When I used to live in Brisbane back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my friends and I used to enjoy going to the Apple and Grape Festival in Stanthorpe. The festival is basically an excuse for a giant piss up. There is a lame little parade but drinking is the main item on the agenda and the police relax the rules a little so that when people get drunk they can just sleep where they drop. Unless one was violent, the cops left you alone to get to down to the real business of the Festival.
The picture below was taken at the Festival in Stanthorp and is of me.
The guy behind me, pulling my nose up as the picture was being taken, was a German friend of a biker mate of mine (called Ron). Since I’ve forgotten his name and for the sake of convenience, I will call him Hans.
Ron had met Hans when he had been travelling in Europe, and when Hans came to Australia with his girlfriend for holidays he looked Ron up. As you can see from the photograph, Hans had quite a sense of humour and he and his girlfriend were fun people to party with. For the month that Hans was in Brisbane (where I used to live at the time) I got to socialise with him quite a bit as he was staying with Ron, who was my cousin Andrew’s housemate. The shared house that Ron and Andrew lived in was in a constant state of party and I used to almost live there with them.
One evening when I was at a party on a big sugarcane farm up near Bundaberg,
Hans told me a little bit about his life. Apparently he was the leader of an organised crime gang that specialised in stealing heavy earthmoving equipment in Germany. Because such big money was involved, Hans didn’t actually have to use force or break into building sites. All he had to do was bribe a few lowly paid security guys to look the other way, while he and his mates turned up with a few semitrailers (tractor-trailers for you North Americans out there), drive the earthmoving equipment onto them and then drive away with them. He also intimated to me that sometimes the builders were involved in the thefts as they were happy to collect the insurance money.
When I asked Hans how he managed to get rid of such big pieces of equipment, he told me that he had contacts with larger organised crime gangs that used to fence the equipment for him in other countries. Hans told me that the building industry was full of crooks who didn’t ask too many pointed questions about where the cheap equipment came from.
As I got to know Hans it amazed me how “normal” he was. There was no bluster or bravado with Hans, he was just a down to earth happy-go-lucky guy that happened to steal large pieces of earthmoving equipment for a living. Talking with Hans made me realise that being a professional criminal was not dissimilar to having any other professional career in that he worked hard at what he did and felt the need to get away for about a month a year and go on holidays and relax.
I met another guy when I was in Vancouver called Peter. Peter was born in Poland, and his father was a professional artist. When Peter was a young boy, and still in primary school his father pulled him out of school and took him to a professional thief friend of his and told Peter that this criminal was going to be his mentor. From that point onward, Peter told me that he was trained to be a professional thief.
I find it strange when I meet people who inhabit the demi-monde of the underworld, because they are so different to the stereotypes portrayed in the movies. To look at Peter, you wouldn’t think that he was a full-time criminal. Peter wasn’t suave, macho or cool, like how criminals are quite often portrayed in fiction. I guess that’s how people like Peter and Hans stay out of jail, they just look and act like fairly normal people. I also found that just like other people, they just want to have fun.
It’s just too bad that people like Hans and Peter make their livings at other people’s expenses. When I think about it, they aren’t that morally different to the people who operate in the so-called legal, corporate world, like the tobacco companies and arms manufacturers.