Regional women turn to social media to find friendships and community

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April Garforth, like her other friends in their 40s, is tired of having online dates with disappointing men.

She started a small Facebook group – open to friends of friends – to find people in her outback Australian region to join her in spontaneous activities.

“With dating apps like Tinder, and things like that, you can meet a significant other. But with friends, it’s harder to reach out and make those connections,” says April.

“So I was talking to a friend of mine and I was like, ‘You know, there really has to be a Tinder for friends.

“I’m really looking for people to go on an adventure with.”

The group’s Facebook description paints a picture of the kind of activities April and other like-minded locals might enjoy together:

Group members post a suggested adventure they’d like to have some company in and it’s an open invitation to all members.

April (left) enjoys a walk in the bush with her Facebbok friend Brooke Tonkin.(ABC Goldfields: Sean Tarek Goodwin)

“It’s really hard to make friends”

April lives in Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields of WA. It is an ephemeral mining town of 30,000 inhabitants, 600 kilometers from Perth.

She says she has to be proactive about meeting new people at her stage of life.

“I’m 42 and it’s really hard to make friends at that age,” says April.

“It’s really easy when you’re young and you have plenty of time.”

April says finding a sense of community wouldn’t be possible without the Facebook group.

“I’ve been very lucky to have a few longtime friends here in the area, but I’ve definitely experienced some transience in my friendship groups,” she says.

Two women embrace and smile in a red, sandy landscape with gum trees
April says the Facebook group allows her to meet new local friends to go on adventures with.(ABC Goldfields: Sean Tarek Goodwin)

Fewer friends than 30 years ago

Peter Kenyon is a ‘community enthusiast’ and director of a regional community advisory group. He says it’s great to see people taking initiative and using social media to drive face-to-face interactions and build stronger community bonds.

“People now have about four fewer close friends than they had in the mid-1980s.”

Mr Kenyon says social connections are the most important thing for a community, but societal changes have impacted how people can make those connections.

Peter Kenyon seated
Community consultant Peter Kenyon said rural communities needed to be proactive if they wanted to stem population decline.(ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

“More and more people are living alone, choosing not to have a family,” he says.

“The number of times people change locations has accelerated, and membership in organizations has dropped significantly.”

Mr Kenyon says transient populations, as with Kalgoorlie’s flying workforce, create environments where people enter a community without knowing anyone, which can be intimidating.

“Relationships are by far the most important thing people need in their lives, so there have to be ways for people to start connecting socially with people,” he says.

Woman stands smiling in gym surrounded by free weights
Elnor Ranga joined the gym when she moved to regional Australia(ABC Goldfields: Elsa Silberstein)

“I had an arranged friendship”

Elnor Ranga moved to Kalgoorlie from South Africa last year.

She knew finding friends wasn’t going to be easy and had her sister hunting before she landed.

Elnor’s sister found a resident of Kalgoorlie through a mutual friend, who befriended Elnor and invited her into his circle of friends.

“She sent me a picture of her before I arrived, it was like I was set up on a date. I had an arranged friendship,” Elnor says.

Elnor knows that making friends doesn’t happen automatically and says joining the gym has helped her feel part of the local community.

“I love that if I see these people on the street, I can say ‘Hey!'” she said.

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