviewing anyone who might have had contact with the family recently. "Everybody who's had any involvement at all in the past two or three days is a person of interest," said the Cairns regional crime co-ordinator, Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar.
The injured woman's cousin, Lisa Thaiday, said another sibling, a 20-year-old man, arrived home to find his brothers and sisters dead in the Murray St house in the Housing Commission suburb of Manoora.
He was now being comforted by other family members.
Ms Thaiday described the family and extended relatives as close-knit. "We're a big family and most of us are from the [Torres] Strait. I just can't believe it ... those poor babies."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed his shock and sadness at what he called "an unspeakable crime".
"The news out of Cairns is heartbreaking. Tonight, there will be tears and prayers across our country for these children. All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened."
A police block at the address in Manoora where the children were stabbed to death. Photo / AAP
Mr Abbott said these were trying days for a country still grieving the deaths of two hostages in the Sydney siege this week.
A 13-year-old girl said she walked two of her girlfriends to the Murray St house on Thursday evening after they had been shopping. When they got there, the older girl's mother came out and gave her money for a taxi home.
"She was saying stuff about God and other stuff," she said near the crime scene yesterday afternoon. "She said, 'Papa God gave me the power to do anything'." The mother also said she was a "warrior".
The girl said she hadn't met the woman before but was friends with her daughter and was anxiously waiting with her own mother for news. "We want to know if she's in there."
Mr Asnicar said the house was in lockdown, with forensic experts processing the scene before detectives could enter it. He said police could not yet say when or how the eight children died.
Police - including intelligence, forensic and child trauma specialists - were travelling from Brisbane and Townsville to help with the inquiry.
Near the scene yesterday afternoon, about 20 to 30 people, including neighbours and locals, could be seen visibly upset and comforting each other.
A couple who had lived around the corner for 18 months said they did not feel safe in the area. It was not uncommon to hear fighting and drinking at night.
Last night, AAP reported that Manoora has been described as a ghetto and has historically had a bad reputation and high crime rates. In June, media revealed it was at the centre of a secret government report into youth sexual abuse and domestic violence.
- AAP and Newstalk ZB