For Geoff

Dark side of the hoon

Matthew Denholm and Rodney Dalton

April 20, 2005

IT wasn’t until two young men were murdered at The Rocks on the weekend that the rest of the country learned Sydney’s oldest district had become a prime site for hooning.Rocks residents and police, however, were well aware before the slayings of Naser Ghaderi, 25, and Keyvan Ghajaloo, 24, who died in a volley of shots fired at point-blank range from a passing car, that the tourist spot was also a popular haven for hoons who race their cars along the wide harbourside expanse of Hickson Road.
The two men were shot as they stood beside a line of parked cars while friends inside toyed with a PlayStation game. Rocks residents, who suffer the noise and intimidation of hooning gangs each weekend, heard the gunshots and the yelling, but most were too scared to venture from their old terraces and new apartments.
The NSW Government has defended police against claims they’ve failed to combat illegal activity in The Rocks, with Police Minister Carl Scully saying police had repeatedly clamped down on “car enthusiasts” in Hickson Road.
“There is a difference between cold-blooded murder and kids wanting to show off their cars, a bit of youthful exuberance, sometimes being hoons,” Scully said. “It’s a big jump to hyperspeed to say that [this] somehow has caused these two murders. The car hooning that goes on down there is something police do have a handle on.”
NSW is considering tougher anti-hooning measures and Victoria is belatedly joining the bandwagon behind Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia, which have introduced anti-hooning laws to curb the increasing trend.
Hoons caught transgressing in most states face the ultimate penalty: confiscation of their beloved car. Under a three strikes policy in Tasmania and Queensland — and in South Australia from next month — hoons nabbed for a third time lose their cars forever.
Hooning tends to be the domain of young men in their late teens to mid-20s. University of Western Sydney academic Sarah Redshaw, who has been studying driving culture for the past four years, says “the young male enthusiasm for cars is fairly typical across cultures”. Redshaw, who has spoken to young Lebanese, Vietnamese, Portuguese and Anglo men as part of her research, has found “it’s a way of expressing masculinity”.
The attraction is social and sexual, according to Rob White, head of sociology and social work at the University of Tasmania. A leading authority on youth policy and author on the sociology of crime, White says: “Hooning is a social event and in that sense it’s entirely natural. If you stand back from hooning and start to analyse the attractions of hooning to the young people involved, you start to understand why it’s attractive. It encapsulates a whole lot of things: to display mastery and technique, to parade among your peers, to gain status.
“Framed that way, hooning is quite a normal and natural human activity.
“Another aspect to that, sociologically, is the erotic and almost sexual nature of the relationship and how the car is described almost as a lover. Some types of masculinity lend themselves to a car fetish.”
Adam Browner, who owns Redline Performance in Sydney, says “all walks of life” are attracted to the expensive pastime of souping up street cars. “Anybody who is exposed to any kind of modification to cars ends up catching the bug,” Browner says. “Whether it’s something as small as changing wheels to something like building a 500-horsepower motor and a show stopper.”
Car enthusiasts happily work second jobs to pay for modifications. “A lot of kids could probably go spend their money on drugs and alcohol but instead they put it into something they can call their own,” Browner says. “It’s their entertainment on the weekend [when] they go out cruising and they show it off. For a lot of them, it’s how they pick up girls … it’s another member of the family to them.”
White’s home state is regarded as a hoon hotbed. In Launceston, young men regularly spill oil on public roads to accentuate burnouts and other displays of “extreme driving”.
In response, Tasmania introduced the nation’s toughest anti-hooning legislation about five months ago, emulating groundbreaking laws in Queensland. Tasmanian police have confiscated 110 cars, including seven repeat offenders who have had to part with their four-wheeled status symbols for three months. No Tasmanian hoon has yet reached the third strike and lost their car for good.
In Queensland, police have confiscated 1700 cars on a first-strike offence since November 2002, while three hoons have lost their cars for good after being nabbed a third time.
Shane Rollins, who supervises impounded cars for Hobart police, says the relatively few third strikes suggests the ultimate threat of losing the car is forcing young men to modify their behaviour. The pain of separation from a first and second offence usually does the trick.
“There’s one bloke who we allow to come in once a week to see his car, start it up and run it for a while, and every time he goes to leave, he looks back over his shoulder and just shakes his head,” Rollins says. “They often say, ‘I won’t be doing that again.’ One guy wanted to do some work on his car while it was in here, but I had to tell him there were safety problems with that.”
Inspector Gary Eastwood, of Tasmania Police, says just one arrest and confiscation can have a ripple effect within groups of young hoons. “It really doesn’t sink home to them until someone in their social group has their car confiscated, and then that has an impact on the whole group,” Eastwood says.
“Most offenders are males in their late teens or early 20s; we’ve only had a couple of 40-odd-year-olds and about five females.”
The largest number of confiscations has occurred in regional areas, particularly on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. Despite its sparse population, the small towns of Tasmania’s west — Strahan, Queenstown, Zeehan, Tullah and Rosebery — have yielded 41 per cent of confiscations.
West Coast mayor Darryl Gerrity says the higher proportion of hoons caught in small country towns is linked to the lack of entertainment for young people. “There are not a lot of things to do for young people — we don’t have icerinks, we don’t have drive-in movies, we don’t have opera, we don’t have bands,” Gerrity says.
“And as a consequence, they have to do other things and some just go for a ride in their cars. They can’t do the sorts of things we did at their age 30 to 40 years ago. They can’t go shooting, boating, fishing or hunting as we did because all those things these days require licences, and those licences are difficult to get.”
Gerrity says the high number of car confiscations in rural areas also reflects the intimate nature of country policing. “Country coppers are part of the local community. If they go home after work at 1am and hear someone hooning, they’ll most likely know whose car it is by the sound of its engine, and they’ll go out in their Ugg boots and pyjamas and go get ’em. In the city, a police officer who has knocked off leaves it to the next copper.
“I believe it [anti-hooning legislation] is a good thing and it is working, there is a notable reduction,” Gerrity says. “In my town of Strahan, you don’t get idiots at two or three in the morning roaring through town any more.”
White believes the introduction of anti-hooning laws has to be matched by the introduction of alternative forms of social activity for youths.
“There’s a decline in general community amenities, and positive, constructive outlets for energy,” White says. “We should just realise, as adults, where we’ve been. I know very few adults who haven’t mucked about when they were young. A little bit of hypocrisy is at work there among politicians and adults.
“In the last 10-15 years, we’ve become less tolerant of young people in public spaces, whether in cars or on streets. We spend so much time focusing on young people in cars when there’s also a lot of road rage, which doesn’t mostly involve young people; it involves their parents.”
Additional reporting: Natasha Rudra