As the committal hearing proceeds against 10 Comanchero and three Hells Angels over the bashing death of Hells Angels associate Anthony Zervas in March last year, police have applied to have the Hells Angels club stripped of its rights of association on the basis that it's a criminal organisation. Fighting against this manifest oppression is the United Motorcycle Council.

The council's 18 member clubs include all your favourites - the Hells Angels, the Comanchero, the Bandidos and the Nomads, for example. That's right, when these blokes aren't bludgeoning, stabbing, shooting and macheteing each other to death in broad daylight, they're joining in civic matrimony to vigorously defend their freedom to associate.

And, according to the official council spokesman, Ferret, they're doing it not for themselves but for us. The council's objections to the ban hinge on the precedent it sets in giving the government the chance to use the same laws against anybody, he told media last week.


That may be, but I'm not sure we have the best team defending our rights here. I mean, never mind the obvious conflict between the membership list and the nature of those same member groups' interactions outside the council's meeting rooms.

Never mind the stabbings, the bashings or the ink-parlour firebombings. That's all par for the course when you're cornering the national speed market.

What's far more baffling is the pettiness to which they stoop the rest of the time. The rackety hogs, the front-bar showbiz, the pack mentality informing countless mean, gratuitous little acts of intimidation and manifest contempt for innocents, the last personified by Leanne Walters, killed in the crossfire between the Comanchero and the Bandidos at Milperra's Viking Tavern on Father's Day, 1984.

Rare is the person whose quality of life hasn't in some way been diminished by their presence. I have experienced several minor inconveniences of their making. The first was many years ago, in a pub in Paddington. Seeing my girlfriend and me take our seats at a table amid a sea of empty tables, a large fellow in colours left his mates playing snooker to come and tell us we'd taken his table. We moved to another table, only to be told that was his table, too. Sensing trouble, we left.

And the ones who aren't telling you you're in their way are getting in yours. Like the pair of oafs I encountered, chatting astride their hogs, blocking a narrow one-way through-route in Marrickville. With cars accumulating behind me, I bipped the horn and gave them an inquiring look. In a single movement of surprising agility for one so corpulent, the near one swung off his bike to face me down, thrusting a hand beneath his vest. With the inference of weaponry, the message was clear: you'll stay right there, sunshine, until I'm good and ready to let you past.

They're not above intimidating total strangers on freeways, either. Woe betide you if you change lanes at the wrong time in their presence. You'll find yourself surrounded by an angry swarm of hogmen, swinging like monkeys from their dragster-bars as they pass you, eyeballing you furiously from beneath their open helmets.

Admittedly, amid all the bovver, deliberate acts of violence targeting members of the general public are almost non-existent. But just as non-existent is any awareness of location or context as they bear out their grudges against each other.

In moments like Milperra in 1984 and at Sydney Airport last year, it's as if time and space shrink around them until there's nothing and no one else. It is hard to find empathy and consideration for those so incapable of it themselves.

Yet some have managed. The Monash University criminologist Arthur Veno, who has studied motorcycle gang members extensively, says many are the product of abusive childhoods and other traumas that have left them devoid of respect for any kind of authority outside that conferred by their peer group. Veno is careful to draw a line between the traditional clubs, run according to strict if violent internal codes of conduct, and what he sees as an opportunist criminal element that has taken them over for other purposes.

All this helps explain their behavioural excesses, but does it excuse them? What is the United Motorcycle Council's strategy if not to absolve its constituent members of responsibility for an endless litany of miseries, major and minor, inflicted on the public? A public about whom they appear not to care one jot, beyond the occasional charity ride accompanied by a self-serving good-fella-me press release.

At the risk of sounding hawkish, perhaps the council's counsel might inform it that with the right to freedom of association comes the rudimentary and easily fulfillable responsibility of letting other people use roads, car parks and departure lounges in peace and safety.

Jeremy Bass is a freelance writer.

C'mon, who scared Jeremy, say you're sorry.....