This article originally appeared on VICE AU.
Back in March, AFL star Charlie Cameron’s white Mercedes Benz got stolen from his home in north Brisbane. Two teenagers later posted an Instagram photo with the stolen car, their faces obscured by money-face emojis. The caption read “HAHAHAH.” They also tagged Charlie Cameron in the post.
The carjackers call themselves “Brisbane Northside,” and they’re a gang that specialises in terrorising the “elite-suburbs” of Ascot and Hamilton. Most gangs get formed for two reasons: either to protect themselves from other gangs or to make money. But Brisbane Northside is different because they seem motivated only by anarchy and self-absorbed showboating.
When they posted an Instagram story demanding “anyone selling TN’s dm me,” I sent them a message asking whether the cars were being sold to chop shops for parts. I was quickly sent a pixelated video of young teenagers listening to NTER in a stolen Mercedes C63, their faces obscured by smiling emojis, filming the speedometer as it ticked past 200k/ph.
Their Instagram page, which has over 20K followers, is an exhibition of joyriding, rubber gloves, cash and provocative quotes. One of my favourites reads “can’t tie my shoes but I can steal your car.”
After a bit of back and forth, I scored an interview with an anonymous gang member on Wickr. He’s an Anglo-Australian who speaks in short sentences and started stealing cars when he was 14. When I asked him about how the coronavirus lockdown has affected the gang, he wrote: “We still steal cars but we are more careful.”
Brisbane Northside has been active since 2013. Members are predominantly Anglo-Australian and made up from a mix of approximately six different crews across Brisbane. Although it's mainly gangs of guys there are girls who have been active in some of the crews. He said, “There’s probably about 50 of us in Northside that steal cars. People started calling us 'Northside Gang' online and most of us just talk over social media in separate groups.”
The members, as young as 12, often bait guard dogs with sedatives in order to ransack homes for car keys. They then take the cars joyriding, with the anonymous gang member boasting to me that “the fastest I’ve gone is 220k/ph. It was a BMW M2. The best car we ever got was a Merc, cops eventually caught 'em with road spikes.”
Earlier this year, Hamilton resident Nick Buick's Mercedes was stolen and allegedly used as a getaway vehicle in a bakery heist at Heathwood. As Nick Buik told 9News, “Everyone in this area I know has been robbed or got footage of people trying to get their doors open.”
The three masked thieves for the Northside gang then allegedly used the vehicle in a ram-raid on a petrol station in the outer southern suburb of Wacol.
“It’s not that hard to steal cars,” explained my contact on Wickr. “We either break into their house or look for keys in unlocked cars like in the glove boxes. It gets pretty nerve wracking because you’re not sure if the guy’s big in there. I’ve never been seen inside someone’s house yet. They have probably heard us but never seen. My mates have been chased by the owner.”
The gang member then proceeded to send me a Channel 7 News Report of two 15-year-old gang members being bashed by civilians. The incident occurred in January, when a white ute was stolen outside a Drewvale home. The owners quickly gave chase, eventually ramming the stolen car off the road and assaulting the two gang members.
Police have confirmed reports that crime in these areas has been escalating, predictably leading to locals who want action. In February, a Northside gang member’s home was raided, and police discovered a sawn-off shotgun and a spiked baseball bat with the inscription “Northside FTP.” In a press conference following the raid, Senior Sergeant Mick Doogue stated that” the Northside Gang is an issue for all police regions."
I asked the gang member about interactions with police.
“The worst thing that’s happened has been a cop chase,” he replied. “I’ve nearly crashed into a pole escaping cops. We pretty much just heard sirens and I floored it down the street, did a couple turns, lost them and dumped the car then bolted. It was fun, a close call...it’s really risky.” When asked if the risk was worth it, he replied, “I was on bail, so I didn’t wanna get caught.”
On March 9th, a 14-year-old Capalaba boy was charged with more than 30 offences including robbery, burglary, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, fraud, driving while unlicensed and receiving tainted property. A number of mobile phones, alleged to have been used to upload footage to social media, were also seized.
The Northside Gang seems motivated by joyriding as fast as they can, but in reality they’re much more driven by the infamy generated by their Instagram posts. When I asked the gang member why he posts online, he told me “I just do it for fun. I never knew I was gonna get so many followers.”
The page declares their exploits are “for entertainment purposes only,” while offering a video of a young teenage girl smoking a crack pipe. She calls out in a high-pitched voice to two uniformed police officers: “say hi to Brisbane Northside motherfucker.” Their account is an endless photo album of luxury cars obscured with smiley emojis. Their bravado seems inflated by their imagined audience, on a platform where gang members compete to see who can be the most notorious fuck-up.
According to Professor Richard Wortley, joyriding is a crime usually committed by marginalised young people who want to be seen as adults. In her study on ways to deter joyriding, Emma explains that as well as escaping difficult family situations “joyriding is a pleasurable and thrilling form of risk-taking that provides young males with a way of developing their masculine identity when legitimate avenues have been closed off.”
I figured it was no coincidence that the person I was speaking to seemed to be a young male, introduced to the sport by someone older and influential.
“We got into stealing cars through mates,” he told me. “I went with older mates one night when I was 14 and stole a car. It was a BMW X5. And it just continued from there. It was just a big adrenaline rush.”
I asked him if his objective was to steal from the rich, as some vengeful action against class, but he shut that idea down. “We started off stealing from poor houses to rich houses. We went from stealing shit box cars to luxury. All the luxury cars are the best, [and] the bigger the house the better the cars; like Mercs, BMW’s and Audi’s.”
In the Journal of Psychology, Crime & Law, Sue Kellet and Dr Harriet Gross found that some people can become addicted to the act of joyriding. Add to that the complex performative nature of social media, and you get what Majid Yar describes as a “will to representation.” Majid writes in his paper Crime, Media and the Will-To-Representation, “we see the spectacle of people performing acts of crime and deviance in order to record them, send them and upload them to the Internet. This kind of ‘will to representation’ may be seen in itself as a new kind of causal inducement to law and rule-breaking behaviour.”
But “will to representation” comes at a cost, and one that the gang members actively avoid discussing. When I asked the gang member if he was ever concerned about hitting someone on the road, he told me, “When you're in the car, you don’t think of that. It’s only after that you kinda do.”
Last year, 14-year-old Jacob Hopkins was one of six occupants of a stolen car, all aged between 10 and 16, who ran a red light and collided with another vehicle before being wrapped around a pole at Rothwell, north of Brisbane. Jacob Hopkins died immediately. The occupants of the second car, a mother with her four children, escaped serious injury.
When I asked the gang member how the death of Jacob Hopkins had affected Brisbane’s grand theft auto community, he seemed to wear the death as a badge of honour—as though it highlighted just how dangerous the hobby was.
“Someone did die from this,” he told me, "but I didn’t know him. It can get pretty dangerous. Two people have died from stealing cars. Lots of mates stopped stealing cars because someone died doing it. It was a wakeup call for them, but I didn’t stop because it’s just fun.”
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