The history of gangs in Australia goes back at least 100 years. Criminal gangs have flourished in the Rocks district of Sydney in its early history in the 19th century. The Rocks Push was a notorious larrikin gang, which dominated the The Rocks area of Sydney, Australia from the 1870s to the end of the 1890s.
In its day it was referred to as The Push, a title which has since come to be more widely used for the 1940s left-wing movement the Sydney Push. The gang was engaged in running warfare with other larrikin gangs of the time such as the Straw Hat Push, the Glebe Push, the Argyle Cut Push, the Forty Thieves from Surry Hills and the Gibb Street Mob. Italian crime gangs have been active in Melbourne and Sydney, and even some youth gangs like the Sharpies in the 1960s have been large enough to cause disturbances, though lacking criminal organisation.
Types of gangs
East and Southeast Asian gangs
Asian gangs have some history in Australia. In the late 1980s, the Vietnamese gang 5T was active in the Cabramatta area of Sydney and believed to be involved in the murder of John Newman, the Member for Cabramatta in the NSW State Parliament. Other gangs active in Cabramatta, Sydney include the Four Aces and Madonna’s Mob. Chinese gangs have existed as a low level activity for at least 20 years.
Whilst media focus on Asian gangs in Australia is not as severe as it once was in the 1980s, activities across a diverse criminal portfolio continue to occur. Groups at varied states of organisation are involved in murder, violence, drug importation and distribution, money laundering, human trafficking, and coercion of women into illegal prostitution.
In terms of Chinese gang activity, highly organised crime syndicates in Sydney have looked to Chinese youths on student visas for their recruitment drives. Multimillion-dollar prostitution rackets have been operating in Melbourne for several years, one of the largest by Mulgrave woman Xue Di Yan.
Vietnamese syndicates have gained media attention again recently with a recent drug bust in Melbourne. Casino high roller, Thanh Hai Pham, and his wife were ring leaders of this syndicate and a total of 12 people were arrested in connection with this operation.
Middle-Eastern gangs were observed to rise around 1995–1996 in Australia, most prominently in Sydney. By 2000, the middle Eastern gangs had gained ground in Sydney, as police were hampered by inexperienced officers, fear of Internal Affairs investigations and obstructive policy on dealing with ethnic minorities, which made NSW Police focus on other areas of crime.
For a long time, Middle-Eastern gangs conducted extortion against nightclubs, ram raids, and car theft. More recently, drive-by shootings have become more common, with tit for tat drive by shooting starting as early as 1998, and becoming more common in recent years., including a drive by machine gun attack on a police station in Lakemba, Sydney.
In 2006, a permanent Middle-Eastern Organised Crime squad was set up following revenge attacks, including stabbings and assaults, by Middle Eastern youths following the Cronulla riots.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs are present in Australia, with international outlaw clubs like the Bandidos and Hells Angels and Gypsy Jokers as well as local groups. One of the major events in Australian motorcycle gang criminal history was what became known as the Milperra Massacre in 1984, where a fight between two gangs, the Comancheros and the Bandidos in Milperra in the South of Sydney, turned into a gun battle that claimed seven lives – six gang members and a civilian. While conflict between various clubs has been ever present, in 2008 the gang conflict escalated, with 13 shootings taking place in Sydney in the space of two weeks.
Gang violence has become high profile to the point where various state governments have taken steps to change laws to focus on the problem, and police have set up groups to deal with the threat, including the Crime Gang Task Force in South Australia Bikie gangs in South Australia at least, are involved in drugs, murder, extortion and other forms of intimidation and violence. Bikie gangs in South Australia have diversified their activities into both legal and illegal commercial business enterprises.
In Western Australia they are involved in the drug trade Laws to deal with Bikie gangs (applying to any association, bike or otherwise) have been introduced into Northern Territory, South Australia, and are presently being looked at in NSW and Queensland.
In early 2009, Comanchero Motorcycle Club and Hells Angels were involved in a clash at Sydney Airport. One gang member was beaten to death in plain view of witnesses at the airport, and police estimated as many as 15 men were involved in the violence. Police documents detail the brawl as a result of the Comanchero and Hells Angels Presidents being on the same flight from Melbourne. Four suspects were arrested as a result of the altercation.
Including two murders in the capital city, 4 people were killed in the space of a week in Canberra and in Sydney. As a result of heightening violence, New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees announced the state police anti-gang squad would be boosted to 125 members from 50.
Clubs in Australia include:
- Bandidos – The Bandidos are one of the “Big Four” gangs identified by the FBI. They have 19 chapters across Australia and between 250 and 400 members. One of the clubs that has actively recruited from ethnic groups in recent years.
- Coffin Cheaters – They have chapters in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, as well as in Norway. They have between 200 and 300 members.
- Comanchero – One of the oldest and smallest outlaw clubs in Australia, its headquarter are in Western Sydney. They have between 80 and a hundred members.
- Gypsy Joker – The Gypsy Joker MC, an American-formed club, are most notorious for the 2001 car-bomb murders of West Australian police senior investigator Don Hancock and Lawrence Lewis. They have between 200 and 300 members in Australia.
- Hells Angels – Originally founded in the US but now active worldwide. In Australia, they have 150-250 members and are allied with the Nomads.
- Nomads - The Nomads club has no website and is not as widely known as other clubs, but does have a significant presence in the press as an outlaw motorcycle club engaged in allegedly illegal activities.
- Notorious – The club Notorious, a recently new Middle Eastern gang, have started competing with Australian bikie gangs, in a turf war for drug sales. Notorious is reportedly using members of the Middle Eastern and Islander communities in Sydney, and may be wooing members of those backgrounds from other clubs. They have between 150-200 members.
- Rebels – The Rebels are the largest outlaw motorcycle club in Australia, and have 29 chapters. They are a more traditional club and are run by former boxer and founding member, Alex Vella. They are by far the largest club in Australia with around 2,000 members.
Youth Gangs have flourished throughout many of the large cities of Australia, especially Melbourne and Sydney. There are many suburban gangs throughout Melbourne involving clashes between North-West and South-East as well as ongoing battles in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs. There are many other gangs evolving throughout the outer suburbs of Brisbane as well. There have also been a few cases of Australian gangs imitating American street gangs such as the Bloods with no affiliation to the original gangs. In most cases these minor gangs are formed by bored youth influenced by the American Hip Hop scene. The internet has become a focal point for these gangs, posting pictures, post codes and sometimes even running a gang’s personal website. Australian youth gangs grow in accordance to general population growth.
Gangland culture in Brisbane and the surrounding areas has increased dramatically in recent years with respect to gang violence and behaviours in youths. Gangs in “crime hotspot” areas such as the Gold Coast and Western Brisbane has seen youth violence and disorderly conduct rise by 10% in the last two years, according to the Queensland Police Union. Gangs have been attributed to the increasing levels of youth violence and incarceration numbers in Queensland’s south east. Gangs such as Butch Lesbian Soldiers (BLS), Village People and FLC have drawn comparisons to infamous gang cultures in areas such as Los Angeles and Moscow. However, Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson denies these suggestions of strong gang presence, saying, “Brisbane does not have crime gangs similar to Los Angeles … There are groups of mainly young males who band together and become involved in criminal behaviour, but they are quite different from the criminal gangs that operate in the US.” Commissioner Atkinson further stated the unfairness to attribute the increasing levels of youth violence and illegal activities with ethnically or culturally based gangs. In 2006, three youths were charged with assault following the attack on two other youths from a neighbouring , reported to be gang motivated school.
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