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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 12:18 GMT
Outback men left single
Australian outback
The vast expanses of the outback are increasingly being deserted by women
Many Australian in the country's famous outback are finding their lives increasingly lonely as more and more women head to the cities in search of a career.

Inland is another world of far horizons and very little rain where the sheep and cattle far outnumber the people.

While women head to those cities and beaches in search of education and careers, the men are left behind on the land contemplating a single life.

"Whether you're a forest worker, a grazier, or someone on a cattle property, the lack of women is a problem," 26-year-old Matt Wallace, a forestry worker in the Bush, told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme.

"Just imagine - you're in central Queensland, you're on these lonely, isolated properties, and it's mainly blokes - that's the type of people that are out here."

Huge distances

With around 90% of Australians living near the coast, finding a woman in the first place can be hard enough.

Persuading them to stay and commit to a rural life can be much harder.

Bush firefighters
If you don't look after young men, who's going to put out the fires?
Publican Ang Newton
"They want to continue with their careers," Sarah Dent of the Farmers' Federation has admitted.

"As far as they're concerned, giving that up to move back to the Bush is not part of the plan."

Matt's last girlfriend was a city girl - an accountant. "She couldn't adapt to the lifestyle," he said.

And he stressed that in the forest areas where he works, women are "very few and far between." Another farmer said he usually meets only one or two women a year.

The distances in the outback are huge. Western Australia alone is the size of Western Europe, but has a population of only two million people - and the vast majority of them live in and around the coastal city of Perth.

In an effort to help tackle the problem, Bachelor and Spinster parties - known as B and S - are being organised in some areas. However, one recent one Matt attended attracted 200 men - and only 30 women.

"I've got mates that are living in the city, and they've got great social lives, going out, meeting people all the time, and when I go and visit them I have those experiences as well," he said.

"I've been working in forest industries for quite some time, and it gets to you - you often think you'll pack it in and head to the city, where maybe you'll find someone and have a relationship."

Suicide increase

Rob Braybrook, a former farmer who now works for outback counselling service Lifeline, said that many of his clients are single men, living lonely, unhappy lives.

"There are so many things that they're missing out on, they're actually suffering a lot of grief from the losses they feel," he explained.

Outback village
Some outback workers say they see women only once or twice a year
"If these losses are not properly dealt with, they become angry. There's a lot more anger in the country now.

"They don't like to talk about it. Rural country men are very independent, self-sufficient - and they can get in an awful mess before they seek help."

In some cases this leads to suicide.

"There are quite a lot of suicides - more than there should be," he added.

"That's due to the isolation and hopelessness."

He stressed that cost of all this is that the "whole character of rural life" has been changed.

"People are tending to leave. You've got to get nearer the coast before you find a town that's growing," he said.

"That's where the jobs are, that's where the life is. Particularly the young women are wanting to go where the fun and the life is, and that's not in the Bush."

'Bring their skills - and ovaries'

Some communities are so desperate to attract young people they are offering cut-price housing - including some for sale at the price of just $1 - to persuade people back.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles south in Victoria, more direct efforts are being made to try to breathe life into the Bush.

Australian women
Women are being bussed in from the cities to the outback
In the remote town of Harrow, four hours' drive west of Melbourne, women are being bussed in from the cities for a "Beaut Blokes" weekend - where they team up with 40 handsome country men.

The idea came from Ang Newton, who runs a pub in Harrow. She explained to Masterpiece she took action after seeing regularly seeing 40 or 50 men, but only two married women, at the bar.

"It's simple mathematics - it runs into population decline and school decline, and people moving," she said.

"For God's sake, if you don't look after young men, who's going to put out the fires? It's as simple as that."

She added that she herself had daughters, and had urged them to go to University to further their education.

"We encourage our women to do that, to be strong and independent," she said.

"But having done that, in more cases than not they don't come back to small communities.

"We know we need young women with skills to come back into the country and bring their skills with them - and their ovaries."


SEE ALSO:
Australia's farmers looking for love
10 Dec 01 |  Asia-Pacific



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