Can New Zealand’s notorious gangs be a positive force in their communities? From making sandwiches for needy children to having an older and wiser view of life, Dateline asks if they’re now coming of age.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - 21:30

When reporter Alex de Jong follows Jamie Pink on his sandwich round to local schools, it’s hard to believe that he’s the hardened leader of New Zealand’s Tribal Huk gang.

“Just bashing people, a few assault charges, the odd GBH,” he lists as the reason for his prison sentences in the past. “Just a little bit of fun.”

“Haven’t been to prison for little while, had a good run, been eight years now, nine years, so you know, we’ve had a chance to build.”

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of gang membership per head of population in the world, with an estimated 4,000 members from a country of four million people.

They started in the 1950s and forged a reputation for violence and illegal activities, but Jamie says he and his gang now represent changing times.

They make up to 500 sandwiches every single day to feed children at 30 schools around Ngaruawahia who would otherwise go without.

“If you’ve been through it yourself, you can relate, and to see that problem still going on in this society,” he tells Alex of his own experience of going hungry at school.

Unemployment in the area is double the national average, and New Zealand in general has a child poverty rate of about 12 per cent, so this kind of help is seen as vital by local communities.

“Our children see him immediately and just associate him as one of us, like a staff member,” says the Principal of Ngaruawahia Primary, Maria Hamill. “I think action speaks louder than words.”

She explains to Alex that around a third of children turn up without any lunch.

Jamie’s sandwich run has been going for four years and costs the Huk around AU$1,900 a week, which is paid for with the profits from the gang’s small farm.

And Jamie is insistent that his gang’s work is neither a PR stunt nor a recruitment exercise.

“It'd be a terrible thing if that was what we were doing it for, it definitely isn't,” he says. “There's no cover for anything. It costs too much.”

“We’re not exactly the pillars of society, we understand that… we’re doing something good, and that’s true. No matter what people say, you can’t take that away.”

Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert has spent six years studying gang culture and believes times are changing.

“As the membership of these gangs has matured, the gangs themselves have matured,” he tells Alex.

“So we get a vastly different set of behaviours and a vastly different outlook on life… the sandwich thing just so runs against the grain of what we expect a gang to do.”

Dateline also has a rare interview with Mongrel Mob leader, Rex Timu. The Hastings-based mob is the country’s largest gang, and has a particular reputation for violence.

“I’m looking for our future, to our future, and generally looking after our kids,” he says. Rex is now 48, but has spent ten years in jail for a range of offences.

“15 to 20 years ago, I wouldn’t be sitting here, I’d be out there causing trouble,” he tells Alex. “But you get a bit older, you get a bit wiser, start growing out of that stuff.”

Now he’s involved in the Te Taitimu Trust, which brings together young people from a range of backgrounds to offer them activities and support.

“I put my patch aside for the kids, and that’s no biggie for me,” he says.

But some question if the change is genuine or just for the benefit of the cameras.

“In the short term anyone can fudge it, anyone can put on a face for a short time,” says local policeman Ross Gilbert.

“But over four years, Rex has really shown a consistency with his approach and his manner… that’s really admirable, so you can’t put it on for four years consistently.”

So can there really be Shades of Good, and Bad, in New Zealand’s gangs?

Alex's story, first broadcast in July 2015, was shown again in December as part of Dateline's Best of 2015 series.

This report was also nominated for a 2015 UN Australia Media Peace Award in the Documentary category and received two Finalist Certificates in the New York Festivals TV and Film Awards.


Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert from this story has studied New Zealand's gangs extensively and written a book on the subject, Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand.

Read some of the articles involving Jarrod and his work to find out more about the country's gang culture:

Related Links



Ngaruawahia is located at the junction of two great rivers. Traditionally, important canoe routes for Maori. Maori kings and queens lay buried nearby and today this area still holds great historical significance. The area is also a gang patch. Tribal Huk is led by Jaimie Pink. Like most gangs, they started up as rebellious young men. Every time the Huks meet, they hail each other using a fierce special salute.

JAMIE PINK, TRIBAL HUK PRESIDENT: There has been Tribal Huk for 20 years, before that there were Huk 70s, Huk 50s and Huk 60s and the whole job was to look after Ngaruawahia. To our people it’s the heart of Maoridom and you could call us the first line of defence.

REPORTER: What happens if some gang does rock up in the middle of Ngaruawahia? What actually happens then? Literally what happens?

JAMIE PINK: We will attack them. We will attack them on the main street, wherever they stop.

New Zealand has one of the highest gang memberships per head of population in the world. There are estimates of 25 major patched gangs and over 4,000 patched members in a country of only 4 million people. They invited me to their club headquarters, which sits on a piece of leased farmland.

REPORTER: What do the Huk get up to?

LYNDSAY RUNCIMAN, TRIBAL HUK FARMER: Violence. A lot of violence. They have to be violent otherwise other people stand over them. Jamie has got a big reputation of being quite violent. It is quite easy being around Jamie because no-one hassles you because they know they will have to hassle Jamie first.

REPORTER: You been in prison?

JAMIE PINK: Yeah, a few times.

REPORTER: What for?

JAMIE PINK: Oh, just bashing people - Assault with intent to injure. The odd GBH, just a little bit of fun, you know. I haven't been to prison for a little while, I've had a good run - been eight years now or nine years, so I've had a chance to build. Nothing great about being in prison, it just means you are buggered up. It means you are stuffed up. When you are in prison, you have got to make the most of it, yeah.

REPORTER: Have you learnt something from being in prison?

JAMIE PINK: Well, of course, you have to. Some people don't take anything away from it, but you can't look after your family properly in jail. You have got boys in there, some have been there for a long time, but when they get out we will try to get them back into society properly. We will do our best for them but nothing to skite about obviously.

Gangs in New Zealand started in the 1950s and have forged a reputation in violence and illegal activities. Growing up here in the '80s and '90s, seeing the news, it makes you wonder what happens when those guys get older? Do they mature like everyone else? Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert spent six years hanging out with and studying gangs.

JARROD GILBERT, SOCIOLOGIST: We can see in crime data that after the age of 40 people tend to commit far less crime, particularly violent crime. We mature and so, as the member ship of these gangs has matured, the gangs themselves have matured a so we got a vastly different set of
behaviours and a vastly different outlook on life.

Jamie's patch of Ngaruawahia, unemployment is double the national average. Born nearby, he spent virtually all his whole life around here.

JAMIE PINK: My mum was young and she was going with people who couldn't stay in the same place for long, hanging out. She was alright. You got to love your mum, man. I think it was good having to move around because you saw the problems that were going around in the '70s and '80s.

Tribal Huk is a gang with around 100 members, some of whom are in prison. Down at the end of Old Farm Road in a big kitchen, gang members are doing something that you wouldn't expect, making sandwiches for school kids whose parents can't provide them with lunch.

JAMIE PINK: When you go through your life and do bad things, you start to think, "What am I doing here? Hang on." We can't miss a day. You just can't do it, you can’t have a day off, it is not fair.

There may be days when leader, Jamie, is what people consider a violent man.

JAMIE PINK: This is the heart of the operation. Without these ladies, it wouldn't work.

But he and his crew knock up 500 sandwiches every single school day.

JAMIE PINK: We start in the morning at 3:00 and then at 7:00 Duncan comes over, grabs the ladies and goes to the supermarkets and grabs some ingredients. Beef and ham and some of the kids like luncheon sausage.

PAULIE TAURANGA, TRIBAL HUK MEMBER: I don't want our kids to be gangsters, but in the end they will follow their parents.

REPORTER: The sandwiches keep you out of jail.

PAULIE TAURANGA: Yeah, yeah it does, because it is something that you gotta do every day and this is what I put in my mind every day. This is it.

Seeing gang members and hairnets takes a bit of getting used to, but they are providing a service that the government fails to do.

JAMIE PINK: Imagine having a service like this when we went to school. We are just material.

Sandwiches get delivered to about 30 schools.

JAMIE PINK: We started four years ago with Ngaruawahia Primary School and now my youngest son goes there, spread out to Huntley and now we are doing quite a few in Hamilton too. I think if you have been through it yourself you can relate. To see the problems still going on in the society and animosity starts when you grow to school and your hungry and your mates are hungry and you see a lot of other kids that are looked after and then you start thinking, "How can I get their food?" "How can I get what they have got?" You are off to a bad start already.

Despite its clean, green and idyllic image New Zealand has a child poverty rate of around 12%. That means there are some 290,000 children living under the poverty line. Some of the schools in Jamie's patch are on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder.

REPORTER: Do you come to school sometimes without sandwiches for lunch?

BUCK RAWIRI, NGARUAWAHIA PRIMARY PUPIL: Sometimes I come without lunch. My family is finding it hard to get lunches and you have to pay the rent, too.

Maria Hamill is one of the school leaders that welcomes Tribal Huk into the school yard. She's been a principal for 17 years.

REPORTER: What sort of percentage might turn up without lunch, do you think?

MARIA HAMILL, PRINCIPAL: I would say 30-40%. 30 to 40%.

REPORTER: Still sounds like a phenomenally high number?

MARIA HAMILL: Almost 59% of our families are single-parent families.

AWHI KOMENE, NGARUAWAHIA PRIMARY PUPIL: We don't usually have that much food at my house. So I am just grateful that there are sandwiches here so I can have something to eat. My dad doesn't live with us. My mum can't really afford it. Not really, anyway. It has been a little tough. I just try to tell her not to worry about me because I don't want her to worry about me that much.

JAMIE PINK: I don't want to get in trouble or get you in trouble.

MARIA HAMILL: Our children see him immediately and just associate him as one of us, like a staff member, a team member, associated with the school and the community.

REPORTER: A lot of people obviously have a negative association with gangs.

MARIA HAMILL: Yes. I think actions speak louder than words.

REPORTER: Pay back for you, how does it feel when you see - when you get that reaction?

JAMIE PINK: We are not exactly the pillars of society. We understand that. It gives you a reason to get up the next day. You think, "I am not just a bad bugger or horrible people. We are doing something good." No matter what people say, you can’t take that away. There is nothing else we get from it.

BANAPA AVATEA, HUNTLY WEST PRINCIPAL: Everybody say Haerae Mae Matu Jamie.

At these schools, Jamie is just seen as a member of the extended family, Maori call it Whanau, the one that brings extra food for the kids.

BANAPA AVATEA: For us as a school, we don't look at it as being a gang, we look at it as being an organisation Whanau, bringing in food to support children so they can do everything and we can do everything that we can to help them learn.

REPORTER: The whole gang aspect, there is no concern from the parents or anything like that?

WATSON OHIO, NGA TAIATEA PRINCIPAL: No concern in the parents. We are just thankful, really.

BOY: You are Tribal Huk.

JAMIE PINK: Yeah, that's right. Learn some good stuff so you will grow up educated and get some good jobs later, aye. Okay, I will see you tomorrow, you are the future, yeah.

JARROD GILBERT: I think the sandwich thing would surprise everybody who have come into contact with them. It runs against the grain of what we expect a gang to do and how we expect a gang to behave. Does it impress me? Damn right it does. I would be impressed if any community group was doing that to fill a need within their neighbourhoods.

REPORTER: You said yesterday, "I am no angel." Is there an element of perhaps like squaring the ledger?

JAMIE PINK: No-one has ever asked that question before. That is brilliant. I will answer it the most truthfully I possibly can. I suppose a part of it is. I have no grips on the past you know. People I have done things to, 90% of the time think weren't very nice people anyway and probably deserved what they got. There are elements in there of truth. A slight element, though. This is more important than anything else that we have done and our children see it, my grandson sees it and says, "This is a better way to be. Be nice, be strong be hard but be nice about it." Live by that code. Code is important, not just for gang members, but for everybody.

REPORTER: So why did you join the Huk, why did you join up?

JOHNNY: It is like a family, eh. I feel like I am home here.

REPORTER: Jamie has given you the message that that is the way to go?

PARAKURA NEPIA, TRIBAL HUK MEMBER: Yeah. He shows me the way to go, how to be a decent man. I was a troubled kid, my grandfather passed away and all hell broke loose. I took off out of town and when I came back, straight away I wanted to be a Tribunal Hukster.

REPORTER: It has been a good decision?

PARAKURA NEPIA: Yeah, it’s been a good decision, yeah.

JOHNNY: We are a part of Ngaruawahia is a part of us...

The Tribal Huk operate a few businesses, including a farm. It started when Jamie collected a couple of thousand dollars from gang members to find pigs and sheep.

JAMIE PINK: This is where - this is ground level. This is where it all starts.

REPORTER: How long has this been here?

JAMIE PINK: All been here for 10 years all up, only been using it properly as a farm for the past five years.

REPORTER: What sort of money are you making off the farm?

JAMIE PINK: Well, probably only about $100 grand a year. We have got other businesses, but what we do get out of it is food. All of our people have got full freezers, beef, pork and sheep.

Jamie says it is this business that pays for the sandwiches.

JAMIE PINK: That is where it starts. Instead of having to go, "Government, can you give us some food Grants, obviously people need that and it is good that is there, but we don't want to be relying on it and let our people relying on it in the future. Get them up and running." That is the heart of it
is there. The foundations start and no matter what you got, you could have houses, cars, whatever. It is all irrelevant if you can't feed your people.

We will come become and get the other pig soon.

A third of the families here are single-parent homes with many under the poverty line. 32-year-old solo mum-of-three Sonia Morgan relies on welfare. She is one of the families Tribal Huk drop in on.

REPORTER: In Ngaruawahia, are there a lot of people like you?

SONIA MORGAN: Yeah, there is a lot. There are a lot worse off than me too, there are a lot of kids that do it a lot harder than my kids. If I really need help I can call on him. I struggle with the kids and he helps out a lot of people in this town.

JAMIE PINK: We are not the only gang doing good work in New Zealand and obviously Australia, too. America, some great countries, but their people only want to hear about the bad things. How many
people you bashed. You know. What are you up to? Gang wars, it is all fun, of course, but things like this are getting done by other people, too maybe in a different way. Gang members are not terrorists and you can't put them in that category. OK? There are bad eggs in everybody.

REPORTER: How do you feel every now and then Jamie popping in and dropping off food and stuff?

JORDAN: Yeah, it is pretty good.

REPORTER: How would you feel if one of your boys joined the Huks?

SONIA MORGAN: No, not going to happen. You know, my kids wouldn't go there. There is nothing wrong with having them as friends and stuff, but, yeah, I mean, I wouldn't want my kids in any gang whatsoever. No way.

REPORTER: Have you ever thought about joining a gang or anything like that?

JORDAN: No. I wouldn't want to do that.

REPORTER: Why not?

JORDAN: Because mum wouldn't like me anymore.

There is one gang in New Zealand with a particular reputation for violence, the Mongrel Mob. It is also the country's largest gang.

JARROD GILBERT: All of these young groups, who are anti-social in nature, one would say, but the Mongrel Mob have a harder edge being raised in state homes, they were treated badly, there was sexual abuse and physical abuse, and thus they looked at society and thought, "If you are going to treat us like that, we are going to give it to you back."

I am driving to Hastings, the city is often considered the birthplace of the Mongral Mob and I have come to meet the Chapter's leader Rex Timu.

REPORTER: Rex, how are you? So, what have we here?

REX TIMU, MONGREL MOB: This is a clubhouse, One of our photos from about '64, '63.

Gang clubhouses have been a location for a lot of violence. It can be an intimidating place to visit.

REPORTER: So this bar, everyone is welcome?

REX TIMU: Yeah. Anyone is well come.

REPORTER: Some bad things happened here?

REX TIMU: In the past. I don't think about that stuff. I am look looking towards our future and genuinely looking after our kids.

The gangs infamous patch emblem is a British Bulldog often using a World War II helmet.

REX TIMU: Looks pretty good, don't you reckon?

REPORTER: It is quite intimidating.

REX TIMU: It can be, but, yeah.

REPORTER: Can you see that people might be scared of that?

REX TIMU: I can see that, hey. There are some things you could find intimidating. I suppose that is how it kind of started. Not so much being intimidated but different. Some being anti-social, back then, they were known pretty much a fucked society.

REPORTER: But things have mellowed now?

REX TIMU: Yeah, everyone is focused on family, aye.

Rex spent 10 years in jail for a range of offences, including eight for gang rape, but now at 48 he wants people to believe there is a shift in him, in gangs and what they are about.

REX TIMU: I think the mentality of the Mongrel Mob is changed or is changing. I suppose good things take time.

REPORTER: Do you think you have changed? If I went and talked to your wife, say, how has Rex changed over the years? What do you reckon she would say?

REX TIMU: She would say I have changed a bit. 15-20 years I wouldn't be sitting here. I would be out there causing trouble. But I want to get wiser. You start growing out of that stuff.

REPORTER: Do you ever get the feeling that the younger guys might say, "Rex, he is 50. He's had his fun. It is all very well for him to say go down the straight and narrow because he's had his fun. We want to have our fun." Do you get that impression?

REX TIMU: Oh, yeah, the young ones want to prove themselves. To me, this is not the '60s or '70s or '80s or '90s, we are well into the 2,000s and I keep telling them - change is good.

If actions speak louder than words, what is happening today is another example of change. It is winter, but this car load of kids is heading out to Poererere Beach. The trip has been organised by a trust called Taitimu which was set up by Zac Makoare. It is an organisation that sees the kids of rival gangs, church groups, schools, all come together.

ZACK MAKOARE, TAITIMU TRUST FOUNDER: I am a father of four kids. My oldest is 35. So we started our trust in 2007. We lost a son to suicide in 2000. So one of our aims was to try and bring our families closer together.

The trust aims to help vulnerable youth through connection and support. Rex has brought two of his five sons along today.

REX TIMU: It is a neutral place to be. For me, I put my patch aside for the kids. That is no biggie for me.

The police are also involved with the Taitimu Trust. They have worked together since it started eight years ago.

SERGEANT ROSS GILBERT, CENTRAL HAWKES BAY POLICE: With the gang involvement and the trust, to be honest, it was a bit of a leap of faith for the trust, getting in more gang involvement because it could very easily have gone badly for us. Fortunately, it hasn't. It has been really

REPORTER: Is Rex the real deal?

SERGEANT ROSS GILBERT: It is very easy to come on and say, "This is what I want to do. This is where I want to go." And in the short-term, anyone can fudge it. Anyone can put on a face for a short time, but over four years, Rex has really shown a consistency with his approach and his manner and his work with the youth and his own family and the trust and that is really admirable.

HENARE O’KEEFE, COUNSELLOR: When people say to me, "Why do you work with the gangs? Why do you go in and out of the prison, you are dealing with these men who are there for life? Why do it?" It is quite simply, really because they have children. It is as simple as that.

Henare O’Keefe is a counsellor who supports Maori youth through a different trust. He believes to send the right message Rex should leave his gang completely.

REPORTER: Do you think there is still heavily involved with crime? Are they still doing a lot of bad things?

HENARE O’KEEFE: You would have to say they do. Every so often, they monopolise the front pages of the newspaper, the television. So, you would have do suggest, yes, they are. They are still doing those naughty things, as my mum used to say.

No-one is suggesting gang membership is a good path or that they are no longer involved in the behaviour of their past. But when you step back and look at some of them today, they certainly can challenge your understanding of what a gang can stand for.

JAMIE PINK: Hey, sandwich time. How have you been? Want a beef one?

WOMAN: Getting older.

Perhaps there can be shades of good and bad.

REPORTER: What do you think people would say, is Jamie Pink a good man, if I asked them?

JAMIE PINK: It depends who you asked. I don't know. I think if you asked the kids they would probably say yes. I am what I am. You live here and you have it all here and you put it out. You don't make anything up. You just be straight up. You have got to take me as I am. Obviously, you look at my rap record and there is quite a lot of violence and the irony but, I would like to think that I play a big part in doing good in society. My people do and I put them in the right direction in that area. Tricky question to answer because - yeah, I am glad you didn't ask me this question 10 or 15 years ago.


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7th July 2015