Maori visionary's efforts saluted
Bill Rawiri's vision was to transform a largely derelict area, once surrounded by a rubbish tip, into a sanctuary for native birds and a thriving community centre to nurture Maori culture.
His dream is well on its way to becoming a reality, and he has earned this month's community champion award.
Mr Rawiri is the chairman and driving force of Newland's Nga Hau e Wha o Papararangi Society, an ecological, educational and cultural group.
Ohariu MP Peter Dunne chose Mr Rawiri as a community champion and pointed to Mr Rawiri's relentlessly hard work for his community. "It isn't just a marae. It has been built with the community and is a modern version of how you preserve these things," Mr Dunne said.
The society is situated by Waihinahina Park, which is now a landfill. The society aims to restore native bush in Horokiwi, "the breeding place of kiwi", and Newlands, originally called Pukehuia, "hill of the huia bird".
Mr Rawiri said that as the society planted more native bush every other weekend, the area attracted more native birds.
Its aim was to have kiwi as part of the landscape in 15 years.
"We will have a partnership with Otari, Zealandia and Matiu- Somes, to have corridors for the birds to come through.
"This place will soon be humming with tui."
The society was not stopping with birds, Mr Rawiri said.
It would soon introduce eels to the stream and grow plants to be used in Maori medicine.
"Here is an opportunity to restore the area, making it a modern version of what was once here."
The society was planting totara, so that in 300 years the timber would be mature enough to make a waka, he said.
Mr Rawiri said 90 per cent of Maori in Wellington were not from there, and it was a chance for them to reconnect with their marae.
"We are lucky that urban Maori, working with council, can utilise the land in this way."
Nga Hau e Wha o Papararangi has offered kapa haka and a community centre for more than 20 years, but became a formally established society last year.
It was the Christchurch earthquake that brought the society together, Mr Rawiri said.
After having several Cantabrians stay at the centre after the quake, he realised the focus should always be on the community, he said.
The society is now checking the civil defence procedures, through role playing, of the 12 marae in the Wellington area.
Mr Rawiri served in the military and gained recognition for his services to the Maori community.
He has been involved in several culture and whanau support groups, establishing one for Newlands College, and been a voice for the community on many issues.
Mr Dunne said Mr Rawiri would have lost count of the hours he had given to the community.
"Bill's vision is extraordinary. He got in behind the project and made it happen," Mr Dunne said.
"He has a lifetime of community achievement, making him a real community champion."