Uneasy riders: bikers caught in anti-association laws
THEY were meant to target criminals.
But Queensland's anti-bikie laws have created a net that has spread so wide its catch includes the innocent as much as the guilty.
And they threaten a culture almost as old as the motorcycle itself, radiating tremors throughout the motorcycle community and putting its very existence at risk.
Since Queensland introduced the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act (VLAD) late last year, if you are a leather clad motorbike rider, the time of reckoning is here and you are guilty until proven innocent.
That's how it seems to local riders.
Where once you could judge a bikie or biker by their colours, this is no longer the case since bikies are not permitted to wear the patches that once identified them.
And now, it's almost impossible to spot the difference.
Yet there is a big difference in the motorbike community between a bikie and a biker.
The latter include respectable citizens, many who enjoy aspects of the motorcycle culture without the criminal element.
Darren Thompson is a husband, a father who works fulltime in Maryborough.
He is bald, sports a goatee beard and rides a Harley-Davidson.
Although he has not been intercepted by the police, he said it was the public discrimination that was the thorn in his side.
"My wife and I walked into Maccas. There was a lady standing in line. I asked if she's been served. She looked us up and down like we were criminals, ignored us and walked off," he said.
Bikers such as Lizzie Walker, the public relations officer for the recently formed Independent Riders group, said she had noticed a big change in the public's attitude toward them since the VLAD laws were introduced.
It's scaring a lot of people who once donated goods for our raffles and charities.
"When I ask businesses for sponsorship they back off and say 'no, the rules have changed now.'"
She said by this time of the year she usually had $2000 worth of goods to raffle, but would be lucky if there was $300 in the kitty.
Lizzie said she had been riding since before she was born.
Her mother, Irene, owned and rode an Indian motorcycle while she was pregnant.
And it's that freedom and community they wished to preserve.
Michael Tucker, 53, said the Independent Riders group was about respect and independence of fellow riders.
"Those that ride under this banner accept that people have varying abilities to contribute, respect the word of each person that no one person is more important than the other.
"While there is no formal hierarchy, there is an ownership, a feeling that they are part of something."
Mr Tucker said he enjoyed the charity work, riding and the mateship which he likened to an extended family.
Independent rider Sean Fisher (pictured on the cover) said the benefits of being a part of a biker community were many.
He only wished the public would not "judge a book by its cover".
He stressed they were law-abiding people.
"You go for a ride and all of your stresses and anxieties blow away in the wind."
Mr Fisher believed if more people rode a motorbike, there would be less need for mental services.
"Motorbikes are only one facet.
"We're mothers and fathers.
"We don't have anything to do with criminal elements yet we've been caught up in the same net and typecast as a lesser person.
"This is your average bloke who likes riding a bike."
Accredited school bus driver Mark McKechnie has enjoyed the past seven years riding with three local social groups, being the president of one.
He said he loved working with kids and being able to help the disadvantaged.
Over the years they have raised a formidable amount for charities.
He admitted bikies and bikers were now all tarred with the same brush.
Despite this, he still loved the freedom and brotherhood but conceded it was being slowly taken away.
Officer in charge of the Maryborough District CIB, Detective Senior Sergeant Nikki Colfs, said the legislation was not aimed at people who liked to ride motorcycles or who rode for charity organisations.
"The legislation (VLAD laws) is aimed at criminal motorcycle gangs and people affiliated with an organised crime network."
Det Snr Sgt Colfs said there were many rides conducted around the Fraser Coast which were not affiliated with outlaw gangs.
"People are intercepted all of the time as normal policing activities - random road tests, breath tests," she said.
If they aren't affiliated, they don't have anything to worry about.
"It doesn't matter what type of motorcycle they ride - I don't think a Harley-Davidson identifies specifically with a criminal motorcycle gang."
Despite the current political and policing crackdown, the social motorbike riders around the Fraser Coast, specifically the Independents Riders are ploughing on, maintaining their charity work, which included an ongoing relationship with Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus and more recently the Maryborough Animal Refuge.
"This year our aim is to donate $6-7000 to Spina Bifida," Mr Tucker said.
Bikies v bikers
- There are 26 declared criminal organisations listed in the legislation
- There are over 700,000 registered motorbike riders in Australia