Bill Nepia was born in Tolaga Bay and was educated at Tokomaru Primary School, Tokomaru District High School and Te Aute College. He studied part-time at Victoria University while working as a Social Science Cadet for the Department of Māori Affairs. In 1955 he married Margaret (Peggy) Barraclough who was also working in the Department of Māori Affairs and had four sons. After further study at Auckland University and Massey University, Nepia graduated with a B.A. in Education in 1967. He worked as a Māori Welfare Officer in Auckland for several years and then trained at Auckland Teachers’ College. He subsequently taught at Te Whanau a Apanui District High School and Te Aute. Nepia established and taught in the Māori Studies programme at Palmerston North Teachers’ College for four years. From 1974-1987 he was responsible for founding and heading the Māori Studies Department at the University of Canterbury. Nepia chaired the local branch of the Advisory Committee to the Vocational Training Council that helped to initiate the introduction of Māori and Pacific Island Studies at Christchurch Polytech. He also assisted in formulating the Māori course at Christchurch Teachers’ College. In the field of education he was one of the pioneers of contemporary wananga, taking groups to rural marae where they could meet the people and experience traditional protocols of marae first-hand. In the late 1960s he took Palmerston North Teachers’ College staff to Tokomaru Bay for a wananga with the local people.
Nepia was South Island news reporter for National Māori News. He composed haka and action songs for the Te Kotahitanga group in Christchurch and for various school and university groups. He helped establish a branch of Nga Puna Waihanga (Māori Artists and Writers’ Association) in Christchurch.
Throughout his life Nepia maintained strong ties with Tokomaru Bay and would frequently return there for tangi and other gatherings. He was a member of various marae committees and was involved in land and fisheries issues. He was a key witness in the landmark case of Tom Te Weehi v The Crown where the exercising of customary fishing rights was recognised as a legitimate defence. Nepia was an adviser to many educational groups and conciliator on a number of local issues such as the dawn raids on Pacific Island overstayers in the 1970s. He was on the Board of a Social Welfare Boys’ Home in Christchurch.
Nepia was an active sportsman who was selected to be a Māori All Black and played representative rugby for Auckland for a number of years. He also played for Auckland, Victoria and New Zealand Universities. He was keenly involved in masters swimming with the Wharenui Club in Christchurch where he also coached swimming and produced the bi-monthly newsletter in 1986.
In 1973, along with Hone Tuwhare and Para Matchitt, he was one of the founders of the Māori Writers and Artists’ Association (Nga Puna Waihanga). He has acted in Rowley Habib’s play Death of the Land (1978), and in Hone Tuwhare’s play On Ilka Moor B’aht ‘at.He has also worked as a broadcaster and director of radio and television. In the 1980s he was a columnist for the Sunday Star. He writes plays for theatre and television and has written a film script, Milo Dobro Ehoa, concerning the Māori-Dalmatians relationship in Northland’s gumfields.
He has had an active involvement in television work, writing scripts, advising, reporting, producing documentaries.
- Phone conversation and correspondence with Peggy Nepia-Muru, 2 and 9 Sep. 1998, 27 July 2004 and 25 Feb. 2005.
- Polynesian and Pakeha in New Zealand Education. Ed. Douglas H. Bray and Clement G. H. Hill. Vol. 2. Ethnic Difference and the School. Auckland, N.Z.: Heinemann, 1974. 244.
- "Māori Studies for Teachers Colleges." E. L. Archer and B. A. Nepia. Polynesian and Pakeha in New Zealand Education. Ed. Douglas H. Bray and Clement G. H. Hill. Vol. 2. Ethnic Difference and the School. Auckland, N.Z.: Heinemann, 1974. 177-186.
- Archer and Nepia write that ‘[t]he purpose of this paper is to consider some of the reasons for including Māori Studies as a core course for all teachers college students; to indicate some of the content and the teaching methods which are likely to be employed; and to suggest some of the educational implications of such a course for the student, both as student and as future teacher.’
- "One Master’s Story." N. Z. Master Swimmers Magazine: Masterscrawl Nov. 1985. No furthr details.
- An autobiographical account.
- Hui Taumata. No details.
- Nepia discusses the economic state of Māori, suggests various areas of restructuring for the Department of Māori Affairs and outlines his viewpoints on the impact of Pakeha colonisation on the Māori, land settlements, Māori political representation in Parliament, and presents a case for republicanism.
- Mana 1.3 (Aug 4, 1977): 2.
- Nepia sends a short greeting in English and Māori to the Mana readers and writes of his hope that Mana ‘continues to develop as a Mouthpiece for us all.’
- Wharenui Swimming Magazine (Christchurch, N.Z.), 1986.
- A bi-monthly newsletter published in Christchurch, N.Z.
- "Ka Tau Ra" [First line] Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 1.1 (May 1985): n.pag.
- Māori language text.
- Pohatu, Godfrey. H. "Poroporoaki Ki a Wiremu Te Awaroa Nepia." Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 3.1 (May 1987): 3.
- "Taped Record of Unusual Course." Auckland Star 31 May 1967. No further details