Australia’s ‘worst’ town lashes out
GEOFF Rissole and Rick Furphy are the most loathed men in the South Australian industrial town of Port Pirie.
Such is the hatred for them and their hugely popular Facebook page Sh*t Towns of Australia that they aren't game to show their faces there ever again.
Even though their true identities are a closely guarded secret, Rissole said it's better to be safe than sorry.
"I wouldn't feel safe going back to Port Pirie," he told news.com.au. "And that's only partly because of the anger towards us."
Port Pirie was 'reviewed' by the pair in the early days of the Facebook phenomenon that is now Sh*t Towns of Australia - which now boasts 165,000 followers. It did not go down well.
"They reacted quite badly," Rissole said. "They were very, very angry. It was one of our early reviews and we thought it'd be funny to keep winding them up. It's only gotten funnier.
"They keep getting angry about it and so it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Among the barbs in their original overview was the description of Port Pirie as "the Chernobyl of the South" thanks to its lead smelter, which "employs 10 per cent of the town's population, making (it) the second most common job after 'unemployed' at 11 per cent".
Each week, the page publishes a 'power ranking' of the 10 sh*ttest towns in the previous seven days, with locations getting a gong for various indiscretions - typically bizarre crimes committed by locals.
But no matter the strength of the competition, Port Pirie features every single time with the simple justification that it's "still sh*t".
Geoff Brock, the independent MP who represents the town in state parliament, described it as "bullying on social media".
The Facebook page began as a joke between two mates that "quickly got out of hand" and has sparked a loyal following, plenty of anger across dozens of regional communities and now a book.
"Me and a mate (Furphy) would write gag travel reviews of different towns we'd go to and send them to each other as a joke," Rissole explained.
"We both had jobs where we travelled around quite a bit. We've spent a lot of time in sh*t towns. I think we've got an eye for sh*t qualities too.
"We started sending these joke travel reviews to other mates and someone said we should put them on Facebook. It just went from there."
In addition to regular reviews, the pair shares reader feedback each week that summarises the mountain of abuse they receive.
Proud locals from Cairns to Mount Gambier and everywhere in between haven't taken kindly to the harsh criticism of their beloved towns.
"It's written very tongue-in-cheek. It's meant to be over the top and a bit cartoonish. Some people just don't pick up on that context," Rissole said.
"Particularly with older people, there's a belief that if something is written down then it has some credibility or authority, rather than just being two people on the internet having a laugh. We often get Boomers messaging us saying: 'Why does Facebook let you do this?'"
It's not just locals who get offended.
Kalgoorlie in Western Australia is currently in the running to be crowned the Sh*ttest Town in Australia for 2019, as voted by the page's followers.
When locals embraced the idea and began campaigning on social media, the mining town's mayor John Bowler pleaded with them to stop.
"We can take the mickey out of ourselves, but I don't think that this competition in any way helps," Mr Bowler told the ABC.
Rissole said the mayor had accused them of harming tourism and also turning away potential new residents with their review.
"He reckoned someone was planning to move there for a job until they read our review and changed their mind. If we've got powers like that, we should be making a lot more money off it than we have, which is basically nothing."
Mount Gambier in South Australia is also a finalist in the poll and locals there haven't taken kindly to the notoriety either.
"I spoke to someone in Mount Gambier recently who said they had three days of talkback radio segments with Boomers just p*ssed off," Rissole said.
"But that week, the biggest headline in the paper was about the Baker's Delight moving shops down the road. There's not a lot going on in Mount Gambier."
The new book is a collection of the most popular town reviews, as well as bonus top 10 and must-visit lists, Rissole said.
Readers will notice one state tends to dominate - Queensland.
"It's pretty well-stocked," he said. "They have a bit of a chip on their shoulder too so they blow off a lot more than other states, which is very entertaining for us."
Aside from Port Pirie, Rissole finds it difficult to pick his favourite sh*t towns, saying it'd be like a parent naming the child they love the most.
"I really like Warrnambool though. It was right on the cusp of making the cut for the book. I have a real affection for nonsense and their whole mahogany ship thing is up my alley."
Legend has it that a ship sank off the coast at some time in the 19th Century and it's become a firm part of local folklore since, with regular search attempts and even a $250,000 reward offers in the 1990s.
"The town has built part of their identity on this belief that there's a mahogany ship waiting to be discovered and it's just complete bollocks. I love that," Rissole said.
Promoting their new book has been somewhat difficult for Rissole and Furphy, given they're keen to remain anonymous. It makes photo shoots and public appearances pretty difficult.
But they believe this whole adventure isn't about them, but the towns themselves.
"I like when people try to guess who we are," Rissole said.
He has a distinct Kiwi accent, which he admits might add insult to injury for some of the Aussie towns offended, but won't reveal any personal details aside from that.
And if unmasked, he said no-one would recognise him or his writing partner, despite some speculation that they could be well-known comedians.
"No, not at all. No, we're nobodies. There's no pay off to finding out who we are - I think everyone would be quite disappointed."
Sh*t Towns of Australia is out now