The rebuilding of Tapu Te Ranga Marae, Paekawakawa (Island Bay)

The rebuilding of Tapu Te Ranga Marae, Paekawakawa (Island Bay)


By Lawrence Wharerau

The basis of it all, is you shift because the grass is greener and the grass was green in Wellington.

Bruce Stewart, Tapu Te Ranga Marae, 1996

Tapu Te Ranga Marae. Image credit Stewart Whānau

In the early to mid-1970s, with time on his hands to contemplate his next direction in life, Bruce Stewart had a vision to create a space for “the down and outs, the nobodies…” where they could take stock of their situation and recalibrate their lives. To provide shelter and comfort for the homeless, the ex-prisoner, the gang member looking to change their ways, the street kids, the desperate and those living on the fringe of society. This vision led to the building of the innovative Tapu Te Ranga Marae in Paekawakawa, Island Bay.

Built almost entirely from recycled materials and creative imagination, Tapu Te Ranga Marae has provided shelter for thousands of people over the

years – people who needed to momentarily step out of the race.

The impressive and unique structure incorporating ten different whare over nine levels was dedicated to women and especially to the mother Bruce, to his shame, often denied in his childhood. His mother, Hinetai Hirini, was of Ngāti Raukawa whakapapa.

Another dream Bruce initiated was to create a sanctuary for birds and plants; an island pā. This saw thousands of plants reared at the marae nursery planted over the 50 hectares of hilly country surrounding the complex. Bruce strongly believed in the principle of ahi kā and of giving back. He felt that we each have a responsibility to make a better world and to protect the environment.

He certainly had his naysayers and doubters. It was with determined grit, commitment and passion that Bruce pushed on to achieve his vision, to a level some considered arrogance. His unconventional approach often saw him butt heads with authorities and earned him several visits from local council building and health inspectors. Nonetheless he continued, determined to complete his dream.

When he passed away in June 2017 this passion was picked up by his whānau and staunch supporters to continue his legacy. He was buried at a spot overseeing his dream.

Almost two years later, to the day, the complex was razed to the ground in a tragic accident that saw only the nursery shed survive the inferno.

Fire inspectors discovered that an unattended brazier, that was believed to have been doused, was fanned back to life by a steady breeze which saw embers blow into the downstairs laundry area, sparking the tragic fire.

Bruce’s daughter Pare was in labour when the fire was discovered and in the time it took her to get from her home next door to the marae, the complex was already beyond saving. All available fire units from Palmerston North south were scrambled to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to neighbouring properties.

Two years later, Pare, her whānau and supporters are still dead set and committed to rebuilding Tapu Te Ranga Marae from the ground up. This time, with the support of neighbours, council, government and sponsors, they are keen to reconstruct the complex with the required resource consents and compliance.

For the Stewart whānau, Tapu Te Ranga Marae was more than a marae, it was a huge commitment, with the complex also serving as their home, their church, their university – the place they could receive guests from far and wide and share Bruce’s philosophy of giving back to the birds and trees.

Pou from Tapu Te Ranga

A taste of history – Dick Lee & Co. at Wellington Museum

A taste of history – Dick Lee & Co. at Wellington Museum


By Ian Wards

Celadon spoons

These spoons were probably made in Southern China during the late 19th or early 20th century. They are an everyday type of spoon, used for eating a variety of delicious Chinese soups. They get their name from their green, jade-like, celadon glaze.

They were used at Dick Lee & Co., a shop near the corner of Tory and Jessie Streets in Te Aro, from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Dick Lee & Co. sold imported goods to the Chinese community of central Wellington and a variety of traditional Chinese medicines. It was a popular spot for older Chinese to gather and talk over a game of mahjong or a nourishing bowl of soup.

That’s where the spoons come in.

The owner of Dick Lee & Co., Chung Chun Ying, inherited the business from his uncle Chung Tack Foon, who returned to China with his family in 1929. Chung Ying was skilled in traditional Cantonese cooking. As well as selling imported Chinese goods and medicines, Chung Ying devoted a great deal of time to preparing and cooking nourishing cuisine.

Chung Ying, also known as Chung Dick Lee, date unknown. Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-170343-F

These spoons would have been used to enjoy Chung Ying’s hearty rice congee soups. They would also have been used to eat other soups made with pork bones, Chinese dried mushrooms, dried vegetables, and herbs. These soups provided Chung Ying’s patrons with the authentic taste and the aroma of ‘home’.

Soup wasn’t Chung Ying’s only specialty. In his recently published collection of childhood memories, Newtown Boy, Stan Chun suggests that the clientele of Dick Lee & Co. also gathered in the shop because Chung Ying, “… made a real mean roast duck. There was nothing like it.” Stan describes how Chung Ying would make his way to the livestock markets on Allen Street and select “… a squawking duck with wings flapping all over the place…”, then use

“…various herbs to marinate the duck and roast it in his gas-fired oven. When ready the duck was chopped into bite-sized pieces with a Chinese cleaver. The meat was something else, almost melting in your mouth… I cannot explain the flavour of the juice, texture and fragrance of the duck, but believe me that Chung Ying earned the title of Roast Duck Master.”

At Wellington Museum we are fortunate to have a rice grinding mill and a medicinal herb grinder from Dick Lee & Co. Chung Tack Foon was a renowned Chinese traditional herbalist – a talent shared with his nephew Chung Ying. Using herbs, plant extracts and other natural ingredients, the store was popular in treating numerous ailments. Herbs were hand-ground until electrical grinders became available.

The Dick Lee & Co. mills are on display in The Attic at Wellington Museum, alongside small drawers which can be opened to release the smell of the herbs used at the Dick Lee shop.

Dick Lee & Co. had such a great community influence that it became something of a makeshift Citizens Advice Bureau.

Chinese interpreter William Lip Guey in front of Dick Lee & Co, 1974. Photograph by Nigel Murphy. Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-200872-F

A respected man, William Lip Guey would often be present to translate documents and explain laws for members of the Chinese community. Perhaps advice was better received alongside a calming bowl of Chung Ying’s congee or some delicious roast duck?