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September 9, 2000
Grumpy Aussies declare Olympics-free zoneAndrew Browne
Fed up with Olympic hype, the citizens of Walhalla -- population, 21 -- have declared their old Australian gold mining town an "Olympics-Free Zone".
Visitors overheard gossiping about track times, sailing conditions, sports injuries or doping scandals will be fined on the spot.
Not at all, huffed Rhonda Aquilina, who with husband Norm, runs Walhalla's only general store in the outback town in western Victoria.
"A lot of people are saying 'good on ya'," she declared.
"We're offering a haven for people who have had enough."
In a sports-mad nation now working itself into an Olympic frenzy, Norm is even planning to censor the morning newspapers by taking a pair of scissors to all stories on the Games.
Michael Leaney, the proprietor of the Star Hotel, and president of the Walhalla and Mountain Rivers Tourism Association, despairs of his fellow Australians who can talk of little else except Olympic medals.
"We've lost the plot somewhere," he said.
"I thought the Olympics was supposed to be about competition, not about which country wins the most gold medals."
At A$149 a night for a double room, Leaney said the Star Hotel had taken "quite a few bookings" since news that Walhalla had opted out of the Olympics became a discussion point in the national media.
Leaney is not alone in wishing that the Olympics and the 750,000 visitors they are expected to attract would simply go away.
He pointed to a recent survey that showed 40 percent of Sydney residents intended to flee the New South Wales capital.
Roads through the heavily populated suburb of King's Cross, part of the Olympic cycling route, frequently have been blocked off for practice sessions. The airport is clogged with arriving athletes and their coaches.
Worse, New South Wales taxpayers are being asked to help foot the bill -- despite promises that they would not have to stump up any extra.
And because so many Olympic tickets have been siphoned off to big corporations and their customers, fewer residents than expected will get to watch the competition.
Walhalla, nestled in a remote valley, is cashing in on the public backlash.
There is no danger that residents of the Star Hotel would stumble across the games while channel-surfing: the town has no television signal. And radio reception is intermittent, "depending on the weather", said Leaney.
It was only 19 months ago that Walhalla was connected to the Victoria power grid -- the last place in the state to be hooked up.
Residents hasten to add that their anti-Olympic grumpiness is not quite as serious as it sounds.
"Taking the piss out of things is very Australian," insisted Leaney.
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