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Biker Gangs Unite in Gawler for Poker Run

I went out for my regular walk this morning and headed onto the path following the main road into Gawler (my home town), South Australia. Unusually this morning the streets were lined with people, families with cameras, video cameras and as well there were, seemingly hundreds of police. Police in cars, on bikes, even in helicopters. The main road was almost completely at a stand still with the number of vehicles.

All this fuss just to see me take my morning walk?

Well, no. The Gypsy Joker Poker Run is an annual event that starts in Gawler and tours the Barossa Valley. For those last few of you on the planet that have never heard of the Gypsy Jokers they're considered an 'outlaw' Biker Gang (or a Biker 'Association' depending on who you talk to). Each year the event attracts probably around 100-200 Gypsy Joker members and about the same number of Police to make sure nobody gets out of hand.

This article, Reckless' bikie run angers police, that appeared in the Sunday Mail after the 2007 Poker Run will give you some idea of the event. The comments on the article are typical of the public reaction which is often in the negative towards the police.

The photo you see here is of the 2007 run and was taken on the main road that runs through the centre of the town of Gawler. I don't have any photos from this year because, frankly, a large group of bikers is about as impressive as the Tour Down Under Bicycle race (which also runs through Gawler each year) which I make no effort to view either. Hence I didn't wait around for the bikers to actually start their run. I digress...

The purpose of this article was to highlight the fact that this years run was a little more unique and probably an Australian (if not world wide) first. To protest against some new laws that the South Australian Government is introducing, known as the Serious and Organised Crime Control Act (more commonly known as the 'anti-bikie' legislation), the Gypsy Jokers are uniting with members from several rival Biker groups as explained in this article from The Age Newspaper, Rivals unite to protest anti-bikie laws.

Whilst I didn't stop to watch the run I did see all the bikers gathered at the Gawler-Barossa Race Track, just around the corner from where I live. I would estimate their numbers had to be close to a thousand (but that's assuming everyone there was in fact a bikie gang member - couldn't tell from the distance away I was).

One of the main features of these poker runs is, in fact, the police presence, which is welcome but, as these new laws come in, seemingly is becoming more hostile.

Rather than just maintaining the peace, police make a point of pulling over every single bikie and checking them for drug possession, breath testing and checking their bikes for defects. One assumes it's meant to act as a deterrent in the hope that bikers just won't bother next year however all it really achieves is massive slow down of traffic (to a crawl) and disrupts our town more than it would if police simply took a hands off, observational approach.

Personally I agree with the bikers to be protesting these laws because, whilst they're supposedly focussed on biker gangs, the wording of them is said to be some what ambiguous and could be used far beyond their intended purpose.

The laws haven't officially been introduced yet (as far as I'm aware) and so far their effect is to unite rival gangs into a common purpose and promote negative public sentiment towards police. i.e. nobody likes it when they're pulled over for breath testing or having their vehicle checked for defects.

Good going South Australian Government. You've turned the annual Poker Run into a major tourist attraction. I can imagine if this years run is truly successful - and there's no reason why it shouldn't be as the rival gangs can't afford to justify the reasons for these laws - then I can imagine next years run will be even bigger.

Mardi Gras in Sydney started out like this. Originally it was a protest that was faced with much police harassment, today it's one of the biggest parties on the planet. Could the Gypsy Joker Poker Run end up being Mardi Gras for the bikers and other petrol heads?

Time will tell.

All I can say is that I saw as many people excited to see a procession of this many bikers as I've ever seen for any kind of parade through Gawler. This town is far from threatened by the bikers. In fact we seem to embrace their presence and welcome the economic boost they bring to the region. It's good that the police are present but their aggressive approach seems to be misguided.

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