For seventeen years the Mongrel Mob gang was the centre of my life and the ethos of the dog ruled every facet of existence. The image of the bulldog wearing a ‘Krautlid’ - the German Stahlhelm helmet exhibiting a swastika - was the gang emblem I wore on my back and had tattooed all over my body. It symbolised the mongrel dog spirit and was, to put it quite simply, an emblem that screamed anti-society. ‘Seig Fucken Heil’ was our rally cry. Many have asked why the British bulldog stood as our gang symbol. The bulldog was a symbol of the British colonial oppression that consumed the Maori people. The guys figured if you put that image on a Maori’s back, with the dog wearing a German helmet with a swastika attached to it, then you had a dual symbol of contradiction and hatred. That is what we stood for - that was who I was.
We felt all levels of society - our fathers and mothers, whanau, Pakeha, Maori, neighbours, towns, churches, politicians and the public - hated us, so we just reflected that hatred back at them like a high-noon sun in a mirror. The swastika symbol, taken on board by the original gang members, stood for the enemies our fathers and grandfathers fought against and detested in World War II. In our perversity we appropriated that symbol, proclaimed it as our own and set ourselves up as public enemy number one. Red was our colour and it stood for blood, the blood spilt by our brothers and the blood we shed as a gang.
We created a new society based on hatred, a transformation embodied in the symbol of the dog. We took on the habits of the bulldog - its ferocity, fearlessness and growling persona; its barking language, its territorial nature and its feeding and sexual habits. The dog’s features were engraved on our hearts and souls and this became manifest in our actions.
It is intriguing how the name Mongrel Mob was coined. The origins of the gang title, as we heard it, came from some guys from the East Coast of New Zealand who were in court on criminal charges. In the judge’s summing-up he made a statement describing the accused as a ‘pack of mongrels’. From that point on the term Mongrel Mob stuck like congealed blood and was taken on board as our name.
In my era there were no rules except the ‘law of lawlessness.’ If it was considered evil, bad and lawless we embraced it as good; everything was backwards or ironic. The ‘mystery’ of the gang was that we were right even if we were wrong; we were good even if we were bad. We embraced a living contradiction. The Mob psyche may have made no sense to outsiders but everything we did made perfect sense to us. Being a Mongrel meant being able to do anything your mind could conceive; any form of fantasy or debauchery you were able to dream up was acceptable.
If you weren’t a Mobster you weren’t worth knowing. We treated the rest of the world as if they didn’t exist. Those outside our orbit were to be used and abused for our own ends. Women were there to cook our kai and give us pleasure - they were simply chattels, meat we could consume and spit out. Everything was on tap: drugs, alcohol, sex, violence and even death. Taking the ‘bash’ meant you were one of the bros and to ‘get the bash’ was our way of showing love to our brothers and sisters. The gang pad became a convening place where the like-minded could gather.
The gang patch worn on our backs was a mark of acceptance into the brotherhood of the Mob. Possessing it meant you had proved yourself a member worthy to wear the symbol of mongrelism, the dog, and all the hatred that went with it. The prerequisite for obtaining a patch meant taking on a lag as a prospect where you did whatever you were told to do, from cleaning floors and robbery to fighting, together with a grab-bag of anti-social behaviour and crime. Some of this was disgusting to say the least. A meeting would be called and if the president and the fellow gang members felt you cut the mustard you were in. Receiving your patch was a sign of your commitment to the cause of the dog. You would defend your gang patch to the death. It was more important than anything, it was more important than your wife, kids, family and friends, and without it you were nothing. It was the pinnacle of success and signified an allegiance to the Mob that overrode any other form of relationship.
Associated with the patch was being christened with a new name. We were all given a nickname, customarily derived from an incident in your life or an aspect of your nature. Real names were never used and aliases were common.
Brawls and rumbles were part of our daily diet and that often meant fighting against our own brothers and cousins who were in rival gangs. All family ties were severed when you joined the Mob and many people have struggled to comprehend this. It was pretty simple really - being a patched member of the Mongrel Mob meant that from that point on your first allegiance was to the gang brotherhood. All connections to family - parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends - didn’t matter whatsoever. All relationships from our pasts just evaporated. Those of our blood families in rival gangs were just as much enemies as their peers we had no connection with. However, in saying that, some Mob members who respected their families and held on to those relationships would visit their family homes in a clean and well-dressed manner, but the minute they stepped out the door they would change back into their Mob gears in allegiance to the way of the dog.
The hierarchical system in the gang meant you started as a prospect and moved on to become a patched member. Life as a prospect could be a long time and you had to do the bidding of your overseer and execute whatever he told you to do. This could mean carrying out all the dirty tasks, cleaning and cooking as well as being forced to immerse yourself in cruel and disgusting acts. Sometimes this meant performing a crime that would send you to prison to do your time among other hardened brothers. They then judged whether you had the stomach to wear the Mongrel Mob patch on your back or not. Prospects were our slaves in the line of duty until we decided they had transitioned from that status to fully patched member. Drinking excrement and urine from a gumboot, raping someone, or fighting three guys at once for one minute and surviving on your feet showed your dedication to the dog. These degrading acts desensitised you to any form of intimidation or brutality your enemies, your brothers and society, could throw at you. After this a prospect might receive his patch. Being patched was the proudest day in the life of a prospect and was the apex of existence. You were finally recognised as one of the Mongrel Mob. Some of the young guys often found the lifestyle and the daily tasks of a prospect hard and relentless and they would run away. But there was no escape from the Mob; prospects that absconded were always forcibly returned and severely bashed for their disobedience. Some guys were prospects for years.
Holding on to the patch for dear life was paramount. If you lost it - either figuratively or literally - you were considered nothing. It was a very hard to retrieve it back or to receive that blessing again from your own chapter. Wearing a patch meant supporting the actions of the gang. If you didn’t support the entire Mob spirit then you may as well get out. If you were outwardly seen as unsupportive of your brothers in a crime or you performed some act against the Mob you could be de-patched and the retribution was savage. If you ran away from a fight wearing your patch you were classed as a coward and you’d be de-patched and probably cop a beating. You were a marked man throughout the whole country. Wearing a chapter patch came with a lot of responsibility. You had to live up to what and who you said you were, and that meant not being intimidated by the law, and trusting only the bulldog inside of you and no one else. Literally losing your patch or being de-patched for anti-mongrel behaviour meant you were now less than a dog, you were possibly now human.
The president sat at the top, followed in order by the vice-president, the sergeant-of-arms, the treasurer, patched members and the prospects. The president made the major decisions for the particular gang chapters. He was the one we regarded as our main role model for life; he was our life blood and we looked up to everything he did; he was our protection and encouraged us to fight on and stay staunch when the odds looked bad. To back all this up he had to be physically strong, courageous and able to defend himself. His loyalty to the brotherhood was uncompromising and he often took the rap for others’ crimes. Attributes such as harshness and violence were accepted along with fairness and charity. The art of being able to rip off anyone outside the Mob was also another trait of the leaders. Loyalty to the brotherhood was perhaps the most important quality for a leader coupled with the maintenance of the ‘mana’ or power of the Mob. Mana in our eyes was gained through wickedness, evil and fear; this was the backbone of mongrelism. The power of your reputation was what moved you up the ranks. ‘Meanest is the greatest’ secured your position within the gang and this was never truer than with the presidents. They were role models and captains of our lives, above the rule of kings and queens, princes and princesses, politicians and police, kaumatua and fathers. I idolised them; everything they were I wanted to be. If your president had a mohawk haircut we all had a mohawk; if he was happy we were all happy; if he was mad we were all mad. When they died their words echoed in our heads for years afterwards; they were our idols. The hung framed photos of dead presidents memorialised and cemented the love we had for them and the authority they had over our lives.
Comradeship was central to our lives, and whatever was decided for the good of the brotherhood everyone agreed to. We believed in ‘one for all and all for one’. Notions of being ‘staunch’ and ‘macho’ and not taking any ‘crap’ from anyone meant we used fear as a major weapon to manipulate any situation to our advantage. The mongrel in me growled: ‘Don’t mess with me, don’t look at me and never bow down to anyone.’ An emotionless face, a snarl on the lips, an intimidating walking style - the boob shuffle - and an attitude that looked down our noses at those who weren’t part of the brotherhood was how we projected ourselves to the general public. The only emotions unsuppressed in us were anger and hatred. Love did not exist. This was also the public’s view of us. Those who were not part of us were considered weak ‘sissy’ wimps and not worth the time of day. Accepting acts of kindness and general courtesies from society meant nothing to us, we saw them as signs of weakness. We compounded this attitude with uncleanliness. As far as we were concerned Mongrel Mob attitudes superceded every other form of social, political or religious ethic.
Being good meant the loss of power and authority in the ethos of the Mongrel Mob. For instance, I remember hiding the fact that someone had given me a Bible or even a book as it made me look weak in the eyes of my comrades. You couldn’t afford to accept anything the Mob could view as foreign or good, lest your reputation became tarnished as a traitor. Crucially, there was always someone within the ranks who would look at any sign of weakness as an opportunity to challenge your position within the gang; you had to keep the mask of the mongrel not only on your face minute-by-minute but deep in your heart if you were to survive at all.
Being Maori meant nothing to us even though the majority of us were Maori; the only culture worth anything to us was Mob culture. The patch replaced all ethnic or cultural dimensions. You never spoke the reo (Maori language), or performed a hongi (greeting by pressing noses) within the confines of the gang or the gang pad in my time. All that ‘Maori stuff’ was to be left on the marae or wherever it was normally lived out. ‘Don’t bring that crap to the pad,’ we would say. I never ever identified myself as being Maori while I was in the Mob - why would I? My culture was not recognised or even accepted by the dog. Dog culture was the ruling power in my life.
My language as a Mobster was like the barking, snarling, howling and growling of a dog and only a true mongrel could understand it. We had our own slang, full of swearing, with every third or fourth word in a sentence omitted. Even the voice modulation - the changing tones, various volume levels and slurs - had special meanings for us. Everyone had their own dog snarl - it was a separate language of its own, the language of the dog.
There was nothing hidden or sacred about our lives. Everyone knew you intimately - living together, eating together, fighting together, dying together - every aspect of your life was transparent among the tight circle of brothers. There were no secrets. We robbed banks, raped and committed crimes without masks. There was no shame in committing crimes, that’s who we were and we were proud of it. Being fearless, being stabbed or shot at, continually fighting, or taking the rap was what it took to be a real man in the Mob.
Death was always close at hand and you cared nothing for anyone except number one. Life was like a ticking time bomb: one minute you could be at a party and the next minute you were being shot at or locked up in prison. You were always on the edge; there was no time to relax; you were always on guard, even when you were asleep, from internal and external rivalries. Friends and brothers died of gunshots, motorbike crashes or a bottle to the back of the head. In our minds we were living entirely for the mighty bulldog in the sky, he was our god that we would live and die for and the spectre of death was always imminent. Violence always lurked around the corner because of who we were and what we represented. But violence was our best friend and crime was the food that nourished us. We resurrected the warrior ethic of our ancestors made redundant by colonialism and reignited it generations later in a new form - without ritual, without etiquette, without rules of conduct, without tapu, without its spiritual element - distilled into an elixir of anarchic violence and brutal confrontation. We did not fight for our country, our families or any form of moral ethic; we fought purely for the patch on our back, the bulldog emblem and the colour red.
The blood of enemies, our own urine and excrement, the alcohol we drank and the sexual juices of the women we blocked stained our reggies (multiple pairs of jeans sewn together) and were signs of our mana and conquest. Our enemy’s colours were sewn onto the backside of our reggies as a sign of hatred and disrespect towards them. Reggies represented the memories of all the crap in our lives and they were emblematic of our history. To wash them would be to wipe away the memory of our conquests and history.
It was a world filled with lawlessness and we were constantly paying for the consequences of our actions. But this didn’t matter to us at all and least of all to me. Who cared if we went to court, got sentenced to jail or died? Prison reform, probation, anger management and all the legal paraphernalia the law created to punish those who went against the grain of society made no difference to us. Prison was our second home; it meant free kai, a pillow and a bed. And it became a haven to be schooled-up in mongrelism where we would be encouraged by the leaders and the brothers inside. Jail never reformed us back into normal society and there was nothing the establishment could do to break the spirit of the dog in us. It was inconceivable that we’d abandon the way of the dog that was our family. We would always return to our own vomit, and that vomit was a feast of violence.
Your chapter was your safe haven - the world outside could no longer save or do anything for you. We were a large family of people and many of us already had a price on our heads. We were brought up in welfare homes and borstals, reared in dysfunctional families and abused as youngsters. Some of us came from good homes too before we drifted into mongrelism. We were just plain, lonely guys without fathers or role models, floundering through a lack of encouragement or any vision for the future. Many of us were just local kids who drifted into this life because society never offered us anything different or anything to look forward to. In essence, life was boring and out of this grew the psychology of ‘no future’. We were the ones who were always picked on, always copping the blame, abused, unloved, rebellious and compromised in our childhood innocence. As the black sheep of families we in turn became the unloved, the abusers, the blame shifters, the liars, the thieves, the drunkards and the brawlers, all the by-products of a society in meltdown. We became disenfranchised non-citizens and we embraced that to the fullest.
But deep down we all wanted a place of acceptance, a place of pure comradeship and excitement - the gang seemed to be the place to meet those needs - a place where we felt accepted and at home with familiar and like-minded people. The Mob allowed us to live out a rebellion against our upbringings and the very society we hated; it was a free ticket to do anything we wanted.
To leave the gang was a serious infraction, you would be considered a traitor, a deserter, disloyal and even a coward. You became dead to the guys and it was as though you never existed.
These gang life principles set the tone for my own state of mind as a member of the Mongrel Mob for many years, every day was so unpredictable it was like living constantly on the edge. That’s what made it exhilarating and exciting - it was like a fix and I craved that adrenaline rush daily. Without that fix life seemed boring.
Normal life in the gang meant continuous confrontation, the maintenance of your reputation and the administration of revenge... The rule of law and common decency meant nothing to me then, your Mongrel Mob psyche just kicked in when an incident sparked a reaction. There were no boundaries to the behaviour of a Mobster except what the leaders said. I remember searching the streets for someone to take out my anger on after another gang acted in a manner I took as a personal affront against my own authority. I drove around this neighbourhood with one of my young followers in the passenger seat grasping a sawn-off shotgun. Identifying a gang vehicle I thought was the target we crept up beside it at the traffic lights and aimed the gun at the driver. I told the boy: ‘Shoot the f ... n gun and kill the guy.’ I glanced at the victim in the other car and saw the flush of fear on his face at the realisation of what was about to happen. Suddenly his vehicle sped through the smoke of screeching and burning tyres and disappeared. Full of rage I screamed at my associate for not firing on my orders. At that very moment the trigger of the gun had jammed despite multiple attempts to fire it. Frustrated and angry, I drove to the top of One Tree Hill, took the gun in my hands, pointed it to the air and pulled the trigger. The cartridges exploded and a shot was unleashed with a loud bang. The trigger was working fine now, but a chance for revenge had gone astray. In those days these sorts of incidents were normal everyday occurrences for gang members. My soul began to crave the rush of near-death experiences. I was permanently buzzing on a high and any other form of life seemed as suffocating as a poisonous mineshaft. I was true to the ‘gospel of the bone’ - that is to the mongrel and his ways.
This was my life and my ‘handle’ in the Mob was Bruno, a name I embraced. I soon came to realise it was a reference to the German helmet, draped with a thick chrome chain, worn by the almighty bulldog. This was the King Country chapter mascot. I thought that Bruno was quite an appropriate name. Later the women nicknamed me ‘Bruising Bruno’ because I loved to rumble. I adhered to the rule of the mongrel and I lived it to the hilt. The following gang motto goes to the very core of my life:
Mongrels that we are
Offensive things we do
Nights of bloody rumble
Growl from the old bulldog
Reggies we always wear
Lags we do with style
Many blocks we have
Outcry from the public
Boots that we drink from!
This is not only my story but also the story of many of my brothers and sisters who have worn the patch on their back, whether for the Mongrel Mob or any other gang. It was life on the edge where death continuously lurked around every corner. Death was something I was intimate with but now it is an escape I do not flirt with and will not till it is the right time to go. I salute and remember the many brothers who have died in that state of mind trapped in a lifestyle that was sign posted No Exit. It was a life I have come to realise was void of any sense of love, respect, compassion, sympathy and decency, both for me, my peers and anyone else. It was a lifestyle I will never forget - it was who I was then, but it is not who I am now.