‘Pa Ropata’ McGowan awarded prestigious Waikato University medal

Pa Ropata McGowan

A lifetime’s service to healing the land has seen Waikato University honour Tauranga Catholic, Rob McGowan with a prestigious award.

Known to many as ‘Pa Ropata’, McGowan is this year’s University of Waikato Medal recipient.

The award recognises community service at a local or regional level.

“Rob has made a significant and sustained contribution to regenerating degraded land and streams and to educating others in protecting Aotearoa’s indigenous ecosystems,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley.

“For his long-standing contributions, I am very pleased to award him the University of Waikato Medal.”

McGovern has spent his career “helping regenerate our biodiversity and educating others about our native ecosystems and how to protect them,” Professor Alister Jones, representing Quigley, said at the award ceremony.

Learning about healing

McGowan wants all New Zealanders to be more connected to the land – the trees, plants, birds and animals. It’s been his mission for decades.

Now more than ever, we need to pay attention to what we’re doing to Mother Earth, he says.

“Heal the land, and you heal the people.” He’s known that since he was a nipper.

His Dalmatian immigrant mother used traditional plants and herbs for wellness and well-being. Watching her sparked his lifetime interest in the New Zealand bush and healing.

It also drew him to treat the whole person, the physical, mental and spiritual (wairua).

McGowan’s first vocation as a priest also contributed to his career as a healer.

When the Catholic church sent him to Whanganui to learn te reo, with support from local Māori, McGowan was able to hone his skills in traditional Māori medicine.

While he could identify and name many plants, it took a while to “join the dots”, and understand and learn Māori concepts involving mauri (life force) tikanga, wairua and rongoā.

“It’s not just about fixing the sick, it’s about giving them hope, and they will learn to be well,” he says.

Service to others

Serving people and healing the land encapsulates McGovern’s life’s work to date. He

  • is a Māori health strategy consultant for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board
  • travels the country training people in rongoā Maori. He struggles to keep up with the hunger for the knowledge, but he is glad as it’s “meeting people’s needs,” he says.
  • is a co-founding member of Tāne’s Tree Trust (1999)
  • is a long-standing member of DOCs Ngā Whenua Rahui unit, protecting indigenous ecosystems on Māori-owned land
  • has spent 30 years teaching rongoā Māori
  • teaches people how to find the plants they need in the bush and collect them without damaging the plant
  • teaches rongoā Māori tikanga
  • planted a rongoā garden at home to help students learn plant identification
  • helps run a small nursery for the Waitao Landcare Group.
  • has written Rongoā Māori – a Practical Guide to Traditional Māori Medicine
  • is a former chair of the Bay of Plenty Conservation Board, the Kaimai-Mamaku Catchments Forum founding chair and a New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists life member
  • championed Tiwaiwaka, six principles which create a philosophy for our approach to life and restoration of our natural world.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Palmerston, Top Story.

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