When the bodies of the ***ed travellers were found the media both in Australia
and overseas hit the headlines with 'BACKPACKER ***S' - the fact that they
were backpakers is incidental, but the fact that they were hitchhikers was not
condiered. HITCH HIKER ***S is much nearer the truth. This is not a matter of
semantics, its a matter of a very different life style and travel philosophy. The fact is
only a small percentage of backpakers hitch.
In any case, the former Federal Government's Backpaker Unit, having no knowledge
of this market from the travellers perspective, did not see any reason to apply
damage control, to dampen the media hype, and in reply to my letter, sent me a long
letter to justify what action they were taking which wmounted to none. I later met
some of the leaders of this unit at a seminar which confimed my belief that they were
more interested in addressing the industry and not the backpacker - their market!
The one consolation that we have is that we pass information along to other
I have been a backpacker since 1953, (then called hostelling) and aling the way
have made some appalling misjudgments, I quickly learned that the only way to
survive safely was to rely on inside information such as one traveller passes onto
another. This is the oldest know method of communication, for when 2 strangers met
in the beginning of time, they asked each other the very same questions we ask
today, 'Where are you from>, What's happening there? Clean good places to stay -
what toavoid' etc, etc. One of the safely rules is never to stay in sleazy
neighbourhoods, such as Kings Cross, Sydney where the victims stayed. Wherever
there is *** and sex, there is crime. If I walk through the Cross during the day
time, I carry a carton of milk or a bread stick. This miraculously makes me a local
and therfore invisible, and then ignored by every spiv in every doorway. It can be
used in many countries where one can pass as a local.
About 4 years ago my youngest son was having a drink at a pub in Kings Cross with a
work friend at about 6pm. He woke up many hours later and had no idea how he got
home. His friend recovered consciousness about 8am the next morning lying on the
floor under the table also unable to remember anything. It seems incredible that they
were not noticed during this time. Of course their wallets were missing containing
their pay packets. Drugged drinks are rife in every country in the world. My exucse
for refusing a drink is that I am a diabetic.
Another safety rule is never to trust anyone who is going to drive you to a friend who
has jobs for backpakers. If there are legitimate jobs going its worth the price of a
phone call to have the hostel check it out for you. It is safer to arrive with a work
permit and then apply at the CES (Commonwealth Employment Agency) on arrival.
They will give you a list of what is available.
I have asked many foreign women if they would hitch in their own countries, and the
answer was always a vehement, 'Never! It's too dangerous' they said. And yet they
thik it is OK to hitch in a country they know little about!
Theyere are many safe ways to travel, the best is to hire a car and find enough
backpakers to share the costs, though make sure you have a good driver, preferably
one who is accustomed to driving on the left side of the road. A strict rule is never
drive when you are tired, Never! The distances can be vast. There are also a
number of backpacker buses which are good value- and it's not a bad idea to travel
with soul mates, they have a much livelier apprecation of our philosophy than the
huge bus lines who at worst will drown the passengers in the worst music known to
humankind! Also, they have very little inside infomation which is central to our
Mail me when you are in Adelaide and we'll have a cup of coffee. Be sensible for
happy and safe travelling, and stay in touch with your families, and trust Lonely
Planets. They are old and reliable friends to all backpakers.
Also could you, if you agree with what I have said here today, write to the Hon. John
Moore, Minister for Industry, Science and Tourisim. Tell him he needs to make the
public aware that the poor souls that were killed by that man, were not killed just
because they were backpakers, but because they were hitch hiking. It is a sad fact
that if they were not hitching at the time, they may still be with us.
Andy Thorpe- Broadcaster