COMMENT: We are seeing an internationalisation of the motorcycle gang but this is not a new development in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Hells Angels set up a chapter in Auckland in early 1961.
Since those early days other outlaw bikers have moved into New Zealand with the Bandidos (via Australia) arriving in 2012 and the Hawke's Bay-based Outlaws Motorcycle Club aligning to the US-based organisation of the same name in 2014.
However, the establishment of international gangs has increased over the past seven years, with the Australian-based Rebels MC establishing chapters across New Zealand (from 2011) and the Comancheros, another Australian-based MC arriving in 2018.
The flow of outlaw bikers from Australia has arguably been influenced by the Australian Government's policy of deporting convicted felons with New Zealand citizenship back to New Zealand, in some cases deporting enough members of a particular gang for them to set up a chapter in a short time.
There is a long history of connections between gangs on either side of the Tasman and family connections have eased the takeover of some local New Zealand gangs by Australian gangs. But the flow of people, and gangs in particular, goes both ways.
Highway 61 successfully set up chapters in Australia (1990s). The Mongrel Mob, after a failed attempt to establish a presence in Perth in the 1980s, have successfully set up chapters in Melbourne and Queensland with plans for similar moves into Adelaide. Black Power have a strong presence on Queensland's Gold Coast. Following the Mongrel Mob, they have also established a chapter in Melbourne.
These events show the fluidity in the movement of gang members and a strong connection between gangs in Australia and New Zealand. The connectivity also has implications for the gang map in New Zealand.
With the establishment of international outlaw bikers like the Bandidos MC and the Outlaw MC in Aotearoa New Zealand, the outlaw biker scene has changed considerably over the past five years. The Hells Angels and their close allies the Head Hunters (West Auckland) have embarked on the rapid takeover (called patching over) of local outlaw gangs.
The Head Hunters patched over the Wellington-based Sinn Fein MC in 2011, Satan's Slaves MC in 2014 and the Epitaph Riders of Christchurch. The Hells Angels patched over the Lost Breed from Nelson in 2016 and replaced the Palmerston North-based Mothers MC in 2018. They have also set up chapters in South Auckland and Christchurch.
In these actions there has been a clear move by the Hells Angels and the Head Hunters with a long history in New Zealand to take over large areas of both the North and South Island. This expansion is made more intriguing given the Hells Angels' limited expansion in the past. Also, in Blenheim, the Lone Legion patched over to the international Outlaws MC. Add to this mix the Rebels, the Bandidos, and the Comancheros.
While such moves to establish a strong gang presence by different groups has mainly affected the outlaw biker scene, New Zealand is home to two large patched street gangs, the Mongrel Mob and the Black Power. These two gangs make up just under 30 per cent of the total gang membership in New Zealand
It seems they have been more than aware of the move by Australian and international outlaw bikers to establish a presence, sometimes in areas they consider their turf, and it is not unexpected that these two groups would respond.
Recently, it was reported that the Mongrel Mob and Black Power held a hui to discuss the issues of the outlaw bikers and the perceived modern-day land grab. Such hui between these two groups isn't new. However, these traditional enemies are possibly responding to a common threat that could result in the development of the largest gang based on the two.
Given the history of animosity each group arguably has for each other, and the multiple chapters that make up the Mongrel Mob and Black Power, any possible unification is likely to be more nuanced than the creation of a large single entity, particularly when considering the hard-liners within both organisations.
It seems a practical move within the gang culture for both the Mongrel Mob and the Black Power to respond to this influx of Australian-based outlaw bikers, just as the Hells Angels and the Head Hunters have done.
But what will be interesting to see is whether the patched street gangs respond to this current threat through piece-meal conflict or whether a fresh approach based on new levels of agreement and understanding is developed.
• Dr Carl Bradley teaches criminology in Melbourne with the Australian College of Applied Psychology. He has published on outlaw bikers and the Māori response to colonisation.