What was it like living with gangs?
A bit of history
There are numerous gangs in NZ including outlaw motorcycle gangs, street gangs, and ethnicity-based gangs. A chapter of the “Hells Angels” motorcycle club was formed in Auckland in 1961, the first chapter outside the US. Soon after, the “Mongrel Mob” formed in Hastings and Wellington, developing to have the largest membership in the country. Many other outlaw motorcycle clubs and ethnicity-based gangs formed in the 1960s and 1970s, including “Black Power” which grew to rival the “Mongrel Mob.” The police have named the three most prominent gangs in New Zealand as “Black Power,” the “Mongrel Mob,” and the “Nomads.”
New Zealand gangs have generally been heavily influenced by their American counterparts and have remained a social problem since the 1990s. According to the English journalist Ross Kemp, “New Zealand has more gangs per head than any other country in the world, with seventy major gangs and 4,000 patched members in a population of 4 million people.”
In June 2021 police recorded 8,061 patched or prospective gang members in the country, the top ten being, “Head Hunters,” “Bandidos,” “Hells Angels,” “King Cobras,” “Black Power,” “Mongrel Mob,” “Tribesmen,” “Rebels,” “Devils Henchmen,” and “Highway 61.” It was reported in 2019 that New Zealand gangs seemed to be recruiting members at a greater rate than the police force.
How this affected me
I was born in 1977 right at the time. Two of New Zealand’s biggest gangs were in their prime and fighting one another the hardest. My parents moved to New Zealand from England and South Africa to escape the racial fighting and terrors and create their New Zealand Dream.
We lived in a town where one of New Zealand’s oldest gangs first started and was most established. This new subdivision we called home has the highest number of gang members and prospects per head in New Zealand. This suburb now has between 13 and 15 gangs with just 10,300 people.
It was almost impossible to ignore or avoid our paths from crossing. I attended school with their children. Less than a block away from our house was one of the main headquarters. The streets were never quiet, especially at night. Parties, loud music, wandering drunks, fighting, and dogs barking filled the air. Some of the fights spilled over onto our property. Police were called out so many times I got used to their flashing lights lighting up the streets. Walking to my friend’s house, the shops or school required passing their homes or a group of them. Some days it was fine. As long as you looked the other way and made no eye contact, they left me alone.
But other days they were looking for trouble, opportunists ready to pounce. It felt like stepping onto a battlefield. One had to be prepared for anything! As I got older, some members looked out for us and saved my butt a few times. Our house was broken into eleven times in the nine years living there, but that was not the worst. The things stolen could be replaced, slowly but surely, right in front of our noses and there was stuff all we could do about it. They stole a family member.
Now when I say stole, that is how it looked to me. This family member was only 17 years old when he made some really dumb decisions with some equally dumb associates. He had been doing this a while now, which had sent him spiraling out of control and in and out of boys’ homes. The judge had run out of options this time and had no choice but to give him a jail sentence. So this 17-year-old youth was thrown to the wolves.
Inside the concrete jungle, it was run by the two main gangs that ruled our suburb, too. Except inside this place, it was their world. If you wanted to survive and literally live till the end of your sentence, you had to prove whose side you were on. In this jungle, the two gangs worked together against the wardens or screws, as they were referred to.
Here began our loved one’s journey. He chose a side as there was no middle option. He plastered the war paint of their symbols all over his skin for all to see. We watched as those once bright eyes turned dark. His new “family” as he stated, would look after him from now on.
I have written an autobiography trilogy called “The New Zealand Dream, by Sheila” in these books, I will take you on his full journey and how it affected us all. Head over to Amazon to purchase your copy of the paperback or ebook today.
By Elise Smith