In 1992, after completing 10 Grade at the Lae Provincial High School, 16-year-old Anthony Wagambie Jr, photocopied his grade 10 certificate at a shop in Lae City and sent it off with a handwritten expression of interest to join the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
The letter, sent by registered mail, was done in secrecy and without the consent of his mother and father, who was then the Police Metropolitan Superintendent of Lae.
“I saved all my pocket money for that job,” he says with a grin. “Registered mail was K2 and that was a lot of money at the time. My parents didn’t know.”
For Anthony Wagambie Jr, there was never a doubt in his mind as to what he wanted to do in life. From an early age, he pretended he was a cop. When played, he wore wearing matching blue tracksuits and carried a baton and a toy pistol. As a teenager, he listened to the police radio instead of music.”
Then at the first opportunity, he tried enlisting in the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
“I had to make up an excuse to go to town that day when I sent off my application to join the constabulary.”
Weeks later, his dad, Anthony Wagambie Sr. received a call from the Bomana Police College querying his son’s application. Academically, Anthony Wagambie Jr did well in high school school and was expected to get a placing at a higher education institution.
“My plan was if I got selected and my parents didn’t agree, I would run away and join the police force anyway.
“My parents were very annoyed with me for not telling them about my application. My dad replied, to the college saying: ‘Take his name off the list.”
It was a major drawback for a 16-year-old with his heart set of becoming a cop. He was somewhat encouraged by advice from his father that enrollments would open for officer cadets and that he could apply if he wished. His first priority, however, was to get an education.
Months later, Anthony Wagambie Jr was accepted to what was then Divine Word Institute for matriculation studies. But his relentless pursuit to become a police officer like his father didn’t stop. By the end of the first semester of 1994, he sent off a second expression of interest to the Bomana Police College which was accepted.
“It wasn’t something I thought about. There was no difficulty of choice. I knew what I wanted to do.”
Anthony Wagambie Jr is a third generation cop. Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers served in the pre independence constabulary and retired in the 1970s. Born in Anjou Hospital, Lae in 1976, he is, what he calls, a “Lae kid.”
“There is a difference between being a Morobean and being a ‘Mangi Lae.’ A Morobean is ‘asples’ or someone who has land and a village here. A ‘Mangi Lae’ is a person like me, born and raised here.”
He was baptized at St. Mary’s Catholic Church by police chaplain, Fr. Brian Barnes who later Became Archbishop of Port Moresby.
“My parents were married with full police honors. I was born, baptized and raised here in Lae. Our family home is at Eriku. Lae is my home.”
Anthony Wagambie Jr spent his childhood traversing the length and breath of the Momase and the Highlands region. The family moved from province to province as Anthony Wagambie Sr. took up various commands.
In latter part of 1994, Anthony discarded the option of entering first year of journalism studies at Divine Word University and joined a handful of other hopefuls who were called to the Bumbu Police Barracks in in Lae where a police recruitment team screened their applications.
“Over the years, a lot of people have talked about how I got into the police force because my father was a senior officer,” he says. “They don’t tell you directly but you know and you hear about it. Actually, I got selected and it wasn’t because of my dad.”
As a serving member of the constabulary, he was always mindful of the fact that his father was a senior commander in the RPNGC. On one occasion, as a mobile squad commander, he found himself reporting to his father who was then tasked to manage the highlands.
“I still called him Sir. I saluted him just like any other officer and I carried out his orders. He never treated me any different from the other policemen and women.
“When I did something wrong, he would call me up on the radio and blast me while everyone was listening.”
At 29, Wagambie Jr became the Provincial Police Commander for Madang, a post he held for 6 years. As a younger member of the constabulary, he said it is important to seek advice and guidance from older more experienced subordinates.
“I am fortunate that I worked with good people who helped me along the way.” As a serving officer rising through the ranks, he was always cautious about offers of promotion. Towards the end of his father’s service, Wagambie Sr. was appointed Commissioner of Police.
“I was willing to sacrifice some promotions during that time. I didn’t want people to say: ‘his father gave him the job.’” I want to earn my own respect and not live under my father’s shadow.
“I had to let him serve out his term as Commissioner of Police before I even considered promotions.
“I wanted to work hard for the ranks. Because, you know, I had big shoes to fill.”
More than 10 months ago, Anthony Wagambie Jr. Was appointed Metropolitan Superintendent of Lae, the post his father held for 8 years in the 1990s. Coming back to the place of his birth has been fulfilling both personally and professionally.
“Lae City is a good command for a police officer. Resources are scarce and it is difficult but it forces you to become creative in how you do policing. It is a good place to learn.
“The place you were born is always very special to you,” he says.