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Stuff: The Mongrel Mob-ster

The Mongrel Mob-ster who worked for Peter Jackson

Bino Smith can always tell when people are distracted by the bulldog on the back of his hand.

And he’s not ashamed of it – the infamous Mongrel Mob insignia is one of his designs after all.

Just as well too. Despite failing high school, twice, the skills he learned as a Mob artist in the late 1980s and 1990s helped land him a job as a set finisher on the set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“I was in the first 10, so one of the originals. I was there to carve. That’s how I got on.”

The other door into the coveted Weta Workshop was through a friend who worked on the set, he said. Those at Weta Workshop didn’t even look at Bino’s CV. If someone could vouch for you, you were in back in those days.

His history with the Mob was never an issue during his time working for Jackson, he said.

“He knew though, everyone knew.”

Bino is Ngati Toa, and calls Porirua home. He’s lived in Hamilton since 2009.

His life with the mob began at age 15, some years after his mother walked out on his five brothers and five sisters, he said.

“She left us when I was small and I remember to this day, I said to her, ‘can I go with you?’ and she said no.

“I was eight. Seven years later I was patched up.”

He learned Maori just in time for her funeral in 2013.

“Basically my mother died halfway through my training, so I did a speech for her. And I had to speak for the first time ever in Maori on the marae. Half the cousins didn’t know I was learning Maori and they just started crying.

“They all said oh my God, your mum would have been so proud.”

When LOTR ended, Bino said he got to know Jackson and his family well when he was invited around to the movie director’s house. It was there Jackson learned Bino’s home marae was Hongowae Bay, “around the corner” from Jackson’s birthplace at Pukerua Bay.

“It was a few years after the Rings and he said, where you from Bino?

“I said, just around the corner from you, mate, I’m from Hongoeka Bay. Soon as I said Hongoeka Bay he said, ‘what, why haven’t you said that before?’ and I said, ‘why would I?’ “

“It’s not like I’m going to say, oh you went to college with Pania and Aunty Patty is my aunty.”

He’s a founding member of the Dunedin chapter of the Mob and they’ll always be whanau, he said, even though he left in 1993.

“Some chapters, when you leave, you get the bash, but it really comes down to your mana. We were tighter than most chapters because we were all sets of brothers.”

On the day he decided it was time to leave, it was a usual weekly meeting. It was emotional, he said, but peaceful – all things considered.

“I got up, took my patch off, put it on the table and said ‘I’m outta here’.

“More to life.”

Now, following his work on LOTR, King Kong and even a few years working on Peter Jackson’s estate in Masterton, Bino Smith the artist carves and sells precious pounamu and ornamental surfboards using just a craft knife, and does pencil drawings.

His goal is to get into public speaking and inspire people who may feel they don’t have what it takes to chase their dreams.

It”s rather an unexpected journey – from being “patched up” at 15 to painting the walls of Minas Tirith, but Bino still thinks he’s a cliche.

“The irony is, I’m getting into motivating and inspiring people and something I struggle to see what I am worth.”

“I always thought i was another ex-gang member trying to do good. There’s 1000s of us. And I was talking to my brother one day, who’s still patched up and he said, you’re not a cliche.

“He said, did they work with Peter Jackson, did they teach Tai chi with elderly? Can they speak Maori now?

“My goal now is to show, not just Maori, show troubled youth, unemployed, anyone that feels like they can’t achieve something – that it’s achievable. I can do it.”

Originally published on the Stuff.co.nz website, click here to view.