Outlaws. Criminals. Thugs. There’re lots of names thrown around when describing Australia’s bikie community. Whatever you want to call them, they’ve been around for decades, never straying too far from the media spotlight. “According to strict biological definition, members of bikie gangs are in fact human,” Tim Blair of Sydney’s tabloid newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, begins. “Humans deserving of human rights don’t generally kill other humans, as is the way of our bikie community.” It seems a little extreme, but Blair manages to push the sentiment even further when he says the Nomads leader Simon Tajjour should also have the right to a pulse “eternally denied.” But moral panic and hyperbolic media accounts are an ongoing theme in stories about Australian motorcycle clubs. Of course the sorts of things most commonly associated with motorcycle outlaws – guns, extortion, murder, beatings, drug deals – haven’t exactly lent themselves to forgiving media portrayals. They aren’t darlings of our political establishment either, who have introduced severely restrictive consorting laws, making it illegal for bikies with prior convictions to associate with other club members.
But still, our fascination with bikies remains. There’s something we love about them, whether we admit it or not. The primal rumble of the Harleys, and the characters who ride them, the colourful patches and the 'no-fucks-given' attitudes. They've freed themselves from the cubicle farms, the 9-to-5 grind and client meetings that dominate the life of the average desk-dwelling suburbanite.
While dwelling at our own desks we thought it was about time to look into this motorcycle menace and meet some of the players behind the scenes of one of Australia’s most notorious outlaw motorcycle clubs. Tarek Mansour, the National Sergeant at Arms of the Nomads, with a number of associates, along with their lawyer, agreed to meet us and talk about the outlaw life. Not knowing what to expect as they rolled down into a nondescript alleyway in Sydney’s Surry Hills, bike engines roaring, we were met by four large, but genuinely pleasant dudes. Not the sort of guys you would fuck with by any stretch, but nonetheless, friendly. We sat down for a few hours and talked about the law, corrupt pollies, police thuggery, and life in general on the inside of a motorcycle club.
Here’s a list of the main players in our interview. For the sake of clarity, we used the symbol N when all members agreed on a message.
TM Tarek Mansour: The National Sergeant at Arms (known as T or Big T)
J Jaz: President of Sydney Chapter
R Robert: Vice President of Sydney Chapter
DS Daniel Smith: Regular member of Sydney Chapter
O Omar Juweinat: Lawyer for the Nomads Motorcycle Club
How did the Nomads start?
TM: It was established in 1968 in Sydney, and we’ve spread over into three, nearly four states in Australia. It all started out as a group of blokes who used to like riding and drinking.
What role does the National Sergeant at Arms play within the club?
TM: If a member’s got a problem or we’ve got an internal conflict, we deal with it. If we have an issue with another motorcycle club, then I’ll go sit down and talk to the National Sarge of that club to resolve it in a peaceful manner. There’s one National Sarge, but then every chapter has its own Sergeant at Arms.
How did you get involved with the club?
TM: My cousin’s been in the club for 17 years; he joined when he was 20 or 21. I’ve been part of it for just over 10. [Tarek’s cousin is Sleiman ’Simon’ Tajjour, the National President of the Nomads].
What’s your experience of the club?
TM: It’s a brotherhood. We’re there for each other – especially when one’s in the dumps or is out of work, we’ll help in any way and contribute. It’s being a brother in every aspect of life, whether it’s for good times or bad times – we back each other no matter what.
Bikie gangs were traditionally made up of white Australians. That’s changed a bit now...
TM: Our club’s multicultural and we all get along. We used to have a swastika on our patch and we voted and took that off. Back in the ’60s when we started, it was a white supremacist club, but now we’ve got Aboriginals, Lebanese, Islanders, Bosnians – we’ve got everything. And we respect everyone: Christians, Muslims, atheists. We get along because we’re all Nomads.
There are a lot of new clubs out there and they don’t seem to have a lot to do with motorbikes. Is motorcycle culture still a big part of the club?
TM: Absolutely, 100 per cent. No bike, you can’t be a member. It has to be a Harley-Davidson, or it has to be English or American made. It’s a rule that started back in the early ’90s in America with the Hells Angels, one of the first clubs.
Why not Japanese?
TM: Have you seen Japanese bikers? Have you heard of Japanese bikers? [laughing] You’re allowed to own them and ride them in your own time, but not with club colours.
So you’re Sergeant at Arms. How are relationships with the other clubs?
TM: They’re alright.
Is it something that’s getting better now that there’s a lot of pressure being placed on motorcycle clubs?
TM: No one wants headaches anymore. We’ve all got one archenemy, a common enemy – which is the government at the moment, with these laws.
Which laws are you talking about in particular?
TM: Consorting. We’re not allowed to ride together, we’re not allowed to have clubhouses, we’re not allowed nothing no more. We’re not allowed into pubs with our colours or even associate with our colours most of the time.
So what you guys are doing now is illegal?
R: We’re consorting, yeah – well, if you’ve got a criminal record. Three of us don’t; he does [points at one of the members in the room]. So if we do, we’ll all get warned with consorting.
O: Consorting laws are historic laws – they’ve been out for a very, very long time. But there were amendments made to them, particularly after the rise of bikie conflict, and particularly the rise of conflict after the airport massacre between the Comancheros and the Hells Angels. In effect, the law says that you can be charged with consorting if you associate with convicted offenders. You get three warnings – if you ignore the warnings then you would be charged with consorting. [Sleiman] ‘Simon’ Tajjour, Tarek’s cousin, quite properly challenged the legislation in the High Court and said what the government’s doing is not only unconstitutional but it infringes the right of the freedom of political communication. In other words, by stopping person A and person X talking together, you’re stopping them from dealing with one another on a lawful basis, notwithstanding the fact that they’re bikies or whatever. But the consorting legislation has been a problem because it’s seen an influx of people being charged, processed in jails, in police stations… enormous taxpayer dollars are being wasted on a piece of legislation which frankly doesn’t achieve a means to an end.
Do you think the consorting laws have been misused? How have they affected your life?
DS: I got charged with consorting, and someone got a little clip of me coming out of the cell and that ended up on the news, and I lost my job because of it. It was on social media but they took it and put it on the news. Everyone at work saw it. I was working at Coca-Cola. Boom – fired me straight away.
IF YOU JUST CAME UP TO ME ON THE STREETS AND SAID TO ME, ‘I WANT TO JOIN,’ I’D SAY, ‘SEE YOU LATER.’ HOW DO I KNOW YOU'RE NOT A COP?
TM: The coppers ring up our work. They basically give you a choice: leave the club or lose your livelihood. Jaz lost his job and was out of work for a while, but that’s what the brotherhood’s about – we helped him get through that time. The police are bullies – thugs on the street. I’ve had them tell me that their colours are better than mine. They look like a gang, and they’re all big, aggressive, ’roided up blokes.
So it’s safe to say you don’t get along with the cops much?
TM: Can’t stand them. I’ve been door knocked for five weeks every night. They come to check up on us. Really, what I’m doing is sitting at home with my wife and two kids.
Is this impacting on your family life?
TM: It’s stressful. One time they came and my mum walked outside – because once I see them on the intercom, I don’t talk to them. She asked, “Is my son in trouble?” and they said, “No,” and she said, “What’s he doing wrong?” and they said, “Nothing.” So she asked them, “What do you keep coming here for?” and they said, “We fear for your son, as he’s got a hit on him.” But there was no hit; it’s just something to say to my mum. My mum’s an old lady. She’s not 100 per cent healthwise. The stress that caused her – she was in bed for two days thinking that I was going to get knocked one day.
Why do you think they keep harassing you guys?
N: To take the attention away from white-collar crime. That’s what we all believe.
And when the media or politicians come out and say, ‘They’re crooks, they’re associated with crime, they’re thugs, they’re extorting people,’ do you believe that reputation is unfair?
N: Of course it is. There’s good and bad in everything in life, whether you’re a bikie, a politician, a lawyer – everyone does good and everyone does bad. You can’t paint us all with the same brush.
If I asked you to present a different narrative to the media, what would you say?
N: To get fucked [laughing].
Considering the pressure, do you understand why a lot of guys might leave the club?
TM: Not really. I find that they’re the weak ones. That’s not brotherhood. I’ve been told by the police if I leave they’ll stop harassing me – but no.
And if someone does leave?
TM: He leaves. There’s two ways of leaving: on good or bad terms. There’s certain drugs we don’t tolerate in the club. You can’t use methamphetamines. You can’t use heroin. You sleep with another member’s wife or his girlfriend, you’re out. You hit another member, you’re out. And you have to leave your bike behind if you leave the club.
Sleeping with another member’s wife? You must get dealt with pretty heavily…
TM: I won’t get into that.
What if I wanted to become a member?
TM: You’ve got to know someone to get in. We won’t just take a Joe Blow. And you’ve got to come around and hang out before you join the club. If you just came up to me on the streets and said to me, ‘I want to join,’ I’d say, ‘See you later.’ How do I know you’re not a cop?
So you get vouched for – then what?
TM: You have to prospect for 12-months minimum.
What does that entail?
TM: Let’s just say respect! [laughing] It’s a lot easier now than what it was back 10, 12 years ago, because back then we had the clubhouses, so you were doing bar duties, standing at the gate letting people in, going to Maccas, picking up members, dropping off members – where now, it’s really jackshit.
And when you’re in, what’s the social side of things like?
TM: A lot of alcohol, food, women, strippers, topless waitresses. It’s a boys’ party. Before [consorting laws], it was every week. Now it’s a lot harder. But when we did have clubhouses, every Friday night from 7:30pm we would party and you had to stay there till midnight – but no one would want to go before midnight anyway. You’d stay until 6am the next day, if not later.
Sounds pretty wild…
TM: I wouldn’t call them wild – fun. But it depends on what your definition of wild is. [laughing] In the private room it gets wild.
What’s the ’private room’?
TM: It's for members only… and women (laughing).
And where’s the money to do all this come from?
TM: As members, we give $50 every week to the club which goes to the food, the waitresses, the strippers. When we had a clubhouse it used to pay the rent, electricity bills, everything.
LEAVE US ALONE, WE’LL LEAVE YOU ALONE. FUCK WITH ONE OF US, WE WILL FUCK WITH YOU.
Your cousin Simon, the National President of the Nomads, said, “We deserve human rights, and everybody in Australia deserves human rights.” A journalist for the Telegraph replied that, “Humans deserving of human rights don’t generally kill other humans, as is the way of our bikie community.” How do you respond to that?
N: Obviously he has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s stuck in his office from 9 ’till 5 and he’s got no clue. Every club’s gone through violent periods at some point. But it’s individuals within the club. Things happen every day that aren’t even bikie-related but the media or the government say are bikie-related. We’re just scapegoats, that’s all. You could go to commit a crime right now and because you’ve hung out with us, all of a sudden you’re a bikie associate. You’re now officially Nomads associates [laughing]. They allege that we are committing crimes and whatnot, but none of them are members. Even if it’s an ex-member, he could be someone who was in the club and been kicked out or has left on his own terms, but they’ll still put him down as a Nomad.
In Muswellbrook, there was a raid on a clubhouse – what were the cops looking for?
TM: Explain this to me: our clubhouse got firebombed. We got raided. How does that work out? They found alcohol in the fridges and they took it saying that they didn’t have a permit to sell alcohol there. So if that’s the biggest crime they’ve got on us, congratulations.
When there is criminal activity within the organisation, how do you guys deal with it?
R: We don’t know of it. See Dan over here; if he wants to do something illegal, we don’t tell him to do it. We’ve got no part in it. It’s his choice.
You guys are in an outlaw motorcycle club. Do you feel like outlaws?
TM: I just feel like a normal Joe Blow. That’s right, I’ve just got my colours on. I just feel like I’m part of a group that loves to ride bikes and hang out.
Can you understand why some members of the Australian public would see you as intimidating?
TM: It’s because of the way the media portrays us. That’s why you’re frightened of us. We won’t fuck with anyone that won’t fuck with us. Leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. Fuck with one of us, we will fuck with you. Nine times out of 10 the public love us everywhere we go. They take photos of our bikes – sometimes chicks even jump on the back and come for a ride. They want to go for a ride with high heels and short skirts! Whoa yeah, now that’s fun.
There have been past incidents though. At the airport a few years back, and there were reports of bikies running drugs, extorting businesses – things of that nature.
R: If you look at the statistics, any club member that’s done anything wrong – whether it’s Nomads or any other club – who’s doing time, you’ll find that 99 per cent of [those incidents] are not actually club-related violence or charges. It’s always been outside the club. Just because they’re wearing a vest, doesn’t mean the whole club is doing it.
DS: A lot of things happen, like, just personal issues. For example, I had a tumour and I was on chemotherapy – I rebelled. I got crazily drunk and got into a fight and was charged. Nothing to do with the club. But when I was going through that stage, the club was helping me, looking after me.
R: And Centrelink wouldn’t give him anything.
DS: Without the club I might have bloody necked myself – who knows? I was going through my hardest days and the club kept me mentally stable. I was sleeping on the street for a bit, because I wasn’t that solid. All the boys were saying, “Well, come stay at my house, come stay at my house, come stay at my house.” I couldn’t go there because of the consorting rule – it’s a fucking joke.
R: All they want is for us to bow down.
Today when you leave, could you be arrested?
DS: I could go to jail.
Ultimately, have the consorting laws disrupted activities?
TM: No, they haven’t. We’re all still in the club. We’re actually growing. Now, you look at it in Queensland – they brought out laws where you will get charged for wearing any club gear, whether it’s a hat, a ring, anything. Anything with a club logo on it, you will get charged for it. I was reading on the internet, a bloke from a different club had a ring on and he was sitting in his own car. The police pulled him over and told him to get out of his car. Once he got out of the car, they charged him for having a club ring out in public. But he was sitting in his own car. He wasn’t in public – they made him get out. And that’s going through the courts.