An Outback town plagued with killings, violence, suicides and child sexual assaults, is inconspicuously tucked away amid the red, dusty plains and vibrant skies of Central Australia.
Tennant Creek, located about 500km north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, has been known for its high crime rates and social dysfunction, fuelled by substance abuse and endemic poverty, for decades.
The town's average murder rate is higher per 100,000 inhabitants than that of the United States — a country notorious for gun violence and mass killings, according to NT Government figures.
That's despite Tennant Creek boasting a tiny population of just 2991 people, with more than half indigenous, the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show. It's a place where children not old enough to attend school are often seen roaming the streets on their lonesome in the early hours of the morning and in the dark of the night.
Tennant Creek Hotel licensee Jordan Jenkins, 35, told news.com.au that young children flocked to the pub late at night looking for their parents who were drinking inside.
"We operate late on a Thursday and Friday night and constantly have children of all ages turning up out front looking for their parents," he said.
"I've seen a five-year-old pushing a one-year-old in a pram and asking if their mother is inside.
"My staff and I are constantly looking for parents and bringing them out because a five-year-old is telling me their mother and father is in there drinking and there's a baby at home crying."
Violence is also rampant in the town and nearby communities. Mr Jenkins recently witnessed a vicious attack in which locals attacked a man with sticks and has previously seen a brawl with "up to 50 people fighting in the street".
Tennant Creek is gripped so severely by alcohol-related crime that uniformed police officers guard bottle shops "because it's a proven method in relation to decreasing the amount of domestic violence".
Customers are asked to show identification and reveal where they are going to drink before they are allowed to purchase anything. But as part of the rollout of the government's Banned Drinker Register (BDR) scheme, it's no longer compulsory for police to patrol bottle shops to restrict alcohol sales, as of last week.
Mr Jenkins has lived in the town for most of his life and said the social issues "have only become worse" in recent years. NT Police also revealed that there was a massive spike in crime late last week, after the scheme was dismantled, with authorities receiving double the amount of usual call-outs.
"The core probs in Tennant Creek are children being raised in broken families; poor education; poor job prospects and a lack of community support from Aboriginal organisations and elders," Mr Jenkins said.
"Mediocracy is constantly accepted by these organisations who need to be held to a higher standard because they're being given huge amounts of money to combat the problems but they're worse than ever.
"At the end of the day alcohol is certainly an issue and a contributing factor to everything in the town but our local community has been failed long before they started drinking or purchasing from our takeaway.
"It's a national crisis."
Police presence in the town has risen from about 14 officers in the 1980s to about 50 today.
But the extra boots on the ground haven't stopped evil from coming to town.
NT Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw this week declared: "This town has a problem with sexual assault on children". His comments came after a two-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a male relative in Tennant Creek on Friday.
The young girl was taken to the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide on Saturday and placed in an induced coma before later being discharged. A 24-year-old man has been charged with unlawful sexual intercourse without consent of a minor.
He appeared in court by video-link on Tuesday and did not apply for bail. The NT News reported that he showed signs of having been beaten. The case continues and he is due to face court again in April.
Mr Kershaw said he couldn't comment on the case because it was before the courts. But it's not an isolated incident. He told reporters that officers dealt with about 150 child sex offences per year against children under the age of 16. He did not say how many of those were specific to Tennant Creek. News.com.au has contacted NT Police for further comment.
The attack on the child took place in the same week a 44-year-old man died after he was assaulted in Tennant Creek.
Yesterday, dozens of locals turned out to a town meeting at Tennant Creek's Peko Park to discuss the issues the town was battling with, in the wake of a recent killing, several suicides and child sexual assaults.
Attendees raised the worsening levels of alcohol and substance abuse and related crime and violence in the town. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the government's response to their repeated calls for assistance following a spate of suicides in November.
Local BP manager Gary Bullus ripped into the crowd as they waited for police and politicians to address them.
"Have a good hard look at yourselves," he said. "Why are children running around at two in the morning and they're five years old? Where are the parents? Stop blaming the government."
NT Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne described the incident as horrendous and has launched an investigation. The NT Department of Territory Families will also conduct a review.
"We're lucky in this instance that this baby is still alive because we could've been dealing with a death, and we've had too many of them," Ms Gwynne said.
She said "we simply don't know" how many cases go unreported.
"In terms of child sexual abuse I think we've taken our foot off to a certain extent, particularly about what happens in remote communities," she said.
Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison said the government had "failed that child".
"It's not good enough, we have to do more," she said.
Ms Manison said there would be an immediate investigation into the case as well as other high-risk children who have had multiple notifications to authorities. The minister also confirmed extra police resources would be deployed to the town.
Territory Families has confirmed the department received 21 notifications about the household dating back to August 2015, but only six had been substantiated.
Territory Families Chief Executive, Ken Davies, said all of the reports made about the household related to domestic violence and alcohol.
"In terms of the notifications we received, there were no specific concerns that came to Territory Families about particular harm to this child of a sexual nature," he said.
Local mayor Steve Edgington said in a Facebook post that the community was hurting.
"The community is in shock over this, I'm in shock over it and we, as a community, need to do something about it," Mr Edgington said.
The mayor said it was time to look at new approaches to tackling crime in the town.
"These crimes combined with escalating property related crime, increased alcohol related assaults and high rates of domestic violence related assault require a whole of government response, community participation and families accepting some of the responsibility for where we are at," he said.
"Alcohol is clearly one of the major causal factors contributing to crime.
"Our Council is extremely concerned and is seeking any ideas to change and help towards finding a solution to the current situation."
Mr Edgington said the incident had prompted an urgent meeting of Aboriginal leaders on Tuesday to try and work through a number of issues plaguing the town.
"The Aboriginal elders have banded together, they want to find solutions to preventing this from ever happening again," he said.
"Tennant Creek seems to be the forgotten town at the moment, I call upon the Government to start allocating some resources to Tennant Creek to start working with the community."