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Hundreds of motorcycle club members have put bitter rivalries aside to gather in a show of support for war veterans, mental health and to stand up against child abuse and paedophiles.

Over 500 members of 18 different clubs turned up to Thunderwest in the Hunter Valley, including some clubs banned from displaying their insignia in public, including Bandidos, Finks, Nomads, Gladiators and Highway 61 gangs.

The annual event, which gave bikies a chance to let their hair down without the stress of arrests or territorial tensions, was hosted by the Veterans’ Motorcycle Club, whose logo is a skull in a slouch hat under the words ‘Freedom is not free’.

All clubs must apply to attend and agree to a general policy that says ‘you leave your attitude at the door’, one of the hosts, Eldo, told Daily Mail Australia.

Hundreds of motorcycle club members have put bitter rivalries aside to gather in a show of support for war veterans, mental health and to stand against paedophilia (pictured members of the Finks and Gladiator, both banned clubs in some parts of Australia)

Hundreds of motorcycle club members have put bitter rivalries aside to gather in a show of support for war veterans, mental health and to stand against paedophilia (pictured members of the Finks and Gladiator, both banned clubs in some parts of Australia)

Hundreds of motorcycle club members have put bitter rivalries aside to gather in a show of support for war veterans, mental health and to stand against paedophilia (pictured members of the Finks and Gladiator, both banned clubs in some parts of Australia)

Over 500 members of 18 different clubs turned up to Thunderwest in the Hunter Valley, including some clubs banned from displaying their insignia in public in Western Australia, including Bandidos (pictured)

Over 500 members of 18 different clubs turned up to Thunderwest in the Hunter Valley, including some clubs banned from displaying their insignia in public in Western Australia, including Bandidos (pictured)

Over 500 members of 18 different clubs turned up to Thunderwest in the Hunter Valley, including some clubs banned from displaying their insignia in public in Western Australia, including Bandidos (pictured)

Finks Motorcycle Club members were among the 500 bikers who partied at the Murrurindi clubhouse of the NSW Vietnam Veteran's Motorcycle club recently

Finks Motorcycle Club members were among the 500 bikers who partied at the Murrurindi clubhouse of the NSW Vietnam Veteran's Motorcycle club recently

Finks Motorcycle Club members were among the 500 bikers who partied at the Murrurindi clubhouse of the NSW Vietnam Veteran’s Motorcycle club recently

Members of the Gladiators Motorcycle Club play up for the camera at the huge Murrurindi bikers' gathering, where 300 attendees were former servicemen and women

Members of the Gladiators Motorcycle Club play up for the camera at the huge Murrurindi bikers' gathering, where 300 attendees were former servicemen and women

Members of the Gladiators Motorcycle Club play up for the camera at the huge Murrurindi bikers’ gathering, where 300 attendees were former servicemen and women

One of the organisers told Daily Mail Australia that motorcycle clubs can help traumatised returned soldiers to find support when they return after military campaigns (pictured, members of Gladiators MC)

One of the organisers told Daily Mail Australia that motorcycle clubs can help traumatised returned soldiers to find support when they return after military campaigns (pictured, members of Gladiators MC)

One of the organisers told Daily Mail Australia that motorcycle clubs can help traumatised returned soldiers to find support when they return after military campaigns (pictured, members of Gladiators MC)

All motorcycle clubs must apply to attend and agree to a general policy that says 'you leave your attitude at the door'

All motorcycle clubs must apply to attend and agree to a general policy that says 'you leave your attitude at the door'

All motorcycle clubs must apply to attend and agree to a general policy that says ‘you leave your attitude at the door’

Plenty of senior members of various chapters and clubs were at the Thunderwest motorbike show (pictured a Bandidos president and sergeant-at-arms)

Plenty of senior members of various chapters and clubs were at the Thunderwest motorbike show (pictured a Bandidos president and sergeant-at-arms)

Plenty of senior members of various chapters and clubs were at the Thunderwest motorbike show (pictured a Bandidos president and sergeant-at-arms)

The difference between fully-fledged motorcycle clubs and social clubs is the full patch on the back (pictured, members of Bandidos proudly show off their patches)

The difference between fully-fledged motorcycle clubs and social clubs is the full patch on the back (pictured, members of Bandidos proudly show off their patches)

The difference between fully-fledged motorcycle clubs and social clubs is the full patch on the back (pictured, members of Bandidos proudly show off their patches)

‘Some of the more notorious clubs are part of the wider community. That’s the reality, and we don’t turn away anyone,’ he said.

‘We don’t say no to anyone unless there’s a specific reason, they know they’re attending under our rules and conditions, nobody causes drama or a scene.

‘For some of the more notorious clubs can no longer hold poker run or bike shows, we’re the last one of the last standing in terms of the independent shows that welcomes everyone.’

Members of Nomads and Bandidos (pictured) embrace as tensions and rivalries were put aside for the day at Thunderwest

Members of Nomads and Bandidos (pictured) embrace as tensions and rivalries were put aside for the day at Thunderwest

Members of Nomads and Bandidos (pictured) embrace as tensions and rivalries were put aside for the day at Thunderwest

The annual event, which gave bikies a chance to let their hair down without the stress of arrests or territorial tensions, was hosted by the Vietnam Veterans' Motorcycle Club

The annual event, which gave bikies a chance to let their hair down without the stress of arrests or territorial tensions, was hosted by the Vietnam Veterans' Motorcycle Club

The annual event, which gave bikies a chance to let their hair down without the stress of arrests or territorial tensions, was hosted by the Vietnam Veterans’ Motorcycle Club

Bikers at the Murrurindi show were only interested in partying and brotherhood organisers said

Bikers at the Murrurindi show were only interested in partying and brotherhood organisers said

Bikers at the Murrurindi show were only interested in partying and brotherhood organisers said

Highway 61 Motorcycle Club members enjoy a beer and some banter with mates at Thunderwest

Highway 61 Motorcycle Club members enjoy a beer and some banter with mates at Thunderwest

Highway 61 Motorcycle Club members enjoy a beer and some banter with mates at Thunderwest

There was a strong showing from Bandidos at the biker's show, which was held for the first time since 2019 with the pandemic cancelling the event in 2020 and 2021

There was a strong showing from Bandidos at the biker's show, which was held for the first time since 2019 with the pandemic cancelling the event in 2020 and 2021

There was a strong showing from Bandidos at the biker’s show, which was held for the first time since 2019 with the pandemic cancelling the event in 2020 and 2021

Eldo is vice president of the Veteran’s Motorcycle Club of NSW which hosted the 25th running running of the event at at Murrurindi, the club’s NSW base.  

The only thing a club must do to come is request an invite and return it before attending.

‘If a club wants to attend their club or reps contact us as a courtesy… you don’t rock up to someone’s house unannounced.

‘Everyone is expected to come with an attitude of harmony, respect and support.’ 

Other motorcycle clubs in attendance included the Veterans, Longriders and the God Squad. 

A Thunderwest spokesman said motorcycle clubs provide an important mental health benefit for men who can become isolated when they return from active military duty (pictured, members of Gladiators)

A Thunderwest spokesman said motorcycle clubs provide an important mental health benefit for men who can become isolated when they return from active military duty (pictured, members of Gladiators)

A Thunderwest spokesman said motorcycle clubs provide an important mental health benefit for men who can become isolated when they return from active military duty (pictured, members of Gladiators)

Although most of the members look staunch, a sense of humour isn't just allowed it's encouraged

Although most of the members look staunch, a sense of humour isn't just allowed it's encouraged

Although most of the members look staunch, a sense of humour isn’t just allowed it’s encouraged

Eldo, one of the event hosts, estimated up to 300 of the attendees had served in the Australian Defences Forces in some capacity, from Malaya and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan (pictured, Gladiator MC members embrace)

Eldo, one of the event hosts, estimated up to 300 of the attendees had served in the Australian Defences Forces in some capacity, from Malaya and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan (pictured, Gladiator MC members embrace)

Eldo, one of the event hosts, estimated up to 300 of the attendees had served in the Australian Defences Forces in some capacity, from Malaya and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan (pictured, Gladiator MC members embrace)

A handful of MC members come from the corporate world and a couple are even lawyers, organiser Eldo said. But mostly they work in trades or construction, many self-employed

A handful of MC members come from the corporate world and a couple are even lawyers, organiser Eldo said. But mostly they work in trades or construction, many self-employed

A handful of MC members come from the corporate world and a couple are even lawyers, organiser Eldo said. But mostly they work in trades or construction, many self-employed

Most of the clubs present were what is known as 'social' MCs, including the American Motorcycle Club (pictured members of the AMC

Most of the clubs present were what is known as 'social' MCs, including the American Motorcycle Club (pictured members of the AMC

Most of the clubs present were what is known as ‘social’ MCs, including the American Motorcycle Club (pictured members of the AMC

Among the social clubs were Bikers Against Child Abuse, Sons of ANZAC, Native Sons, American Motorcycle Club, Christian Motorcycle Club, Patriots and Military Brotherhood.

Bikers Against Child Abuse is an international club that has nine chapters across Australia and its members conduct ‘interventions’ in child abuse situations and support abused children.

The group started when an American therapist who also rode took 27 motorcycles and nearly 40 other riders to an abused child’s home, greeted him and offered a ride on a motorcycle.

Although the many members at Thunderwest looked staunch, a sense of humour wasn’t just allowed, it was encouraged.

Most members grinned broadly thought the day, even more after a few beers.

Some wore joke t-shirts gently mocking themselves and their brothers. One man sported a ‘Sons of arthritis, Ibuprofen chapter’ shirt.

‘Your average motorcycle club member is not a gangster or a criminal,’ Eldo said.

‘Usually these guys just want to ride with their mates, camp, have a drink and party, watch the fireworks and ride home the next day.’

The event was hosted by the Vietnam Veterans' Motorcycle Club, whose logo is a skull in a slouch hat under the words 'Freedom is not free' (pictured, Veterans' club members pose)

The event was hosted by the Vietnam Veterans' Motorcycle Club, whose logo is a skull in a slouch hat under the words 'Freedom is not free' (pictured, Veterans' club members pose)

The event was hosted by the Vietnam Veterans’ Motorcycle Club, whose logo is a skull in a slouch hat under the words ‘Freedom is not free’ (pictured, Veterans’ club members pose)

Organiser Eldo estimated around 100 attendees were women, though the event is male-dominated

Organiser Eldo estimated around 100 attendees were women, though the event is male-dominated

Organiser Eldo estimated around 100 attendees were women, though the event is male-dominated

The key differences between a fully-fledged motorcycle club and a ‘social’ club is the MCs have front and back patches and a formal hierarchy of leadership that has its roots in military ranks. 

Eldo estimated up to 300 of the attendees had served in the Australian Defence Forces in some capacity, from Malaya and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most are employed, he stresses. A handful of members come from the corporate world and a couple are even lawyers. But mostly they work in trades or construction, many self-employed.

Around 100 of the attendees are women, most of whom ride bikes too – often with their partner. 

But there’s no avoiding this is a male-dominated, ex-military community – complete with annual wet-t-shirt competition and tattoo competition.

Eldo points out there’s no shortage of entrants to the wet t-shirt competition with a $1500 prize on offer.

In previous years, some of the wives and partners promoted a ‘wet jocks’ competition which a handful of good sports sheepishly entered. 

That event wasn’t repeated in 2022. 

The Thunderwest event featured a fireworks display, tattoo competition, wet t-shirt competition, campsite, bar, barbecue and live music including an AC/DC tribute band, Damnation

The Thunderwest event featured a fireworks display, tattoo competition, wet t-shirt competition, campsite, bar, barbecue and live music including an AC/DC tribute band, Damnation

 The Thunderwest event featured a fireworks display, tattoo competition, wet t-shirt competition, campsite, bar, barbecue and live music including an AC/DC tribute band, Damnation

Organiser Eldo said many members of clubs formed from military backgrounds suffer from chronic depression, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and their MC brotherhoods provide important support networks

Organiser Eldo said many members of clubs formed from military backgrounds suffer from chronic depression, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and their MC brotherhoods provide important support networks

Organiser Eldo said many members of clubs formed from military backgrounds suffer from chronic depression, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and their MC brotherhoods provide important support networks

‘The connection between motorbikes and ex-servicemen goes back to before World War II,’ he said. 

The name Hell’s Angels – who didn’t apply to come in 2022 – comes from an American world war II B-17F bomber, which was named after a 1930 movie about First World War fighter pilots.

‘After a conflict you end up with displaced men suffering from a range of problems including alcoholism,’ Eldo said.

‘They can become transient. That’s where MC clubs were formed from, long term motorcycle clubs were formed after Vietnam.’

Organiser Eldo said suicide interventions between MC club members are not uncommon as the men help each other through mental health battles

Organiser Eldo said suicide interventions between MC club members are not uncommon as the men help each other through mental health battles

Organiser Eldo said suicide interventions between MC club members are not uncommon as the men help each other through mental health battles

Some wore joke t-shirts gently mocking themselves and their brothers. One man sported a 'Sons of arthritis, Ibuprofen chapter' shirt (pictured, centre)

Some wore joke t-shirts gently mocking themselves and their brothers. One man sported a 'Sons of arthritis, Ibuprofen chapter' shirt (pictured, centre)

Some wore joke t-shirts gently mocking themselves and their brothers. One man sported a ‘Sons of arthritis, Ibuprofen chapter’ shirt (pictured, centre)

The structure and hierarchy of clubs provides a transition back to civilian life for many, but there’s a big mental health support factor too.

He said many members of clubs formed from military backgrounds suffer from chronic depression, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. 

‘Veterans’ suicide statistics are horrible,’ he says.

‘I know of suicide interventions that have taken place between club members. If a member becomes inactive or doesn’t turn up to an event we will run a welfare check and send members around to their house.’ 

Many members have traumatic experiences as childhood victims of abuse and were reluctantly exposed to crime, he said.

‘They’ve seen a lot they won’t want to unload on family or wives, but in the club everyone has shared similar experiences, they can be at their worst or vulnerable and everyone around them is understanding of that. 

‘Here they get an instant support network. In an MC club if your bother needs help there’s no questions asked.’

Whether attendees have a criminal past, present or future is not the event’s concern.

‘There are criminals everywhere, in football teams and in the police too,’ he said. 

‘To us that’s neither here nor there, we share a bond and common interest in motorcycling, and we share brotherhood of being veterans.’

Source: DailyMail

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