New Zealanders are notoriously quick to take offence, particularly where their more cocksure Australian cousins are concerned. But it would require the hide of an elephant not to feel slighted by Steve Donnelly, an expatriate Australian who has banned an entire New Zealand town from his North Island motel.
The hotelier was branded an Antipodean Basil Fawlty yesterday and lambasted the length and breadth of his adopted country after he declared that the 16,000 residents of Wainuiomata were no longer welcome at his motel, the Supreme Motor Lodge, in the city of Palmerston North.
Mr Donnelly, who migrated across the Tasman Sea two years ago, announced the blanket ban after a series of visits by junior sports teams who, he says, ran wild in his motel, engaging in behaviour that included vandalism, spitting, using obscene language and playing loud music late at night.
His decision provoked outrage across New Zealand, although it was the people of Wainuiomata, near Wellington, who were, predictably, most annoyed. Locals complained that, because of the actions of a few, they were all being tarred with the same brush.
Drawing on decades of bad blood between Australians and New Zealanders, the local MP, Trevor Mallard, was quick to point out Mr Donnelly's nationality. "I'm not surprised [he's] Australian," Mr Mallard, who is Wainuiomata born and bred, told The Dominion Post. "It's stupid and very, very unfair. It shows the sort of blind prejudice I thought we didn't have in New Zealand any more."
The story made the evening news on both national television networks, as well as featuring in newspapers under headlines such as "Australian bans town".
But Mr Donnelly was unrepentant, declaring that Wainuiomata residents were troublemakers.
"Having had about 100 people from there over the last couple of years, and maybe one that we liked... it is not worth it, and we would do the same to anyone who causes us that level of stress," he said. "I'm not saying there aren't any nice people in Wainuiomata, but plenty of them are bad and we don't want them here."
The offending guests were from the town's high school and indoor sports club. Mr Donnelly said their teachers and parents had repeatedly failed to keep them under control – a claim denied by the school principal, Rob Mill. "They are teenagers, so there is going to be some level of noise. The manager was quite unreasonable, and actually quite aggressive."
Mr Donnelly told Radio New Zealand that motel owners around the country had supported his actions, labelling visiting sports teams a nightmare.
Mr Mallard, the MP, questioned whether the ban was legal, and pointed out that Wainuiomata had produced all manner of upstanding citizens, including scientists, conservationists and some of New Zealand's leading sportsmen.Reuse content