Inside the shocking world of an outlaw bikie gang
'Cunno' lived a life of violence and crime as a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang but when he played a role in a man's death, it dawned on him that the life he idealised was a sham.
HOW TO SURVIVE A GANG BASHING
Sitting on a log in the middle of the northern NSW bush, a young man we'll call 'Cunno' knew something very bad was about to happen.
He'd been marched in there by his fellow outlaw motorcycle gang members, who were carrying mattock handles and baseball bats. They had walked far enough from any road to make screaming pointless. Running would be equally futile; they knew where he lived, literally and figuratively.
And he knew why it was happening.
SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE: The only place you can listen to this podcast is here. In this stunning interview 'Cunno' takes us into a world of criminals, fugitives and killers. He's served hard time for manslaughter, narrowly survived wild prison brawls and gang bashings. Cunno has turned his life around and become close mates with Gary Jubelin.
In the video player above, Claire Harvey interviews Gary Jubelin about the 'Cunno' episode and lifts the veil on the world of bikies.
"I'd ended up sleeping with the president's missus. I grew up in the Cross, going out with hookers and strippers, and the long and the short of it is we had a deal between us that if his missus wanted a root on the side, it was all good. And if mine wanted a root on the side, it was all good. But he changed the rules after it happened."
It would be trite to say Cunno is lucky to be alive, because his life story, told without artifice or embellishment, is about much more than luck.
He's now aged in his early 50s, or thereabouts, and has left behind the OMCG lifestyle that seduced him and then broke his heart, and he is telling his story for the first time in today's episode of the I Catch Killers with Gary Jubelin podcast for two reasons: he's turned his life around to reject crime, and he respects Jubelin, a former NSW homicide Detective inspector who has spent the best part of three decades dealing with biker gangs in all their complexity.
That day in the bush was sometime in the early 1980s, and Cunno was just a nominee - the most junior club member - and idealistic about what the gang lifestyle was about. It was, he believed then, a true brotherhood.
"(The OMCG club president) turned around and said to me that he wasn't present for the threesome, sort of thing, you know what I mean, and proceeded to grab nine other members of the club and mattock handles and baseball bats and take me off to a secure location and flog the f… ing shit out of me," he says in the podcast.
"When we left the clubhouse I was told we were going to see another club, (and to) put my bike away. And so I put my bike away. And when I put my bike away I knew exactly what the f… was happening.
"And I had a chat to another prospect, nominee, whatever you want to call him, who was taken up there with us. Yeah. He did the same thing the week before. And I hadn't heard until we were sitting on the log next to each other that he got the shit flogged out of him and his leg broken and shit for doing it and I just looked at him and said: 'Well then I guess it's my turn.'
"I heard my name called and I walk down (deeper into the bush). And there was all the boys standing in a circle with baseball bats and whatnot. And I think it was the week before I'd had a conversation with the president about what took place. And that's when I found out that because he wasn't there, that I did the wrong thing.
"And I'd said to him, if you feel you need to make an example of me over what happened, so be it. And that's what happened. A week later, I was made another example of. I walked down the track into the middle of the circle. The president was there … And then he said to (an) other member, you might as well start this one, such and such. And he proceeded to smack me in the back of the head with the f… ing thick end of a mattock handle. It did hurt
But my instant thought was: 'Hit the ground c… or you're going to get broken bones. And I did literally, I f… hit the ground laid flat on the face. On my stomach. And with my arms and legs flat as well, they proceeded to beat the shit out of me. But then one of the boys said, lift his leg, lift his leg up. And I don't know what happened there, but it didn't get lifted up and it didn't get broken.
"Thirty seconds after it ended, I looked up at the president said: 'Does this mean I'm out of the club?'"
That was a genuine question, Cunno tells Jubelin in the podcast. He had signed up to the bikie world, and he was prepared to take his punishment - but he wasn't happy.
"There's rules. And that was one of the rules. You don't sleep with another member's woman. But as far as I was concerned, I had this deal with him."
HOW TO DISAPPEAR
FOR a total of eight or 10 years of his life, Cunno was on the run.
Corruption in the then-Roads and Traffic Authority (now RMS) meant it was relatively simple to obtain a driver's licence with a fake name and address, and more primitive mobile phone technology made one's technological footprint harder to track.
At 20 years of age, he once served an entire prison sentence for a violent assault under a completely fake identity, and spent his jail term praying nobody in the prison system would remember him from previous lags - because he was on the run for other offences.
Under the fake name, he'd been arrested twice: once for a violent assault and once for possessing 11 kilograms of hashish.
"I ran into a prison officer who breath-tested me at Silverwater and took me from Silverwater back to maximum security while I was in jail for that three weeks under that bodgy name (for assault)," he says. "And I'd walk to the office to inquire about my bail application that had been approved. I was waiting to get out."
The officer, a three-striper or senior corrections officer, suddenly looked hard at Cunno. "He said: 'F… I know you. Where do I know you from?' I thought: 'C… you breath tested me and got me done on my 21st birthday. And I got the hell out of there real quick. Went and sat in the yard for the next week waiting for my bail with my head in my arms.
"And the superintendent spotted me in the yard and he never forgets a face. Never, never, ever forgets a face. And I sat there and I just kept my head on my arms and didn't look at him because I knew the minute I looked at him, he would call me by my name. And he talked to the guy next to me and then carried on. And I managed to walk out of there three weeks after getting locked up. I walked out under that different name, see you later, and went and had another run at it, back to doing criminal shit."
During his years on the run, Cunno said he preferred not to use a fake name if he could avoid it. "I just managed it with f… hiding. Hiding in different areas, areas you're not usually in and stuff like that. It comes down to how badly they want to talk to you about what you did. "Instead of pulling up in the middle of the day up the driveway in your car, you're jumping the back fence in the middle of the night, knocking on the back door. You do things differently. "You have to have money. You have to be able to earn money, get money. And you have to be able to spread that money around when you ask people to do different things, that will help you. You know, whether it be from giving you a bed for a few nights to basically disassociating themselves from a car and (you) being able to use that car.
"If you're a crook and you're on the run and you know and you're doing shit and whatever else, you've got to know your surroundings. If you know what I mean. Yeah. And know when something's different in those surroundings. You've got to be able to read it and move on at the right moment or get pinched."
He was in Adelaide once, hiding out from the aftermath of a man's murder in which he'd been involved, but not the one who struck the fatal blow.
"I was going to visit a certain person regularly. And at one point this horse float turned up in the street. And it was a really nice horse float with everything sort of secured around it in a way that said that shouldn't be there. I asked the bloke about it and he said: 'No no it comes and goes I've seen it before'. I said: 'Are you sure?' He said yes. I said: 'I don't think so.'"
Two days later, Cunno drove to see his friend and saw a couple of unfamiliar cars parked on the grass verge; a 4WD and a couple of late-model small cars.
"The instinct in me said this isn't right. I pulled up in the driveway. I turned the ignition off. And he came flying down the driveway. He's yelling at me: 'F… off mate don't do your f… turns in my driveway!' And something in me clicked and I just started the car backing out of the driveway and f… off. And that was it. I got out of there just in time. I handed myself in about six, six, seven months later."
But that's another story.
HOW TO BE LEFT ALONE
Be prepared to die. That, in short, is the strategy that let Cunno live through a dozen jail-terms, even as once-predictable prison yard dynamics became terrifyingly unstable.
In the 1980s, he said, when heroin ruled the waves, there were two types of people in jail.
"You had the crooks, you know, the good c… s and then you had the junkies, who were the f… shit of the criminal world, basically, because they'd sell their mother for another fix."
By Cunno's next prison term, in the mid-1990s, this simple binary world had fractured in terms of the criminals' affiliations and their chosen poisons.
"It was gangs. You had the Aboriginal gang. You had the Islander gang. You had the Middle Eastern gang. All of them sometimes put together. And then you had the whitefellas.
"I've seen old crooks stood over for money by the gangs that are in the system, they are - you know, they've got no morals. They've got no scruples. They don't give a f… about anything but drugs and money to pay for them. Whereas before there was plenty of weed and it kept the jail quiet. And it was accepted. And then it became the powders and the bullshit that goes with all the powders and that filtered into the jail system too."
When Cunno went to jail for the first time, as a club nominee, he was 17 years old.
Upon his arrest, he was put in a juvenile detention centre on remand, to await his trial. He was furious.
"I was a biker. I was wearing a f… in' nom patch with the first club I was riding with and I was a biker. So what the f… was I doing here in a Children's Home?"
That's what he told the magistrate.
"I said: 'I'm a f… man. I ride with a bike club, put me in f… jail with the men, not the f… kids' home. So he did."
Not just any jail: Maitland, at the time the toughest in the state, with armed robbers and others doing time for serious violent offending.
On his first visit to the yard, he recognised a number of inmates, including one venerated old crim who decided to test him.
"He grabbed me by the goatee that I had. I just f… lost it, jumped up, stood back, ready to go for it. And it didn't happen. I think he just wanted to see my reaction to it and the reaction was what it should have been. I was prepared to die then and there for whatever took place once I stood up right there. You don't have to stand tall, you just gotta stand up, was my philosophy."
And if he'd fought and lost?
"I would have come back with a blade."
Another incident arose when another inmate mentioned one of Cunno's fellow club members in disparaging terms. "(He said) he was a weak c…. I took offence to it. I said 'I'm one of those members mate, and I'm no f… weak c…, I'll tell you right now.' He said: 'I'm a mad c…, f… stab you.' I said 'Off and get your f… blade then, dickhead'.
"He took off and I took my green jumper off, my sloppy joe. I wrapped it round my left arm and waited for him to come back. I was just doing laps behind the ditch waiting for him to come back with his blade. I was happy to take him on with it. I was prepared to f… take that blade and if it kills me, it kills me. If I got it over him, he wouldn't do it again."
HOW TO SURVIVE A STABBING
In Goulburn jail, Cunno once got a warning. The prison officers called him into the office and said they'd received intelligence he was going to be killed in the yard the following day.
He refused to go into segregation for his own protection _ so they sent him back to Long Bay in Sydney, en route to Maitland, where the yards were segregated for the gangs of different ethnicities.
Cunno agreed to the move, but he didn't make it to Maitland _ he wound up back in Lithgow jail, where he'd got into a prison fight two years earlier and nearly lost an eye.
"One of the guys who went up on the prison van with me back to Lithgow Jail carried a letter and the letter basically said that I was going to be killed the next day."
The following morning, another long-term crook approached Cunno in the yard and warned him again: two men in a rival gang were saying they were going to kill him.
"And so I decided to walk towards them and see what took place … As (one) got within a foot of me I saw the hand slide inside his pocket and in one motion he slid the blade up in his hand from his pocket and swung it straight at the left hand side of my rib cage. And I actually saw it come and I spun my hand down, locked the knife and the blade actually caught on my rib and broke in half."
Cunno said the decision was made for he and his assailant to fight, but whoever was knocked down was allowed to get up.
"And when I walk to this section of the jail, which was unsupervised by cameras or anything … six or seven of them come at me with blades out, one of those blades was 52 centimetres measured by the prison officer who found it. It went through just above my belt on the left side, through the centre, nicked the aorta and settled in the bottom of the right lung.
"They all just sort of all ran in towards me after that. I slipped on the ground. I actually slipped and fell over, put my hand on the ground, got to one knee with my leg out. And that's when the long spike hit me in the left side. I was on a downward motion and I just said to myself, get the f… up or you're dead, you know. And I did, I got up.
"Rumour has it I broke one of their jaws, I got another three stab wounds in the left lung side of the rib cage, another two in the right, one just above the collarbone, which didn't really penetrate it, but probably only a half centimetre or so. And one was swung at my head, was going for my ear, and I saw it coming and I just sort of tilted the head and caught it just above the ear rather than in the ear.
"And I didn't run but I quickstepped out of the gap and down towards the clinic. And the next two years were spent in and out of hospital. I lost my pancreas, my gall bladder and my appendix as a direct result."
The key to his survival, Cunno says, is that he didn't remain on the ground after the first blow.
In any fight, he says: "Don't get on the ground if you can help it, and if you do, get f… back up real quick."
The 52cm weapon, it later emerged, was the metal axle of a wheelie bin which had been pulled out and sharpened by the prisoners to use as a shiv.
"I felt that f… thing travel from the minute it entered my body, I felt it travel right through my body and had cause to tell the surgeon that at the hospital because he didn't believe me."
HOW TO GET OUT
His involvement in a man's death was the catalyst for Cunno deciding that the life he'd idealised - bikes, freedom and the unquestioning bond of comrades - was a sham.
"That night, what took place and what happened didn't sit with me at all. That's as best as I can f… explain these days. It did not sit well with me at all. And I had to leave that lifestyle behind after that incident. What happened was not - just wasn't me as a person."
With his fellow gang members, Cunno was at a bar when a fight broke out and a man was stabbed to death. Cunno didn't hold the fatal weapon, but after a period on the run, handed himself in and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter for his involvement in the fight.
"I had conversations with people involved on that night and tried to get people to basically say what they did and whatever else, what they didn't do (was) the right thing. And I did nearly six years for them because I was an officer at the club at the time. I knew - should've known - my mates carried knives and my mates getting drunk and getting in fights - (I) might have done more to use that knowledge.
"What happened was a combination of me basically living the biker lifestyle and getting involved with the drugs that they push, and what those drugs can do to people. The whole night wasn't me as a person, mate, and I just had to distance myself from the lifestyle completely."
It was while serving time for that offence Cunno nearly died in a prison stabbing.
"It took a near-death experience for me to decide: 'F… I don't want to die in jail. I want to die a free man, you know. And the shit that people do that I didn't agree with, you know, I had to learn all that.
Now, he says, "I'm living life the right way. I earn my money, you know? I help people where I can, you know, it doesn't matter who it is or what it is, I earn my money, I pay my taxes, I contribute to what I like to call the bigger picture. Society as a whole. It's the f… hardest thing I've ever done. And if I lived the way I used to, I could have a hell of a lot more. But what I do and the way I do it now it fulfils me as a person, you know. I think I'm doing the right thing.
To a young man considering the gangs, as he once was, Cunno says this. "I see people up and coming in some of these clubs and I just laugh. I laugh. I think: 'F…, you're going to pay, c…'. One way or another you're going to pay and you're not going to be happy about the price at the end of it. You have to be - honestly I believe you have to be a bad person to be an outlaw. To be a f… genuine outlaw in every sense, from what I've seen, what I've learnt and what I've moved away from. You have to be a bad person. If you're not genuinely a bad person you will filter away from that lifestyle in one way or another, whether it be death, jail, f… waking up to yourself, whatever."
Originally published as Inside the shocking world of an outlaw bikie gang