Young people and gangs


Over 150 years ago, the Cabbage Tree Hat Mob, one of the prominent “youth gangs” of the time, reputedly annoyed respectable Sydneysiders. Since then, there have been periodic expressions of public concern regarding youth group formations in major Australian urban centres.

This paper provides an insight into perceptions of, and research into, “youth gangs” in Australia today. Among its findings are that American style criminal gangs are not prevalent in this country, although the preconditions for the emergence of such gangs are apparent. The paper shows that by and large the phenomenon of “criminal youth gangs” is largely a media myth. Furthermore, much of the publicised concern over youth gangs is linked to the ethnic background of particular groups of young people, which in turn raises major issues regarding youth opportunities and the policing of youth from selected social backgrounds. While “youth gangs” as such do not constitute a significant social problem, there is nevertheless evidence that young people on the street are engaging in activity that occasionally includes anti-social behaviour, criminal activity and group conflict. To address present and potential “gang” problems a range of social and economic measures as well as community effort, are required.