Maroubra Beach in Sydney.
Maroubra Beach in Sydney.

How the Bra Boys became a notorious clan

WHEN Robert McPake was told he would have two functions during his shift, his initial worry was running out of beer.

But when the Coogee-Randwick RSL Club duty manager saw the guest list, he knew low booze stocks would be the least of his troubles.

He immediately replaced drinking glasses with plastic tumblers and ordered the club's prized framed memorials of Great War VC recipients Private Thomas Kenny and Corporal Snowy Howell be removed from the walls in the foyer and stored for safe keeping.

Those boys had seen enough action.

The two guest groups that night at the club in Sydney's east were the Waverley Police Command on a Christmas party and a 21st birthday bash for a Maroubra surfer, a Bra Boy by birth and by right.

What happened that Friday night on December 20, 2002 forever changed any relationship the two groups held and charted a course that today still sees a clash of two cultures about Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Within weeks of that night, the Bra Boys went from a rabble of scruffy-haired smart-arse youths with attitude who controlled the waves of Maroubra as a band since 1990, to being formally listed by the NSW Police Force as a recognised "gang"; a tag that brings with it a different set of police operational tactics for dealing with members that years later are still making headlines.

 

A recent Anzac Breakfast and the now more serene Coogee Randwick Clovelly RSL club. Picture: Supplied
A recent Anzac Breakfast and the now more serene Coogee Randwick Clovelly RSL club. Picture: Supplied

 

The 2002 RSL turning-point came minutes from closing when the doors of the lift, packed with off-duty police leaving the venue, opened on the wrong floor.

A Maroubra youth tried to squeeze into the packed lift, knocked a female officer in the head with his shoulder and someone called out, "it's the bloody Bra Boys".

When the violence subsided, 40 people were taken to hospital - most of them police officers.

That was the beginning of the end for the Bra Boys which has only a core of 20 members many aged in their late 20s or 30s - including its most famous figures charismatic big wave surfer Koby Abberton who now lives in Bali and his older brother and respected Bra elder and businessman Sunny.

 

Waverley Police station in Sydney’s east. Picture: Damian Shaw
Waverley Police station in Sydney’s east. Picture: Damian Shaw

 

Others who claim the tag for street cred and even go out to get the "My Brother's Keeper" tattoo around their backs, neck, or stomachs are largely wannabe outlaws, in some cases disruptive youths or petty crims who hang around South Maroubra and think nothing of throwing a brick through the window of a shop, whose owner they don't like. Many come from dysfunctional families, dabble in drugs and can't see their future from the back of the dole queue.

These are the youths who the locals bemoan damage the area, not their local young surfers. But distinctions can be blurred.

In 2003 and one of the most infamous Bra Boys and standover thugs Tony Vincent Hines was shot dead following a night out in Coogee with friends.

Jai Abberton, himself a Bra, was charged with the killing but found not guilty. But the high-profile death brought more attention to the surfing gang for all the wrong reasons.

When Russell Crowe made a documentary about the group then announced he would direct a full length feature film through NBC Universal, everyone in Sydney's east wanted a piece of the gang and their infamy.

But just who were the true Bra Boys was lost with everyone in Maroubra calling themselves that.

The movie was never made, four rewrites of a script failing to satisfy Crowe, even though he had the right Point Break meets Pulp Fiction style storyline.

 

Actor Russell Crowe (C) flanked by Bra Boys figureheads, surfing star Koby Abberton (L) and Sunny Abberton at the premiere of the documentary film 'Bra Boys' at the State Theatre in Sydney. Picture: Supplied
Actor Russell Crowe (C) flanked by Bra Boys figureheads, surfing star Koby Abberton (L) and Sunny Abberton at the premiere of the documentary film 'Bra Boys' at the State Theatre in Sydney. Picture: Supplied

 

At the height of the 2005 Cronulla riots a full-page press release was issued under the heading "Bra Boys Members Offer Support" in which the Abberton brothers appealed for calm on the beaches several headlands away.

A cynic may say it was an "up yours" to police who were in open conflict with the Cronulla set, others could claim it to be elder youth statesmen addressing a community issue.

The Bra Boys influence has diminished significantly since those times and they are no longer the tribe they were but the tag comes up every now and then and the working class suburb still rallies around the good ones like last month when one of the original Bras Ricky Taylor died.

More than 600 people turned up to his funeral and pledged to his kids they now had hundreds of uncles and aunties who would always look out for them.

 

Sunny and Koby Abberton. Picture: Supplied
Sunny and Koby Abberton. Picture: Supplied

 

ONE OF THE TOUGH GUYS

Anthony Hines was a dark-haired, olive-skinned teen from Coogee.

Like the Maroubra boys, Tony - or Hinesy as he was known - liked to surf. But he stood out as one of the tougher guys who hung out at the shops on McKeon St. The Abbertons knew not to mess with him.

At 18, he had a criminal record.

The Abbertons learnt early on Hines wasn't someone worth getting off-side.

Keeping him close and agreeing with everything he said was the safest bet.

One day Jai Abberton was in the backyard when someone climbed the fence. It was Hines, huffing and puffing.

"Go to the post office and see if the bloke's still alive,'' Hines yelled at him.

 

Violent criminal Tony Hines in Hollywood in 2002, a year before he was killed. Picture: Supplied
Violent criminal Tony Hines in Hollywood in 2002, a year before he was killed. Picture: Supplied

 

The then-12-year-old Jai didn't quite understand what was going on but obediently rushed to the local shops at Hines's command. The boys never said no to Hines.

Jai found the local postman lying in a pool of blood and shattered glass on the floor of the post office; he'd been thrown through the front window.

Hines had stolen his two-stroke delivery cycle and, when the postie gave chase, Hines turned and gave him a beating.

The victim suffered a fractured skull, broken legs, severe bruising and deep glass cuts to his back. While he was in hospital, Hines warned him that if he complained to police his family would suffer.

When the police tried to investigate the matter the postie wouldn't co-operate, fearing reprisals.

It was the first of many bashings. A year after the attack on the postman, Jai witnessed another bloody encounter, this time between Hines and three men outside the Maroubra Bay Hotel.

"We were just on the way back from the surf one day and we noticed a fight over at the pub,'' Jai later recalled.

"Three fellows … he knocked one out, then he knocked the other one out and the third bloke came out of the pub, a big bloke, and Tony kicked him in the head.''

Whether it was Hines getting mixed up with the wrong people or people getting mixed up with the wrong side of Hines, trouble seems to follow him around.

The Abbertons' association with Hines would almost always end in trouble. And on one night in August 2003 it would end in death.

While Koby Abberton's life as a pro surfer was hitting the heights, Jai's world was falling apart.

Koby was making up to $200,000 a year surfing big waves around the world.

He would look for locations on the internet then get his boards and dog-eared passport and head off the next day.

He wanted to take big-wave surfing to a new level.

But Jai had suffered a back injury that made it hard for him to continue surfing professionally. He began to move into a dark world, hanging out with a bad crowd of thieves and heroin dealers.

 

Violent criminal and murder victim Anthony (Tony) Gerard Vincent Hines in prison, Hines was shot in the head and thrown off a cliff at Mistral Point, north of Maroubra in 2003. Picture: Supplied
Violent criminal and murder victim Anthony (Tony) Gerard Vincent Hines in prison, Hines was shot in the head and thrown off a cliff at Mistral Point, north of Maroubra in 2003. Picture: Supplied

On Tuesday, August 5, it was unusually busy in the Coogee Bay Hotel. Hines's imposing figure appeared at the doorway, with his daughter Lily.

With his shoulder-length dark shaggy hair and fat moustache, he looked more like an extra from a B-grade 1970s movie than the no-nonsense tough guy he was known to be.

Jai walked into the bar with his girlfriend at about 8.30pm. Looking about the room he saw Mr M. Then he saw Hines and, nodding at both men, quickly steered Sarah (not her real name) in the opposite direction.

"S …," he says.

"What's that," Sarah responds.

"Ah, nothing. What are you drinking?"

Sarah asks for a bourbon and coke and Jai walks over to the bar to order, leaving her standing at a tall table on the left-hand side of the bar next to the TAB.

Jai hopes Hines is too drunk to bother coming over to him and Sarah. "He is a maggot," Jai murmurs to himself before collecting the drinks and going to the table.

From across the room, Hines stares at Jai and Sarah - particularly at Sarah. He has never seen her before, but likes what he sees.

"I'm gonna pull her," he says, almost to himself.

"What's that, mate?" Mr M asks.

 

An aerial photograph of Coogee Bay Hotel, Coogee Bay. Picture: Supplied
An aerial photograph of Coogee Bay Hotel, Coogee Bay. Picture: Supplied

 

"I'm going to end up with her tonight," he says looking off towards the couple drinking at a table and watching TV. Mr M smiles. He has seen it all before.

After about 20 minutes, one by one, the men join Jai and Sarah at their table, and Sarah is introduced by Jai as his new girl.

As Hines sits down at the new table, Mr M notices for the first time that evening that Hinesy had a dark-handled handgun tucked down the front of his jeans.

Mr M is not overly surprised. He has heard the stories and has seen Hines with a gun twice before while drinking at public bars.

The standover man has often boasted of carrying protection when he goes out. But the weapon's presence still startles Mr M, and he tries to forget about it.

Hines turns back to Sarah. He stares at her for a while then downs his drink and walks over to the bar. Jai leans across to Sarah and, over the din of the noisy bar, tells her to stick close, that the big guy in the singlet wanted to get him.

Sarah is surprised - they all appear to be old friends.

But after they have had at least three drinks each, she decides she wants to go home and suggests they leave.

Jai tells her everything is OK, suggesting they have one more drink. Hines catches the last word and, smiling broadly, suggests they spice up the drinking with a cocktail of ecstasy.

He tells the group that you can buy anything you want in Coogee and slams money on the table to put in his order.

About 20 minutes later, and no-one is sure how or from whom, a small pile of ecstasy pills appears on the table. One of the group had gone down to the beach and bought them and put them in the middle of the table.

Hines divvies up the haul but Sarah, who is too tired to be bothered sparking up, puts hers into her plastic cigarette packet wrapper to save for later.

"No, it's not takeaway. You have it now. I've paid for it, you have it now," Hines orders, with a hint of aggression, staring deep into Sarah's eyes.

Sarah looks around the table and decides to bite the pill in half and give the other portion back to Hines.

She glances over at Jai and sees he has crushed his on the table and is snorting it off the tabletop, although it appears he is actually pushing most of it off the table and just pretending to inhale it.

Jai gives Sarah a reassuring look, so she swallows her half.

After chasing it down with the remainder of her drink, she again tells Jai she wants to leave.

As Hines gets up to go to the toilet he brushes his hand along the right side of her thigh, sending a tingle through her body.

There is something sinister, deliberate, about the brush past, and she shifts uncomfortably on her stool.

Jai, sensing her unease, leans into his girl and tells her to sit closer to him.

"You stick with me, You're with us," he says. "You come and sit over next to me - that guy wants to get me."

Sarah now realises Jai is more scared of Hines than she had guessed.

Maybe it is the ecstasy, or maybe it was the firm brush across her thigh, but Sarah now understands the party is not just a group of friends catching up, but Hines standing over their gang, controlling their conversation, their actions and the night.

Police scour roadside overlooking cliff in Marine Parade, Maroubra after discovery of blood stain on road before body of underworld figure Anthony (Tony) Gerard Vincent Hines shortly recovered from underwater cave, north of Mistral Point. Picture: Nathan Edwards.
Police scour roadside overlooking cliff in Marine Parade, Maroubra after discovery of blood stain on road before body of underworld figure Anthony (Tony) Gerard Vincent Hines shortly recovered from underwater cave, north of Mistral Point. Picture: Nathan Edwards.

"Let's just go, I want to go home," Sarah says to Jai finally.

Jai finishes his drink and announces they are leaving. Everyone else at the table seems to have had the same thought and they all nod and stand up. Even Hines, whose eyes have not left Sarah, stands and agrees they should all go.

"We're going to r. t this sheila," Hines suddenly says to another drinking buddy.

Jai and Sarah don't notice Hines until they arrive at her Nissan, parked outside a bank about 50m away from the bar. Sarah unlocks the doors of her 4WD and gets in. Jai starts to climb into the front passenger seat but is nudged out of the way by Hines.

"Get in the f...... back," Hines says in a half-whisper.

Sarah looks over as she puts the key in the ignition and, to her surprise, sees Hines is sitting in the front seat and Jai is sitting behind him in the back.

She has only just met Hines and thinks it weird that he now commands the front with her. She looks in the rear-vision mirror at Jai who, with a resigned wave of the hand, says: "Just go."

By the morning, Hines would be dead …

Edited extract from My Brother's Keeper, by Angela Kamper and Charles Miranda, published by Allen & Unwin, $24.95.