(ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson) ABC Radio Darwin
By Jesse Thompson and Liz Trevaskis
February 21, 2018 08:00:02
Ange Newton is a modern-day Cupid.
Ms Newton was living in Harrow when the population began to shrink.The town is so small it is difficult to locate Census data, but media reports from 2003 suggest 50 people of the town’s population of 90 were men, many of them single.As early as three years later, and thanks in large part to Ms Newton’s work, the town had been struck by cupid’s bow.Marketing the bush to city slickersRegional Victoria was just beginning to recover from a nasty drought when the town of Harrow came into a drought of another kind.”You’d just look around and it was all blokes — no girls at all,” Ms Newton said.”That leaves a really serious deficit in the future of your community, much the same as Howard Springs will be finding.”It was the early 2000s, and the increase in people getting degrees alongside the gradual decline of some jobs traditionally held by women meant many left Harrow to study and never came back.Ms Newton had been the town’s publican since 1994, and even though the high quota of bored men was good for business, she could see the problem it posed.”As a publican you’re privy to people’s inner thoughts, and one of the things that kept coming up time and time again was, ‘I’m lonely’,” she said. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
She was concerned the men of the town would pack up and leave, threatening everything from its agriculture industry to the volunteer-run CFA, to the teams of men who played football on Saturdays.”There’s not a lot to attract young families if you haven’t got these basic services,” she said.”It all sort of melted into this very big cauldron, and at the very base of it was young men.”So Ms Newton gathered a group of locals to think long and hard about what they could offer women considering life in the bush.The brains trust agreed that the proverbial sea was full of young, professional women worth luring to the men of Harrow, hereby deemed the ‘Beaut Blokes’.The problem was few people in larger cities were singing the praises of rural living.As a solution, Ms Newton turned to talkback radio.’We’ll treat you like ladies and shout you a shandy’A short time later, three Harrow men piled into a car and drove for three-and-a-half hours to make a pitch to young women on prime time breakfast radio in Geelong.”The guys established where they thought the pretty good sheilas came from, so we went down to Geelong and advertised — that sounds dreadful — we promoted what we had to offer young women that might want to come up for a country weekend experience,” Ms Newton said.The proposal was for a weekend retreat called Beaut Blokes, and the men used the radio spot to play up unique aspects of country life, even making reference to A Country Practice.”I think the catch cry that the boys used was, ‘Come up to town, we’ll treat you like ladies and shout you a shandy’.”The publican wasn’t very savvy with e-mail, and so she returned to Harrow and sat by the fax machine to see if anyone would take the bait. Were people later married? Photo:
As the town’s publican, Ms Newton was constantly hearing that the town’s men were lonely. Was love, in other words, found?”All of the above,” Ms Newton told ABC Radio Darwin’s Liz Trevaskis.But Ms Newton was also aware of the vast amount of media attention heaped on Beaut Blokes, and did not want to tarnish the town or the program’s reputation.She enforced a strict doctrine of house rules.Women would return to Harrow families putting them up for the night, and there was to be no contact with the Beaut Blokes afterhours.”It got to the CWA squeaky clean feel where there were no Beaut Blokes on premises where families were hosting girls.”But there was still plenty of romance, Ms Newton said, and a number of women chose to settle down in Harrow. Photo:
In the days before dating apps and Farmer Wants a Wife, media scrutiny of Beaut Blokes was high. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Given people’s privacy and the difficulty of keeping track of people, the program’s precise success is hard to be sure of, which Ms Newton said was somewhat disappointing.”But the other half of me says, hang on, this isn’t about ticking boxes and getting the perfect media shot,” she said.”It was about blokes sitting around the bar and lamenting the fact they couldn’t get partners.”Conservatively, she estimates that Beaut Blokes has sparked in excess of 150 long-term relationships and more than 200 children — more than the population of Harrow today. Photo:
Ms Newton keeps a thick folder containing newspaper clippings of stories about the program. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
In 2005, Beyond Blue saw its potential to reduce social isolation in regional and rural areas, and developed an official Beaut Blokes manual.Program was ‘CWA squeaky clean’Was romance sparked on that first weekend in 2003? (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
“We blew up the fax machine,” she said.”Within the first 24 hours, we had over 28,000 hits on the Beaut Blokes website and we had over 100 applicants.”The Beaut Blokes program took participants on two days of rural activity — horse riding, farming, community football — before culminating in a black tie dinner event on Saturday night.The program soon went national, and would go on to be adapted in other regional towns where skewed populations meant men were suffering. Photo:
Ms Newton still receives mail from couples that met each other at a Beaut Blokes event.
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The Northern Territory needs young women.Last week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said that attracting young, working women to the Northern Territory would help solve the ongoing issue of population decline.Census data shows that the Northern Territory is the only state and/or territory where men outnumber women.In the outer Darwin rural area of Howard Springs, men outnumber women almost three to one.A regional Victorian town faced similar dire straits in the early 2000s, and the woman who reinvigorated that town is now based in Darwin.”When we’re speaking about a woman drought, that’s exactly the situation that Harrow found themselves in,” Ange Newton recalled.
Map of Harrow
NT must attract more women in order to fix declining population, experts say
Howard Springs, the NT town with a serious 'sheila shortage'