No longer considered a rare species, modern society — and its escalating divorce rates — has seen the emergence of a new breed of female party-goers.
Our intrepid reporters head out to one of Albury’s popular watering holes on the hunt for Cougars.
THE opulent cherry-topped cocktails, jukebox hits and white leather lounges openly invite a more mature clientele.
It’s a welcoming habitat for a once-elusive but now more commonly sighted species and a natural place to begin our search for the Cougar.
Dean Street venue ZedBar’s reputation as a Cougar hang-out is apparently so well established in these parts someone has set up a “Cougar Bar” page on Facebook so you can “check-in” when you visit.
And bar staff, far from dismissing the phenomenon, embrace this demographic of women as some of their favourite clients — regular customers who come in every week to let their hair down but rarely create any drama.
While the definition of a Cougar varies depending on who you speak to, most people agree they are typically women in their late thirties, forties or fifties with established careers and sometimes a first marriage and a couple of kids under their belt.
They can be spotted heading out on a Saturday night, a girlfriend or two in tow, confidently approaching younger strangers — sometimes men young enough to be their sons.
“The younger crowd, they think they can party, they think they have been there and done that but they haven’t,” ZedBar’s general manager Phil Alcott says.
STEPPING out on the town in a figure-hugging mini dress, Rose (not her real name) is one of ZedBar’s regulars and at 42 is a self-confessed “Cougar”.
Her life story is similar to that of other women who comfortably place themselves in the Cougar category.
She married young, had a family and one day found she had grown dissatisfied with her life and relationship.
About five years ago she divorced her husband after he cheated and she’s spent the past four years making up for lost time.
Now single and fancy-free, her youngest close encounter has been with a 22-year-old man, just eight years older than her teenage daughter.
Rose says very matter of factly that most men her age don’t satisfy her physically
“I’ve spent 20 years with someone that I was compatible with intellectually. (Now) I want someone that’s both,” she says.
JOSH, also not his real name, is 18 and admits to being a Cougar hunter.
The Albury labourer prefers older women.
His first encounter was almost a year ago when he approached a woman in a mall in Sydney on a flight stopover on his way overseas.
He was friendly and she was forward.
Josh asked the woman to go for a drink with him. She asked him if he wanted to go home with her.
She was 54.
“A Cougar is always more forward than most people,” Josh says.
He’s since picked up women in their 30s in Albury, including one woman who had been married for 10 years.
“They know what they’re doing,” he says, hinting that pencil skirts and leopard print are typical Cougar markings.
He also has mates — “not my age but older, like 26” — who actively pursue women in their 40s and he says Paddy’s is a favourite hunting ground “for women who are chasing”.
A COUPLE of years ago 49-year-old Albury mum Sammy (not her real name) had a six-month tryst with a younger man and says it was the toy boy who pursued her.
She first approached the 32-year-old because she’d overheard some younger women complaining there weren’t any cute guys at the bar.
But when she promptly plucked one out of the crowd for them and boldly asked the blonde tradie if he was single, it wasn’t the girls the 32-year-old fell for but the trim older woman more than a decade his senior.
“I don’t see what he saw in me. He just said younger women had too many issues and if I wanted to have children he would have run off and married me,” Sammy says.
“He said younger girls didn’t have it together.”
Sammy and the tradie kept in touch after their relationship ended but both are now seeing people closer to their age.
FOR ZedBar owner Brian Grenfell, Cougar clientele form part of a successful business model.
Six years ago the lively cocktail bar was the Globe Hotel, a very popular late-night club full of writhing bodies, dark corners and inevitable trouble.
It was stressful business.
“If I wasn’t working on the weekend I was thinking, ‘What am I going to be waking up to today? What police matters will I have to deal with?” Mr Grenfell says.
“I took a huge gamble, I sensed where the industry was going and I could see how hard it was getting in the late-night trade. And I didn’t see anything for the mature age group in Albury.”
When he first opened ZedBar in 2007, Mr Grenfell envisaged a sophisticated lounge bar where the well-heeled could sip coffees and cocktails but discovered that wasn’t necessarily what customers wanted.
They wanted to get up and boogie.
They wanted to indulge in a cocktail or two, but not end up projectile vomiting in the hedge out the front.
General manager Phil Alcott says this business model has brought a new genre of mature-minded party-goers out of the woodwork, the young, the old — and the Cougars.
“This business has gone from being closed at 11pm on a Saturday because they were no customers to being one of the busiest bars in town,” he says.
MAGGIE (not her real name), 55, sits at a table behind ZedBar’s DJ booth and yells over the music.
She lives in Brisbane but is back in her hometown for a girls’ night out and to catch up with her daughter who lives on the Border.
“We might be old but we’re not dead,” she says.
Fighting the pull of her girlfriends, who want her to jump in a photo, she tries to explain the Cougar concept.
There’s a whole herd of women out there, just like her, who are single after 10 to 20 years of marriage.
It’s worlds apart from the life of her own mother, part of a generation where marriages had to stick — for better or worse.
“My mum had to get married and wear Fletcher Jones suits,” she says.
“They were mothers, they were homemakers.
“Now my daughter is seeing my car at 4am in Dean Street.
“At the end of the day we still want to have fun. We’re still alive, we’ve still got our mojo.”
BORDERpsychologist Dr Brian Hickman says society’s high divorce rates mean there are more women embracing a life they may not have had; a second shot at singledom if you like.
“They got married early, had kids. It’s a maternal jail,” Dr Hickman says.
“They get to 40 and suddenly they think, ‘This is as good as I’m going to look and I don’t care’.
“They say, ‘No, I’m going to be me’, which is a catch-cry for that group.”
Dr Hickman says most Cougars regard their liaisons with younger men as simply that — fun and fleeting.
But there are also some who, underneath it all, are just trying to find love.
“There are groups who are still looking for love, have self-esteem issues, some may have been sexually abused or are just acting out,” he says.
Dr Hickman also suggests Cougars consider a new hunting ground.
“Cougars should work the coffee shops because then they’re sober,” he says.
“They should be more assertive in normal day-to-day life.
“Women should be more assertive in approaching men. It would make life a lot easier for everybody.”
BACK in the noisy din of ZedBar, bar worker Matt “Dutchy” Holland considers himself somewhat of an expert when it comes to Cougars and says most have no qualms about approaching men.
He jokes that he can put them into a number of categories, the most aggressive of which is the “man-eater”, who hunts her young prey with “groping, bumping and grinding” dance moves.
The apprentice linesman often finds himself the target of older women, though he says it’s all in good fun.
“I’m an easy target for them to flirt and muck around with because I’m in uniform,” Mr Holland says.
“It can be anything from the odd pat on the arse to dancing right up to your face and being all sexy on you.”
Every Friday and Saturday night Matt observes Cougars in their natural habitat and he knows all their lethal moves.
“This is the attack plan of the Cougar,” he yells later that night, over the blaring tunes of Shania Twain.
Grabbing a notepad and pen, he draws five dots in a circle under the shadowy disco lights.
“What they do is hit the dance floor in a circle formation,” he explains, pointing to his diagram.
“Then when some male prey walks past, bam, they reach out and trap him in there.”
For some time these women who pursue and date younger men have held an often-debated place in urban folklore.
Now we have proof of their existence on the Border.