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Open Charlie

When I asked Tobias (name changed for safety) what it was like to be part of PNG’s mafia, he told me that “Papua New Guinea is too broke to have a mafia.”

Tobias is a short, squat man, nineteen years old, and one can easily imagine him bearing a comical scar that runs down his face like a hyperbolic Bond villain’s physical handicap. His mouth covers a significantly proportional amount of his face, and since he was fifteen years old, his lips have been ordering the top gang members of one of PNG’s most exclusive underground organisations. Such youth never phased Tobias, who has ruled this tribal-cum-urban empire of sorts from the age when most of us were being weaned off Pokemon and believing in Santa Claus. Nowadays, Tobias divides his time between Sydney and the jungles of PNG, and has even used his extensive contacts 2 begin a calisthenics lifestyle brand for Islanders in the Northern Beaches.

So where does such power come from? Well, having a father as one of Papua New Guinea’s richest individuals helps. Tobias suffers from the classic clinical condition of acting out of line for the attention which his parents’ money cannot grant. He has often come back to school with several buckets of lean whey protein powder, worth a couple of hundred dollars, all stolen by hacking the Woolworths self-serve checkout. Tobias steals despite his dad’s $300 million net worth, because shoplifting is one of the only thrills that money can’t buy.

I’m not really sure how I got this interview with Tobias. He is a regular visitor around my area, and everybody knows that you don’t approach “the Gorilla”, as they call him. The gorilla approaches you, and then proceeds to tear you apart. Another aphorism surrounding Tobias is that he doesn’t do anything if there’s not a material gain in it for himself; I’m hoping that this material gain doesn’t include waterboarding me in some hut in the middle of the PNG jungle for going beyond my journalistic license in this interview.

As I talk to Tobias, his current posse of women surrounds him. One can hardly accuse Tobias of being racially selective when it comes to his dating standards. There are Latinas, African-Americans, Hispanics, and plain ol’ white gals. However, just as Tobias is the head gorilla of his spiderweb of tribal guerrilla groups, he has a lady who heads up this band of female accompaniment. This lady’s name is Lilian, a feisty blonde-haired girl who gives out death stares like a pedophile hands out candy. One can see that, despite their differing skin tones, Tobias and Lilian were made for each other, much like the trough and the crest of two interfering waves cancel each other out. Not that Tobias is a theoretical physicist.

Tobias attributes his relative success to “a hard work ethic, a dogged determination and enough drugs to sedate (insert any politician).” Tobias claims to have started off with $40 and a backpack, and built “an empire out of the ashes of substance abuse and childhood neglect.”

When asked to recount one of the more difficult times in his life, Tobias told me about an incident that challenged him in ways he hadn’t thought possible. “I was thirteen, and I was heading off to the local markets to see if I could pawn off some stolen electronic goods. After making a solid couple of hundred to naïve tourists, me and my mate decided to take a taxi back to the compound where my dad was living at the time. We’d already spent most of the money on weed, and only had a little bit of cash left to burn. Turns out that was a bad decision.

“Turning into the side-street that led to the gates of the fenced-in compound, my taxi driver cut the corner and drifted over into the right-hand lane. Unfortunately, we clipped the side of an oncoming police car, who immediately flicked on his sirens, pulled out his baton, and licked his lips with relish at the thought of some more cop brutality. He ordered us to pull over, which we did at first. I’m sitting there freaking out, because I’ve got enough marijuana in my backpack to satiate Bob Dylan. So as the cop gets out of the car and walks over, I realise I’ve got to hide this stuff somehow. As I’m grabbing it out of my bag and stuffing it under the seat in front of me, the cop switches his flashlight on suddenly, and I’m caught in the headlights and freeze, holding several zip-lock bags of marijuana.

“Anyway, turns out that the taxi driver has bribed one too many cops, and even one more parking offence could land him in gaol. And you do not want to be in gaol in PNG. So he’s speeding off as fast as he can from this cop, because they’ve both seen the weed. The cop wouldn’t blame me, because he knows my dad can hand out hefty ‘incentives.’ So the taxi driver would be the one to cop the punishment for the narcotics. So he’s speeding off, heading for the hills where society blends into wilderness. The cop who gives up the chase after a couple of minutes. I’m sitting there still, clutching my weed to my chest like a teddy bear, wondering why the driver is still going when we the chase is obviously over.”

And wonder he did, for another two weeks. Tobias was eventually kicked out of the car by the taxi driver, who had a gun in the glovebox. Left alone in the PNG jungle, Tobias had to figure out how to fend for himself. “Definitely the scariest moment of my life. The drug-lords, the gangs, my father, none of it compares with one night in the wild. When you pit man against nature, man comes off second best every time.”

After traipsing through the relentless and unforgiving rainforest, Tobias finally stumbled upon a settlement. At least, that’s what he thought it was. Turns out it was the rural headquarters of a local drug cartel. Realising his mistake after approaching them, Tobias offers to sell the bags of weed in his backpack in exchange for membership in the gang (and thus protection). They’re not the smartest folks in the world, and so they jump at his offer.

And so begins Tobias’s incessant rise to power through the ranks of one of Papua New Guinea’s largest drug organisations. His business-minded attitude, inherited from his father, and a keen perception of human emotional capacity allowed him to manipulate those in the cartel into handing him promotions and pay rises. After a few months, Tobias returns to his father’s mansion to head up the cartel’s business in urban areas. Once he reaches the top position, Tobias branches out into more legal activities. “You can’t stay in the red of the ledger forever man,” he tells me. “One day, it’ll catch up with you. I’m starting my repentance early.” Tobias now runs supermarket stores, has founded a tech start-up in the country with the least internet access, and is head of a gambling agency. “Hopefully I can inspire a few kids from the local community. Turns out, even if you start with nothing, you can get somewhere.” Huh. Interesting words from a guy who’s dad is worth more than the lifetime pay packet of most Australians.

Still, Tobias has made something for himself despite his father’s ignorance of him as a child. What’s next for Tobias? “I’d like to have kids,” he tells me in a slightly sentimental tone. “Possibly with a harem of Indian wives.” Does he regret anything? “No, my decisions made me who I am today.”

I asked Tobias if he had any last advice for my readers. “Just remember, there’s no friends at the top.”

Being the best means being a lone wolf. Stay humble.

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