Bino Smith

Mobster turned Artist - Story by Tony Cutting

I grew up with Bino on Hongoeka Marae in Plimmerton, Wellington.  Bino lived on the Marae “up the hill” with his dad and four other older siblings, three sisters and a brother and was the youngest of the family for some time until his father brought a new partner home and started a new family with Bino now in the reverse sibling role being the oldest kid living at home with four younger brothers and younger sister to look out for.  Bino attended Plimmerton School and went on to Aotea College before joining his older brother and brother In-Law in the Mongrel Mob.

What I can tell you is that he was always an awesome artist, I have vivid memories of Bino drawing when we were very young (primary school age) and watching in awe as he created wonderful images and inspired many of us to at least try to draw.

Yes, he is a former Mongrel Mob member, but now he is an absolutely world class multimedia artist and sculptor, having honed his skills as a set finisher for Peter Jackson on Lord of the Rings.

He can always tell when people are distracted by the bulldog tattoo on the back of his hand. 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."

Bino is Ngati Toa Rangatira, and still calls Hongoeka Bay, Plimmerton and Porirua City home. He's lived in Hamilton since 2009.

Losing his Mum and joining the Mob
His life with the mob began at age 15, some years after his mother walked out on his brothers and sisters. "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 te reo 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 Lord of the Rings ended, Bino said he got to know Jackson and his family well, especially as he was working at the movie director's house. It was there Jackson learned of Bino's home marae at Hongoeka 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 my cousin Pania and Aunty Patty is my aunty."

Dunedin and leaving the Mob
Bino is 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."

A new beginning
Already an accomplished artist I know it was no co-incidence Bino scored a job working on Lord of the Rings, followed by working on Peter Jackson’s next big movie ‘King Kong’.  He followed on helping Peter out after this for a few years working on his estate in Masterton, helping recreate the sets and building what can only be described as a phenomenal playground for the movie actors, producers and friends that visit and stay with him.  

Bino Smith the artist carves and sells precious pounamu, and limestone as well as creates beautiful ornamental surfboards.  His talent is not limited to carving as he creates superb pencil drawings with a future plan to create a unique series of adult colouring books.

Some initial drawings that maybe used for his first colouring book

A long term goal is to take up public speaking to help inspire people (possibly troubled teenagers) who may feel they don't have what it takes to chase their dreams.  With his life experience I would certainly agree he has the right presence and attitude, along with one of the most incredible life stories to share.

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 cliché.

"The irony is, I'm getting into motivating and inspiring people and sometimes I struggle to see what I am worth." I explain to him this is natural we all doubt ourselves at times, but few people have a real life experiences like his that really demonstrate you can make it from whatever background, or position you are in.

Bino explains "I always thought I was another ex-gang member trying to do good, there’s literally 1000s of us. And I was talking to my brother one day, who's still patched up and he said, you're not a cliché. "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."

As well as starting on his adult colouring in book, Bino has just completed a beautiful carved surfboard for Kiwi Rugby league star Isaac Luke.

A happy Isaac Luke with his custom Bino surfboard featuring his league whakapapa
 a gift from his wife.

Well cousin I wish all the best for all your endeavours, keep dreaming and working on your goals the world is a greater place with you creating your wonderful art in it.  

You can check out more of Bino’s art at Facebook Bino Smith Art