Matariki 2024 – Purewa Remembers Wiremu Paratene (William “Bill” Pratney)

Jun 25, 2024

This Matariki Purewa remembers Wiremu Paratene (William “Bill” Pratney), a practical Christian and arguably New Zealand’s greatest Māori cyclist.

His life story is about hardship, challenge, mental and physical strength, love and enduring achievement.


Born in 1909 to a Māori mother and a Pakeha father, Wiremu first experienced hardship when his mother died in childbirth. His maternal grandmother cared for him until, after five years, she also died. The Māori-speaking youngster then went into foster care, living in an orphanage and with a series of Pakeha families. During this time he became known as William Pratney.

From an early age Bill learned the value of hard physical work. His labours included driving a lorry to collect cream from local farmers in Whitford and Brookby for delivery to the East Tamaki dairy factory. It was arduous work that helped him build tremendous strength and stamina.


Young Pratney excelled at several sports, but cycling was his first love. As an 18-year-old he built his first cycle – a single-speed Wizard cycle, which he competed on for many years.

In 1930 aged 21, he had a serious crash resulting in breaking three major bones and serious abrasions and blood loss. As a result, he had a permanently deformed hand. His physical and mental toughness triumphed and within a short time he was back on his beloved Wizard cycle.

Among his many wins were the New Zealand 100 mile Road Championship in 1937, the 217 km Waimate to Christchurch race in 1950, and the160 km Timaru to Christchurch race in 1955.


His final race was in 1995 aged 85, when he set out to ride 900 laps of the Chandler Velodrome in Brisbane. It was an astonishing length, some 330 km. The sponsored race, a fundraiser for the Australian Bible Society, aimed to encourage reading among under privileged children. At the time Bill said he had once been one of those children and it gave him great pleasure to ride for the kids.

All in all, Bill maintained a prominent reputation as a cyclist for over seven decades.

In 1960 Bill was elected to the Manurewa Borough Council standing on a Christian platform and in 1983, he was elected to the new Manukau City Council, being the senior citizens representative.

Bill and his wife Lynne offered care and hospitality to troubled teenagers in their home and carried out much community work throughout their lives. They had two children – daughter Lovonny and son William (“Winkie”), an internationally acclaimed evangelist.

Bill Pratney is buried in Block H Row 11 Plot 100.

Bill (right) and fellow-racer Warwick Dalton at Bill’s belated 70th birthday party.

IMAGE: courtesy Kennett Brothers

View a service online