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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 13:27 GMT
Australia's farmers looking for love
By Phil Mercer in Sydney

After battling through drought, bush fires and falling commodity prices, many of Australia's young farmers are facing a growing challenge - the lack of single women in the outback.

A quick glance at a map of some of this vast continent's agricultural areas highlights their dilemma.

They do meet some lovely young women but sadly these girls do not want to move back to rural areas

Sarah Dent, National Farmers' Federation
Many properties are miles from anywhere and the isolated lives and long hours means meeting potential partners is almost impossible.

But the National Farmers' Federation has come up with an ice-breaking plan to try to help.

It has teamed up with a women's magazine and next month will launch a 'Find a Wife for a Farmer Campaign'. The magazine will act as a dating agency.

Sarah Dent from the Farmers' Federation admitted the project faced an uphill battle to help the lonely hearts of the outback.

"They do meet some lovely young women but sadly these girls do not want to move back to rural areas," she said. "They want to continue with their careers and as far as they're concerned, giving that up to move back to the Bush is not part of the plan."

Female farmer

Grant is a sheep farmer in remote New South Wales. He is 27 and has only ever had one girlfriend - and that was when he was at school.

Train travels through the Australian outback
There is a distinct lack of social life in the outback
"It's a bit depressing," he said. "I don't go out much."

Hardly surprising, when the nearest pub is a 90-minute drive away down a mainly unsealed road.

"I live with my mum and dad and spend most of my time working," said Grant. "I'm sure I'll meet someone but I'm not sure when."

In most rural communities around Australia, it is common for the majority of younger people to go to college or to work in the cities where opportunity and money is more plentiful. Most never return.

Debbie Young is one of the exceptions. The 26-year-old returned to the family property near Coonabaraburn in New South Wales after working in Sydney.

"My friends in the city say they love the lifestyle up here," she told BBC News Online. "But they couldn't handle the workload."

Debbie farms 5,000 sheep across 8,000 acres. Her great-grandfather bought the land in1908 and it has been in the family ever since.

Despite a punishing schedule of early mornings, late nights and 16-hour days, she is passionate about life in the country.

"There is nothing like breeding your cattle, fattening them up and sending them off to market," she said, but admitted it did not leave her much time for boyfriends.

Blighted countryside

In a random survey in the fashionable Darlinghurst district of Sydney, BBC News Online spoke to 10 young women. All were asked - if they met their dream man, would they give up everything to live with him on a cattle station in Australia's harsh interior?

"'No" was the overwhelmingly response, closely followed by "never". Only one said she would. "But only if he was Brad Pitt," she said.

The problems facing younger people in farming areas are a symptom of a broader malaise eating away at many communities. Rural people are much more at risk from depression than city-dwellers and are more likely to smoke and drink too much and be overweight.

The National president of the Rural Doctors' Association, Dr David Mildenhall, said mental health was linked to a growing sense of insecurity in rural Australia.

"In some areas, it's possible that the economy, the general downturn in rural communities, the closing of services including banks and schools and increased unemployment all contribute," he said.

Sarah Dent from National Farmers Federation says despite the problems, she is confident the 'Find a Wife for a Farmer Campaign' will eventually work. But there also needed to be a concerted push to help regenerate ailing parts of the countryside, she said.

"It's quite obvious it's not going to be easy," she said. "The best way is to promote the lifestyle - the space and the freedom - and to attract investment and business back to rural areas, so then we can encourage our young people to go back out into the Bush."

See also:

31 Mar 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Deserting the bush
09 Jan 01 | Business
Online flirting boosts love firm
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