War of words over Sir Peter Leitch's 'white man's island'

1:07 pm on 4 January 2017

An altercation between a Māori family from Waiheke Island and Sir Peter Leitch over his "white man's island" comments has exploded into a case of "he said, she said".

Sir Peter Leitch

Sir Peter Leitch Photo: PhotoSport

Lara Wharepapa-Bridger, 23, posted a video on social media yesterday, claiming Sir Peter told her Waiheke Island was a "white man's island" and that she should get off it.

Sir Peter has gone to ground but his spokesperson Michelle Boag says "he's devastated"

One version of yesterday's altercation at a Waiheke Island vineyard played out in the 14-minute Facebook post last night.

He released a statement last night, in which he said he was "extremely disappointed that she had misinterpreted some light-hearted banter".

But Ms Wharepapa-Bridger disputed this in a Facebook post this morning, saying when somebody was "pointing at them in the face with a stern tone", she didn't take it as light banter.

Support and condemnation

Since the post a furore has erupted online with supporters of Sir Peter falling into line.

Comedian Mike King posted "I stand behind my mate Sir Peter Leitch", while former Warriors player Monty Betham said "Sir Peter is not a racist". Mr Betham said he had seen Sir Peter's "sensitive side towards Island and Māori culture."

A statement issued on behalf of the Warriors rugby league team also supported Sir Peter.

The team's managing director, Jim Doyle, said Sir Peter had been "an ardent supporter of the Vodafone Warriors since our inception in 1995".

"I've known him for many years and in that time he's been a tremendous ambassador for our club, for rugby league and for the country in general.

"Sir Peter does a tremendous amount in our community, regularly doing things behind closed doors for people who have fallen on hard times."

Playing on the opposing team were the likes of UFC fighter Mark Hunt, who said he also had a similar run-in with the Mad Butcher and posted "the Mad Butcher needs to understand racism isn't good ever".

Mr Hunt told RNZ that Ms Wharepapa-Bridger had done the right thing by raising concerns, and racism was not OK.

He claimed Sir Peter once referred to his opponent and fellow fighter Ray Sefo as a "coconut".

"When I saw him, I said, 'Hi, how are you doing?' And the first thing that was out of his mouth, he said, 'What's that coconut's name that you had a fight with?' ... He was referring to the fight I had with Ray Sefo."

Mr Hunt said he was aware of other Pacific Island league stars coming to the Mad Butcher's defence, but he said Sir Peter should know better.

He said Sir Peter did not have a ticket to go around talking rubbish to people.

"It doesn't matter what you've done for any country, you can't joke about s**t like that. It's not funny.

"I was like, damn, and I thought you were a cool guy. I thought if that's the kind of banter, or the way he jokes, he needs to change his joking style."

Māori TV presenter Oriini Kaipara agreed, saying: "Here's an opinion straight out of my bicultural brain: Knights should not tell indigenous women their motu belongs to white men. Ever."

DJ Reminise said: "Stick by your guns sis... when you cried in your video I cried with you... don't let the Mad Butcher get away with it... that's the problem."

Māori commentator Annabelle Lee said the responses seemed to be generational.

The television producer, who was born and raised on Waiheke Island, said: "It's like he has been afforded a special position in Māori and Pacific communities because of his work developing rugby league but with that position comes some responsibility and most would agree, given his knowledge of these communities, he should have a greater cultural sensitivity."

Ms Wharepapa-Bridger had said she was at a wine tasting with her mother and sister at Stonyridge Vineyard when they saw Sir Peter, the founder of the Mad Butcher chain, at another table with his family.

They got chatting, and Ms Wharepapa-Bridger said Sir Peter had warned the group not to drink and drive. He said they couldn't be local. "I go 'yeah, I'm actually born here'," she said.

"He said specifically to me, 'this is a white man's island, you need to go, you need to acknowledge that this is a white man's island'."

Sir Peter said: "I was joking with her group about not drinking too much because there were lots of police on the island. She said that she was tangata whenua and could do what she liked, and I responded with a joke about it being a white man's island also."

In 2011, Sir Peter supported sports commentator Murray Deaker after he got into hot water for using the n-word. Sir Peter at the time said, "Mate, we are going politically correct crazy. That used to be a very common saying and he just would not have meant anything by it. And the people watching obviously know that, since Sky did not get one complaint."

The comments from Ms Wharepapa-Bridger were watched by more than 100,000 people before they were removed.

Her family were still on Waiheke Island but have told RNZ they want the opportunity to set the record straight over the incident.