They're not happy about new laws that will make it harder for them to hang out and do biker stuff.
(Photos by Ramona Telecican and Andrew Kavanagh)
On Sunday morning, bikers from all around Australia descended on their respective houses of parliament to express outrage at Queensland’s Anti-Association Laws. This had been coming since the state’s premier, Nathan Campbell, introduced the "the toughest laws in the nation" back in 2009. Since, then the other states have been considering how they too can criminalise biker clubs, while the clubs themselves have responded individually, or only at a state level.
That changed on Sunday, which also marked the anniversary of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, with the first nationally-coordinated protest. Down in Hobart they attracted a crowd of 250; Adelaide and Brisbane closer to a thousand; and Melbourne pulled easily two thousand. I rode to the Melbourne protest with a guy named Grumpy to see what it was all about.
The Melbourne protest originated from ten meeting points around Victoria. We arrived at a McDonald’s in Craigieburn to find a hundred bikers talking, smoking and receiving a speech about civility from the cops. There were patches from Ulysses, the Rebels, Vietnam Veterans and dozens of other lone riders and non-outlaws. I found Grumpy, who was my ride, and we had a chat with his club members from the Rebels, which are Australia’s largest outlaw club. The general consensus was that life had become harder for all, although a few admitted they were a bit hazy on the laws. Grumpy wasn’t much of a talker, but he added that police interference was an almost daily event, even if he’s riding alone.
As a bit of quick background, Queensland’s laws make it illegal for club members to hang out together (three alleged Mongols were arrested this month for simply talking in the lobby of a Gold Coast Hotel). On top of that, members can’t work certain jobs – including most of the mainstays like plumbing, tow-truck driving, labouring etc. The most controversial part of the law, however, is the shift of onus onto bikers to prove they’re not part of a criminal gang, instead of the other way around. For example, if the cops charge a biker as a criminal in Victoria, it’s their responsibility to prove complicity to crime. Despite this, everyone in the car park agreed that Victorian cops were acting more like they’re in Queensland.
At 9AM we mounted our Harleys and headed for the city. Grumpy’s bike was a classic chopper with a surprise speed-to-weight ratio that rocketed us to all the red-lights and intersections, slowing only at the last minute, until we finally poured onto the freeway, two across, one hundred back, filling half a kilometre of laneway. The whole thing was terrifying, but I enjoyed how the morning drivers peeled away as quickly as they could. If there’s one thing I can say about the ride it’s that I got a sense of why bikers put up with so much harassment to ride. Basically, it just feels powerful.
There was a ring of police cars surrounding parliament house. Grumpy slowed and we were waved over to a parking space where we dismounted and lost each other. Instead, I got talking to another biker named Phil, who explained that there’d be no trouble today. “We just want to show them that we’re not all crooks,” he said, pointing to the women and children. “There are good people affected by these laws.”
I nodded, but the point seemed obvious.
First up was a speech from Dr John Smith, the leader of the Christian motorcycle club, God’s Squad. He expanded on Phil’s notions about how they weren’t all bad, with a few extra points on civil liberties. Father Bob Macquarie continued the draconian government line and everyone applauded.
I asked a few bikers if they were dangerous and they all said they weren’t. Another Rebels guy named John explained that the drugs and fights associated with bikers are mostly a beat-up. Another biker – a big guy named Pedro – said that he’d never broken a law. Basically, they all looked scary, but said that they weren’t.
The crowd disbanded as soon as the speeches ended. The air roared with the sound of everyone heading to the bar and I went home, impressed at how civilised it all was, but then sort of disappointed at how civilised it all was. But then maybe my thirst for violence was just buying into more of the sensationalist haze.
There is a criminal element to biker culture – it’s a fact. But sledgehammer reactionaryism from a government is almost certainly worse. Indeed, the Queensland government endorses all sorts of atrocities – such as the Gold Coast – which are infinitely more frightening. Try imagining a country with more of that and less capacity for subculture. No, bikers aren’t perfect, but I’m glad they’re here all the same.
Follow Julian on Twitter: @MorgansJulian
For more bikers: