Hugging Aussies tickles the fancy

In the spirit: Mike Smith, from Brisbane, gets a hug from his wife, Clare Robb, originally from Nelson, for the  Hug an Aussie campaign.
In the spirit: Mike Smith, from Brisbane, gets a hug from his wife, Clare Robb, originally from Nelson, for the Hug an Aussie campaign.

The Rugby World Cup was always going to elevate a certain level of trans-Tasman rivalry, but has that conflict gone too far?

Yesterday's Hug an Aussie campaign in Nelson may have cracked a few laughs around town, but Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio wasn't entirely joking.

He doesn't want friendly rivalry to be tainted by nastiness, which has been discussed in the Australian media, so he decided to do something about it.

"There were reports of a few things that probably went a bit far after the Australia and Ireland game," he said.

"We just want to make sure that Australians know it's not indicative of New Zealanders."

Mr Miccio's hug-an-Aussie idea had already gained nationwide media attention by yesterday afternoon, as well as interest from media outlets across the ditch.

"It's a massive hit – even in Aussie," he said. "They appreciate a good sense of humour."

Nelsonians were divided over the campaign, with some saying it was a good idea, and others dismissing it as "silly" and an invasion of people's privacy.

Mr Miccio wasn't letting that stop him yesterday, however, dishing out hugs to any Australian he could find.

On the receiving end was visiting Australians and those who live in Nelson, such as Alex Reith and John Rollston.

Mr Reith, who has lived in New Zealand for more than six years, said the hug an Aussie concept was "brilliant".

Mr Rollston, who has lived in New Zealand for 10 years, said he lined up for hugs at work and got about 60.

But not everyone was as willing.

Mr Reith asked a guy in the changing rooms at his gym whether he would give him a hug and the man said he was going to complain to management.

Mr Reith, a lawyer, said he had endured countless Aussie jokes, "but it doesn't worry me".

Mike Smith, from Brisbane, and his wife, Clare Robb, who is originally from Nelson and supports the All Blacks, are in town for the Rugby World Cup.

Mr Smith said hug an Aussie day was a "great idea". "I got my first one from the mayor," he said.

Mr Smith said he had not experienced any negativity from New Zealanders, apart from – he joked – his wife's family.

"I can give as good as I get," he said.

His daughter, Brooke, said: "We have heard a few stories about the Aussie getting a bit of a rough time, [but] it has been great for us."

Deputy Mayor Ali Boswijk said the hug an Aussie campaign was "good fun – it makes people laugh".

"Sport can make things a bit serious and I think sometimes the Australian and New Zealand rivalry gets out of proportion," she said. The Wallabies arrived in Nelson yesterday afternoon, ahead of their game against Russia at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.

About 6000 Australians are expected at the match.

Mr Miccio said 99.9 per cent of New Zealanders "really do love Australians".

He wanted to "put aside some of the negative publicity that has happened in Australia".

"We love Australians. We want to make them feel welcome, [but] it doesn't mean we're going to support them."

The Nelson Mail