Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Biker Funeral

Procession for 'Rebel Rick'

Love bikers, or hate them, but you have to admit they know how to throw a funeral. Even before the advent of motorcycle hearses, bikers put on impressive processions mixing military and tribal elements into very memorable -if scary- ceremonies.  The phenomenon is not limited to the United States, as this series of excerpts from articles on the funeral services for New Zealand / Australian "Bikie", "Rebel Rick" shows.  I think we could all learn something from the bikers about how to make funerals meaningful.
Biker Ring

Window panes shuddered across the nation's capital as 380 members of the outlaw motorcycle gang the Rebels rode through town to honour a slain club hardman.  Rebels leader Alex Vella had summoned members of the Rebels — the nation's largest bikie gang — from all over the country to come to Canberra yesterday to honour Richard John Roberts, 57, known as "Rebel Rick", a convicted drug dealer and "enforcer" for the club.  The large convoy, which stretched for kilometres, travelled from the nearby town of Queanbeyan through some of the busiest streets of Canberra stopping only for a one-minute silent vigil along the way. Police blocked off roads and escorted the convoy for much of the journey.

- from

Slain Rebel motorcycle gang member Richard John Roberts took his last ride yesterday.  His coffin, covered in red and white roses, travelled on a side car in a procession of about 380 bikies escorted by police through Canberra to the Norwood Park Crematorium.  The 57-year-old - known as "Rebel Rick" - and fellow club member Gregory Carrigan, 48, were shot dead in the Canberra suburb of Chisholm last Tuesday. About 700 members of the Rebel motorcycle gang, dressed in full colours, gathered to pay their respects to Roberts, the former president of the West Australian chapter of the gang.  They were joined by about 300 friends and family members, including Roberts's sons Ricky, 15, and Ryan, 13, their mother, Bev, and Roberts's girlfriend.


The coffin carrying Roberts, who was born in New Zealand, was greeted with a rousing haka as club members formed a guard of honour in front of the crematorium.  During the journey to the crematorium, the bikies stopped and took their helmets off for one minute as a mark of respect.

Rebels national president Alex Vella said the death of his friend had nothing to do with tensions in Sydney following a brawl at the airport between the Hells Angels and Comancheros, during which 29-year-old Anthony Zervas was bludgeoned to death.  "It's a sad day for the family and the Rebels," Mr Vella said. "He was a hard-working man, a heart of gold ... he was respected by many people."  Roberts's good friend "Pappa" remembered him as a hard man with a big heart, who was always the last to leave a bar.  "He was feared by those who didn't know him and loved by those who did," he said.  "Rebel Rick was one of those blokes who had a certain something about him. Rebels knew it, chicks knew it, and he knew it."  The grandfather of Roberts's children, John Parker SC, said Roberts had been a loving and good father. "He was a hard nut with a soft centre," he said.  Members of the crowd, which spilled outside the crematorium, wept as Roberts's favourite song, My Way, was played. After the funeral, there was a deafening roar and a cloud of petrol fumes as the Rebels drove off to their clubhouse in Canberra's Fyshwick for a wake.  An ACT police spokeswoman said both the funeral and the procession were incident-free.


"Rebel Rick" Memorial Folder

Bikies from Rebels chapters as far away as southeastern Victoria, the NSW central coast, Gundagai and Sydney attended the funeral.  Earlier, a procession of more than 300 bikies and an empty hearse moved through the northern suburbs of Canberra from a Rebels clubhouse in Queanbeyan to the Norwood Park Crematorium under police escort.  The coffin containing Roberts' body was carried on a sidecar.  A police car stood by as the bikies, most of them wearing helmets, ran a red light at the entrance to the crematorium.  Roberts and Gregory Carrigan, 48, were shot dead outside a southern Canberra house last week. Police have charged 20-year-old Russell Field with their murders.  The slayings were initially thought to be an explosion of violence between outlaw bikie gangs, but a long-time Rebels member has said they resulted from a bitter ''love triangle''.  A spokeswoman for ACT police said the funeral and the procession through Canberra on Monday morning were incident-free.

The funeral was held as the NSW government is considering introducing tough new laws aimed at stamping out violent bikie gangs.  The proposed laws would allow police to apply to the Supreme Court for an order to prohibit members identified in an outlaw motorcycle gang from associating with each other.

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.