Bikie gangs are a modern day adaptaion of groups formed by Second World War veterans seeking camaraderie, says criminologist Kira Harris.
Bikie gangs are a modern day adaptaion of groups formed by Second World War veterans seeking camaraderie, says criminologist Kira Harris. Chris McCormack

Origins of bikie gangs: clubs with many 'social benefits'

AS Queensland's controversial "bikie" laws are set to be reviewed by a commission of inquiry later this year, our four-part special report looks into the impacts of the legislation since its introduction in 2013.

This final instalment considers the social impacts of the government's anti-bikie laws.


QUEENSLAND'S controversial "bikie" laws are influencing the way outlaw gangs operate and congregate, but criminologists don't believe they take into account the reasons the gangs form or the factors that shape their internal culture.

Edith Cowan University lecturer and criminologist Kira Harris said bikie gangs were a modern-day adaptation of groups formed during wartime, with many bikers motivated by an attachment to their military background.

"Bike clubs were originally formed by Second World War veterans seeking camaraderie and adventure after the war," Dr Harris said.

"These clubs provided many social benefits to the individual member, including protection, belonging, status and power, significance as well as excitement.

"As long as people are searching for these within their life, groups like the motorcycle clubs will continue to exist."

Bond University lecturer and criminologist Wayne Petherick said gang members often searched for a sense of meaning and unity outside the rules and norms of modern society.

"They are in a way a subculture, and in other ways a counter-culture," Dr Petherick said.

"They exist for the same reason other subcultures exist - a desire to go against the grain of accepted culture, or what's accepted in society.

"They also do tend to provide a banner under which people of a similar attitude can gather, and that may be because the people that are attracted to those groups have particular attitudes, or counter-culture attitudes, but  also because those groups legitimise those kinds of attitudes and may draw those people to them."


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A particularly noticeable marker of bikie gangs is their predominantly male population.

Dr Harris said the absence of women from the frontlines of these gangs was suggestive of the counter-culture they sought to represent.

"The history of the biker clubs is masculine in nature," she said.

"The members came from military backgrounds and needed the physical strength to control a bike for long rides. Additionally, the righteousness and outrageous behaviour by members tends to reflect a bit of a boys' club."

But Dr Harris said the gender bias may be slowly shifting.

"In the past women were viewed negatively as they were seen as pulling men away from the club, but these days they can be involved with the clubs in various ways," she said.

"While they are not patched, they are still active and relevant in the biker culture."

Both criminologists believe that while the former Newman Government's Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) laws are necessary on face value, due to the criminal activity linked to bikie gangs, enforcing a set of rules on groups that thrive on existing outside any kind of regulation may end up being ineffective.

Dr Harris believed the laws did not take into account the many contributing factors that perpetuated the existence of bikie gangs and were limited in their focus on criminal activity.

"The laws negate the social environment and don't necessarily address why these groups are attractive to the members. There is more to these clubs than just crime, but unfortunately the costs of their criminal activity means they will continue to be targeted," she said.

Dr Petherick said the laws could reinforce a sense of brotherhood and authenticity within the bikie gangs.

"When you have a counter-culture, they exist simply because they don't want to go with the grain of society," he said.

"Any way you can identify those people who are separate from society may tend to legitimise or reinforce the attitudes they have.

"Labelling these groups actually gives them purpose."


Bikie Laws - The Fallout is a collaboration between Australian Regional Media and students of Bond University.