Friday, April 16, 2010
“Best job”winner Ben Southall talks about stint as island caretaker in the Great Barrier Reef
By Nancy T. Lu
Ben Southall, the adventurous British winner of the much-publicized “best job in the world,” is visiting Taipei for a few days, arousing in the process great public curiosity about the his six-month stint as caretaker of Hamilton Island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef last year.
Blond and tanned Southall, who outshone everyone else in a search which attracted 34,683 applicants from different continents, was said to have clinched the closely contested “best job” due to his excellent skill in communicating. Taiwan’s very own Clare Wang was a finalist for the job, too.
“My experiences underwater – which were all about the islands and the Great Barrier Reef – have stood out in my memory,” the 35-year-old Southall revealed.
“In the last few weeks of my job, I was diving with my film camera at a place near Elliott Island,” Southall said. “Turtles seen in the water normally disappear quickly. But for some reason on this particular day, one turtle about 15 meters from where I was swam all the way towards me. So I wrapped my hand around its shell. It turned and looked back at me. Then it disappeared. My girlfriend was underneath the turtle. So she had seen it from below while I had seen it from above. Between the two of us, looking at each other, we could say only very little to each other underwater. We could only mumble our excitement. It was an amazing experience.”
“This was an exhausting job, too,” remarked Southall about his enviable stint out in Australia. “This, in fact, was like you’ve got money for two weeks of vacation and you had an adventure every single day. You finally ended up needing a holiday after the two-week holiday.”
His last four months have been about his new role as Queensland’s tourism ambassador. In fact, he is in Taipei to fan excitement about travel to Queensland. Southall described his new job as “still about making people around the world jealous about what my work is all about.” He has been making presentations and showing people everywhere the pictures which he has personally taken in order to get them to book for travel to Australia.
Southall spent a few years before “the best job as island caretaker” traveling in a very different way. He knew it all – from five-star accommodation all the way down to camping on a beach. He has pictures as tell-tale proof.
For ten years leading up to “the best job,” Southall explored different places, but mainly parts of Africa. He was often a backpacker. But in the last year, he went around driving a Land Rover with a tent on its roof. The Land Rover was his bedroom, his kitchen and so forth during the expedition. He blazed a 61,000-kilometer trail through 31 African countries over a period of one year and one week.
Backpacking in Australia is much easier than similar activity in Africa due to the existence of lots of hostels, according to Southall. A wide variety of activities are possible.
A pair of flip flops with thongs, a Swiss army knife as well as a small and compact waterproof camera are on Southall’s list of needs for a backpacking trip in Australia. Recording and documenting the travel for eventual input on a personal blog can go a long way to drive away boredom upon return to the humdrum of life working in an office job, he stressed.
Southall intends to go back to the Great Barrier Reef to involve young people from around the world in an environmental study particularly of how global warming is affecting it.