How This Paparazzo-Turned-Mayor Plans to Fix His Australian Hometown

After his London tabloid went under, Darryn Lyons returned to Geelong to try to turn around its struggling economy.

Image
Reuters

Globalization has not been kind to Australia's manufacturing workers, whose job losses have dragged on for decades.

Few places exemplify this decline as vividly as Geelong, a city of about 180,000 people 47 miles south of Melbourne. It's been an especially tough few years, with over 1,000 job cuts announced by some of its biggest employers, including Alcoa, Ford, and Qantas.

Geelong, born out of the 19th century gold rush, is struggling to reinvent itself. Optimism is hard to find; one Alcoa worker recently told Reuters, "I reckon it's gonna be a ghost town." Another employee added "it's like going into a dark tunnel, you don't know where it's going to end."

But the city's new mayor, tabloid pioneer Darryn Lyons, has a happier take.

Easily identified thanks to his odd hairstyles and British reality TV appearances, the former paparazzo left London in 2012, after his Big Pictures photo agency collapsed. He returned to his hometown, and was elected mayor last November (his campaign slogan: "Giddy Up!").

Rather than fight his old reputation, Lyons has used his eccentricities as a "marketing tool" for the city. He's media savvy, with ambitions to turn the city into a tourism, research, and defense contract hub. Right now, the mayor is pushing for the Australian army to put production facilities for a $9 billion combat vehicle project in town. But since Geelong is just one of many struggling manufacturing cities around the country, Lyons' political skills face an especially tough test.  

The Incitec Pivot company fertilizer and explosive chemical plant is pictured at sunset in Geelong, February 26, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed) 
A shift worker at the Alcoa aluminum smelter leaves the plant during a 12-hour shift change before sunrise at Point Henry in Geelong February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
A shift worker at the Alcoa alumnum smelter leaves the plant during a 12-hour shift change before sunrise at Point Henry in Geelong February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
The road leading to the Shell Oil Refinery is seen at sunset in Geelong February 26, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
A suburban street is seen in Geelong February 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed) 
Residential properties advertised for sale in the suburban neighborhoods of Geelong between February 24 and February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed) 
A worker at a beach-front attraction, the Giant Sky Wheel, goes on a break at sunset, in Geelong February 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Paddle board instructor Shawn Ward packs up his boards on Geelong's beachfront February 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
A visitor to the Shell Club, a sports and social venue, plays a slot machine near the Shell Oil refinery in Geelong February 26, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed) 
A woman walks through the main shopping district in Geelong February 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
The Ritz Flats, part of an abandoned pub, stand in the main shopping area of Geelong February 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Unopened mail lays on the floor of an abandoned pub in Geelong, February 26, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Top image: Newly elected Geelong Mayor, Darryn Lyons poses for a photograph in his mayoral robes in the living room of his home in Geelong February 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Jason Reed) 

About the Author