The changing culture of Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs

Dr Christopher Dowling1

1Australian Institute Of Criminology, Canberra, Australia


Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) originated as counter-cultural groups of motorcycle enthusiasts characterised by rebelliousness and violence, but also camaraderie and loyalty. However, recent findings have highlighted the growing involvement of some OMCGs and their members in more sophisticated, organised froms of crime, along with an influx of more criminally-inclined members who use these gangs for status and material gain. This study inductively examines how, and to what extent, the internal cultures of OMCGs in Australia have changed with these developments, and their effects on (particularly older) gang members. It draws on the transcripts of semi-structured interviews with 39 former OMCG members in Queensland, undertaken as part of a research collaboration between the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Queensland Police Service. Findings draw attention to the influx of a more violent and criminally-inclined cohort of members into some gangs, facilitated by changing recruitment practices. There was also a perceived erosion of loyalty, camaraderie and respect for gang structures and rules, as members increasingly exploit gangs, and other members, for their own benefit. These changes were contributing factors in the decision of many former members to disengage from OMCGs, underpinning feelings of disillusionment and fear of continued membership. The implications of these findings for efforts to encourage and assist disengagement from OMCGs, and criminal groups more broadly, are discussed.


Dr Christopher Dowling is Principal Research Analyst with the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Serious and Organised Crime Research Laboratory. His published research covers a number of areas, including domestic and sexual violence, youth offending and organised crime, along with policing and crime prevention. He has also undertaken consultancy work for law enforcement and government stakeholders across Australia, focusing on the improvement of policing and policy responses to organised crime, violent extremism, cybercrime and violence in the community.