The Facebook page dividing Aussies
ON ANY given day, Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole are public enemies number one and two in regional towns across Australia, from Broken Hill to Port Pirie.
Those aren't their real names. They use pseudonyms, partly for their own protection from hordes of parochial locals they've infuriated and partly for the fun of the mystery.
The men operate the viral Facebook page Sh*t Towns of Australia, which reviews and ranks the country's worst locales on a range of criteria.
They have built a huge following over the past year - a mix of amused readers and furious locals of the latest target of the men's unique blend of observational wit and downright slander.
"We're just a couple of mates with a sense of humour who started a Facebook page that accidentally became popular," Furphy told news.com.au
"We don't do it to offend people - but it's a bonus.
"We love it when the anger is funny. A lot of the angry messages include hilarious insults or bizarre spelling and grammar. Those are our favourites. And there's always something funny about someone blowing their top over a little joke.
"We're not so keen on the angry gronks who make violent threats or the nannas who just get sad."
The latest review put Nowra in the firing line, describing it as a township "founded by a convict and populated by packs of deadsh*ts and f***wits".
"Despite being the South Coast region's commercial and administrative centre, Nowra is somehow completely devoid of jobs, leaving its residents with nothing to do but biff shopping trolleys into the river or get in a glass fight at Posties," the review states.
It goes on to talk about the tourists who flock to the area from Sydney and Canberra "who neglected to do any research" as well as the various parents of Nowra and their distinct aesthetics.
"The saltwater Shoalhaven River acts as a moat for the flog-filled North Nowra and Bomaderry, shielding them from the bogan scum on the 'wrong side of the bridge'.
"East Nowra is the shining turd in the Nowra toilet, while Worrigee is also sh*t mainly because it's next to East Nowra. If you're looking for a sh*t suburb, you simply can't go wrong in a town whose only purpose is making Wollongong look good."
As often happens, the page has been bombarded with furious comments and messages from loyal locals since it went live.
There are the simple declarations that "Nowra is a good town so f**k off" to an invitation to meet at the local McDonald's to "square up … the 2541 boyz gonna sort ya out der lad".
A lot of people seem to like the page until they're on it.
"I think it's also a case of people who don't know what the page is all about, who only see what we post when they or one of their friends is tagged on it," Furphy said.
"It does go right over some people's heads."
What exactly makes a sh*t town? Furphy insisted thorough research is conducted before a location makes it on the page.
"We use a combination of notes from our own travels, information sourced from the internet and info that followers send us," he explained.
"We are doing a lot of research, but we get a huge number of suggestions and requests from followers too.
"Our requests list is so long now that we'll never get through it, so each week we try to pick out a town that has had a few requests and has something unique about it. We try to cycle through the states a bit too to spread the love."
But there's one particular state that seems to be well represented, he admitted. And it is one of the selection criteria.
"There are a few clear signs of a sh*t town," Furphy said. "Drugs. Unemployment. Pollution. Still having a video store. Being in Queensland."
The page was spawned from a similarly successful endeavour of Furphy and Rissole across the ditch - Sh*t Towns of New Zealand. It resonated so well they decided to turn their attention to "a larger market".
So, are they Kiwis then? Furphy is decidedly coy on this.
"While we are intimate with both countries, we feel it's best to keep our origins and place of residence vague because a) it allows us to retain our pages' objectivity when reviewing towns, which we take very seriously, and b) it winds up Baby Boomers in Broken Hill with conjoined Facebook accounts.
"We feel that it wouldn't matter either way. After all, all the best Aussies are Kiwis - Crowded House, Phar Lap, Barnaby Joyce …"
The very first Aussie spot to be reviewed was Townsville in north Queensland because, as Furphy pointed out, "it has both 'town' and 'ville' in its name".
"I believe our verdict was 'sh*t'," he said. "In Townsville's case, being named after a slave lord was a big minus. Towns was a notorious blackbirder, as was Mackay - these guys are still celebrated with statues and city names in Queensland."
The success of the page has been swift. The men will release a book in November - Sh*t Towns of Australia - via publisher Allen & Unwin featuring reviews, bonus material and a selection of the best angry responses.
Despite some of the fierce backlash he and Rissole have copped, Furphy said the pair had no regrets about any of the towns they've attacked.
"Not at all. We put a lot of thought into our reviews before posting them and make sure we're happy with each write-up. Occasionally, people's comments or reactions make us realise that a town is even grimmer than we realised and that we should have gone harder," he said.
When asked if he had a favourite sh*t town, Furphy couldn't pick one, saying it would be like naming his most-loved child.
"But let's face it, Port Pirie would be up there," he said.
Port Pirie has a permanent spot on the week's list of top sh*t towns that Furphy and Rissole compile. Perhaps that's why locals have directed the most fury at the page out of all the locations to have been profiled.
"In terms of outrage, Port Pirie would have to be up there along with Alice Springs and Mount Isa. Grafton also elicited a lot of outrage but for the opposite reason - the locals reckoned we weren't harsh enough," Furphy said.
For those upset about the treatment of their town, Furphy is sympathetic. And he has a message of reassurance.
"We'd just like them to know that our work is thoroughly researched, and we wouldn't call a town sh*t unless it were most definitely sh*t. We are just reporting facts. But if they would like to send us an angry message, they should feel free! They might even make our next book!" he said.