By Mahmood Fazal for Days Like These
Anyone who joins an outlaw motorcycle club wants to let go of themselves. Before I joined I was down and out, with little to lose, abusing drugs and running wild on the suburban streets of Melbourne.
I was searching for a sense of belonging that riddled my life with meaning.
As an Afghan-Australian, I entered high school the year after 9/11.
After the American invasion of Afghanistan, my culture was distilled into war reports covering Operation Enduring Freedom. To the public imagination, my manufactured identity was resistant to their way of life.
On the margins of society, I carved out a path of my own with a melting pot of others who were desperate to make it.
When I was asked to “show face” at a motorcycle club, the idea of becoming a bikie felt like a thuggish knighthood.
As I passed through the guarded gates of the Finks MC, the tension was turbulent and lawless.
The bikes were loud, the laughter was hearty and the wrong words had bloody consequences. Bottles of Jack Daniels were flying off the shelves to the tune of Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
I remember eavesdropping on a conversation between a nominee and a patched member. The young nominee mentioned something about a financial hardship so the full-patch member split his wallet and stuffed a handful of cash in his pocket.
It took a year of hanging around the club and attending social events before I was asked to attend on a meeting night. I remember walking up a flight of stairs before being asked to serve the club as a nominee.
We were spoken to in short sentences. “If you’re here to make money, piss off. If you have a girlfriend she’s going to leave you. The only holidays you’ll be taking are to jail.”
We started the following Friday.
Donning the club ‘colours’
Stitched into the black and white leather vests were memories of national runs and fallen brothers. The heavy “colours” became ornaments for who we were.
As nominees we learnt how not to think.
It’s about following orders and embodying principles. It’s about cold nights standing guard on the gates in case enemies or police show up.
We were rewarded for demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice for the patch. The patch, stitched onto the backs of every one per cent-er, is the heart-throb of every outlaw club.
The patch is what binds the brotherhood; the only thing that matters more than motorcycles.
I remember my chapter president smiling while looking me dead in the eye, he said, “Believe it or not, your colours are easy to get, but hard to keep.”
When I earned my colours, I was accepted into a tradition of otherness that celebrated counter-culture.
It came with heavy responsibilities.
When another young nominee took his vest off to get changed, drunkenly abandoning his colours in the backroom, his face was stomped and booted.
Men had died and served long prison stints for those colours. Folding your vest incorrectly was enough to cost you a “touch up”. Abandoning them was inexcusable.
As outlaws, we were openly against the system.
Everyone had day jobs, but on those long nights partying with brothers who earned their tattoos, we could do “whatever, whenever” — the club motto.
We took pride in being outsiders, openly vilified by the authorities. Our strength came from being governed by our own rules.
For some that meant freedom. For others it was a reckless excuse to self-destruct.
Founding a new chapter
In 2012, The Finks MC was the first club in Australia to be declared a criminal organisation
Members lost their jobs, some were forced interstate to sustain a livelihood and most of the Queensland chapter sold their bikes to fight the legislation in the High Court.
We won the decision but couldn’t afford to fund the appeal.
The following year in Queensland, the controversial Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act was introduced to “come down harshly on outlaw motorcycle gangs and their members”.
The club was backed into a corner and forced to think deeply about its purpose.
We had to “stick fat”; remain loyal to one another against all odds.
Each chapter voted to reinvent itself and decide whether to patch over to an international club that rocked the same black and white colours as us: The Mongols MC.
It was a vote for survival. The problem was that we were proud of the Finks’ roots as an unapologetic Australian motorcycle club with a history that stretched back to 1969.
As a migrant member, I assumed it was a no brainer but some of my Anglo brothers felt like they were turning their backs on the larrikin Aussie spirit of the Finks MC.
It was a uniquely Australian club, our patches were jovial caricatures of the drunk jester from the Wizard of Id cartoon — caricatures that somehow infected the members with an uncanny ability to treat life like a funny fantasy.
The Mongols MC was an opportunity to learn from previous mistakes.
There were more rules, members of rank were in communication with the mother chapter in Los Angeles and the war-torn history of true outlaw motorcycle culture — of disenfranchised vets returning from the Vietnam war — was vivid in the militant architecture of the club.
Outside the clubhouse, my circle of knockabouts was moving deeper into the shadows of the city’s underbelly.
Making a new life
In 2015, a close friend of mine was murdered in a drive-by shooting. A few years later, my best friend was shot in unknown circumstances and died. Then a member of our club died in a motorcycle accident.
The following year another close friend was murdered in a drive-by shooting. At least three other associates of mine had died around the same time.
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In my late twenties, I realised I had been to more funerals than weddings. I was forced to dive deep into my sense of purpose and consider what the point of survival or life was.
I sought refuge from the real world in literature and discovered endless possibilities. I learned that the lives of other people are the best life lessons.
So I began writing.
In order to inspire or refocus the lives of other young men — who feel as though crime fills their pockets, offers a sense of belonging or an escape from their situation — I decided to shine a light on the counter-cultural voices we don’t often hear in the media; of prisoners, gang members, terror suspects and criminal outsiders.
Crime reporting often begins with a crime, a crime that becomes the lens through which we view the offender. My objective was to subvert that process by illustrating everything leading to the moment a crime is committed.
I wanted to shed light on the systemic and personal fractures that ferment criminal cultures.
In showing the world where these problems come from, I hoped to show anyone involved a way out.
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