Thousands mourn eight children found dead in Cairns

Local residents line the road as a hearse carrying one of the coffins of the eight children in Cairns, Australia, on Jan 10, 2015. --  PHOTO: EPA
Local residents line the road as a hearse carrying one of the coffins of the eight children in Cairns, Australia, on Jan 10, 2015. --  PHOTO: EPA
Local children wait near the entrance to Murray street to watch the funeral procession of the eight children in Cairns, Australia, on Jan 10, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Local children wait near the entrance to Murray street to watch the funeral procession of the eight children in Cairns, Australia, on Jan 10, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Hearses carrying the coffins of the eight children leave a memorial service at the Convention Centre in Cairns, Australia, on Jan 10, 2015.  -- PHOTO: EPA 
Hearses carrying the coffins of the eight children leave a memorial service at the Convention Centre in Cairns, Australia, on Jan 10, 2015.  -- PHOTO: EPA 

CAIRNS (AFP) - Thousands of people on Saturday flocked to the funeral of eight children found dead at their home in the northern Australian city of Cairns, in a crime that shocked the country.

The mother of seven of the children and aunt to the eighth has been charged with murder after their bodies were found, reportedly with stab wounds, at her house a few days before Christmas.

37-year-old Raina Mersane Ina Thaiday has been charged with eight counts of murder.

The children - four boys and four girls aged between two and 14 from the tight-knit Torres Strait Islander community - were laid to rest side-by-side on Saturday after a traditional mourning period.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended the Christian service, saying ahead of the funeral that he would be going in "solidarity with the people of Cairns and with all victims of family violence".

"We know that sometimes people break. We also know that there are difficult circumstances that people deal with," he told radio station 2UE.

"This is a social issue as well as a law enforcement issue, but I will be there in solidarity with the people of Cairns."

Hundreds of people lined an intersection near the house where the children died as eight hearses, each carrying a white coffin, drove past with a police escort.

The house is expected to be demolished and a permanent memorial built on the site.

Queensland state Premier Campbell Newman said the tragedy of the young lives lost had been felt right across Australia.

"No words can take away the pain or ease the sorrow of that loss," he said.

The funeral was called Keriba Omasker, meaning "our children" in the Torres Strait Islander dialect that was the ancestral language of the children.

Police have not revealed how the children died and have said they were looking into various scenarios, including suffocation. They also said knives were found at the scene.

Cairns is a northern tropical city with a population of more than 150,000 people and is popular with international tourists as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's biggest tourist sites.