From Bruce Stewart’s view, conservation of the environment is all about his Maori spirituality…whaunautanga. He sees the universe as the big whanau…they are many and yet they are all one. They are separate and yet they need each other. It started from Te Kore (the nothing) and has developed to where it is now. To Bruce no-one is The Boss…it goes by itself.
Wairua is central to his belief. He says it is in the word - wairua, the two waters. When the two (opposite or different) are in balance, there is harmony. So when someone says there is a lovely Wairua in your house, they are saying it feels good. He says, “Send the children in; they’ll soon sniff it out.”
In the Maori story of creation, the separation of Rangi and Papa is about the intervention of Tane the Kaitiaki, to turn chaos back into harmony. "Western thinking, with their belief that God has given them dominion over all living things has upset the fragile balance" says Bruce. "By and large, humans are the great predators, it would all go better without them. If humans went into extinction our environment would recover quickly".
He believes humans also have the capacity to wake up The Tane inside and become The Kaitiaki (caretaker, protector and balancer). Bruce believes we all have a strong pull towards conservation because the memory is still there, it is who we are. So right from the start, while he was still in prison, he decided he would somehow buy back The Whenua to set it free. Being private owners was putting The Whenua at risk as it can easily be lost, so he set up the Tapu Te Ranga Trust.
So when he purchased the Manawa Karioi Whenua off The Sisters of the Home of Compassion he decided that most of the whenua - two thirds - would be completely in Native Bush. The other third would be the Marae, but would also have Native Bush with other native plants.
Since the 1850’s Wellington’s great Northern Rata were cut down to build the city. It has been built, demolished and rebuilt three times. A that time, if a Northern Rata had been planted it would have developed to a beautiful late adolescent by now.
In 1974, together with many young unemployed maori youth, Bruce started planting native trees to heal the whenua. He set up building contacts and asked the young ones if they would consider pooling their wages to build a Marae. They said no; they wanted their wages. He could not find anyone willing to work together to buy the whenua to set it free. He started on a long personal journey to buy The Whenua. He bought the properties in his own name and other good people helped him to set up Tapu Te Ranga Trust to transfer the properties for safe keeping. His intention was always to have his family Marae and to share it with the big whanau.
He continued to search for the ideal Native Plant Collection for the Marae. He read of Maggie Wassilief's idea of restoring the original native bush and decided to follow that line for the two thirds. For the other third the idea of rare and endangered plants with emphasis on local became the plan. Over both areas, the idea of plants to be used was 'ethno botanical' - plants used for weaving and rongoa (medicinal), ceremonial uses, to mark an occasion or where a whenua (wahi whenua) or ashes (wahi pungarehu) were buried. If they were landscaped with pohatu (rocks) and pou whenua (sculpture), the combination resulted in gardens of beauty and to inspire others to use native plants for their ornamental gardens.
In 1990 Manawa Karioi Society was formed. They were given the management of the two thirds. They are volunteers from the local community who have worked regularly over the last fifteen years. They have become experts in the field of urban native reforestation. Bruce says their dedication has been constant, clocked up many thousands of hours and have led the way in the reforesting of Wellington with native plants, including The Wellington City Council.
Manawa Karioi Society and Tapu Te Ranga Trust together with The Home of Compassion are linked…different but there are areas of oneness. At the end of 1999, Sister Loyola visited Bruce - "A small group of us are coming over in the morning". Bruce said three of them arrived. They had a word of prayer and announced "In the spirit of Pope John Paul 11’s new millennium initiative for wealthy people and counties to write off debts owed to them by the poor, The Sisters of Compassion forgive you of the debt so you can get on with your dream". Bruce said he couldn’t talk, he was all choked up, ‘leaving me more than a little legless. It had been a long lonely journey meeting the obligations’. He said it was about $95,000. The forgiving was, and still is a biggie, especially since the Sisters were about to close The Hospital due to escalating costs. Bruce says, ‘Churches have a long history of accumulating Maori Whenua, this must be a first.’ Bruce says it suddenly gave him ten years as the whenua was due to be paid off by 2010.