The mayor of an outback mining town in deepest Queensland has angered Australia's womenfolk by suggesting that those who are "beauty disadvantaged" might head to Mount Isa.
Even in a society where testosterone-fuelled, sexist epithets have traditionally been part of the common parlance, Mayor John Molony might just have gone a little too far.
What inspired Mayor Molony to put his civic foot in it was the female drought in Mount Isa, where he claims the blokes far outnumber the "sheilas". Invited to come up with a solution to redress the balance, he proposed that a few lovelorn "ugly ducklings" could do worse than move to the remote mining town to find a partner.
"May I suggest if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa," he told a local newspaper.
To add insult to injury, Mr Molony implied that the look on some of the women who already lived there proved him right. "Quite often you will see walking down the street a lass who is not so attractive with a wide smile on her face," he explained to the Townsville Bulletin.
"Whether it is recollection of something previous or anticipation for the next evening, there is a degree of happiness ... Some in other places in Australia need to proceed to Mount Isa where happiness awaits. Really, beauty is only skin deep – isn't there a fairytale about an ugly duckling that evolves into a beautiful swan?"
Yesterday, the phones were ringing hot in Mount Isa as news of Mayor Molony's answer to the community's gender ratio made headlines across Australia. The local chamber of commerce reported it had been swamped with calls from both men and women protesting at the insensitivity of the remarks.
One of his fellow councillors, Gary Asmus, told a local radio station that it was a slight upon the city.
"He's actually returning us to the Dark Ages and making the guys that live in this town seem like sex-starved men that will pounce upon the first girl they see," he said.
Others labelled the mayor's comments disgusting. "It paints the women here as second-rate and suggests the men will settle for anything," domestic violence worker Shirley Slann told the Brisbane Courier Mail.
Patricia O'Callaghan, who manages the Mount Isa Chamber of Commerce, said: "There's a lot of anger among the community at the moment – a lot of passionate anger."
And after all that, it transpires that the mayor might have got it wrong. Far from a female drought in Mount Isa, the latest census reveals that women make up more than 47 per cent of the population of 20,000. Even so, Mr Molony was last night refusing to back down, insisting he was telling "it like it is".
"I'm a bloke who respects women," he said. But if men outnumbered women by five to one "then perhaps it's an opportunity for some lonely women," he added.
One of Mount Isa's female residents, Anna Warwick, saw it slightly differently, hinting that the town's male population was nothing to write home about. "We've got a saying up here that the odds are good but the goods are odd."