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April 18, 2010

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Best job just keeps on getting better

BEN Southall still has what many people would call the best job in the world, although he's no longer confined to a tropical island paradise. Southall gained international notoriety last year when he won a global marketing pitch to find an island caretaker - "The Best Job in the World" - for a resort destination on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

He spent six paid months "on the job" and is now an ambassador for the state of Queensland, home to some of the world's most pristine sun and sand leisure locations.

Southall, 35, was in China this week carousing his way through media engagements in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, espousing the virtues of the region he called home for the second six months of 2009.

He has been overwhelmed by his media appeal in China which he compares more than favorably to what he generates in his native United Kingdom.

"The interest in China has been the best in terms of number of journalists who want to put a story together. The TV and online stuff is also very good," he said in Shanghai this week. "There was big interest also in a major product launch in Beijing of which allows Chinese to interact with the Queensland product and see all about it."

He said the initial launch of the global competition in which he won the dream job received little attention in the UK.

"It had a lot of coverage all around the world but funnily enough not in the UK which is always a little hesitant when it comes to nice, happy stories. They're a bit stand-offish with that sort of stuff."

Southall, an automotive systems engineer by learning and an event management expert by practice, has been contracted for another 12 months to wander the world talking about his island experience and spruiking the benefits of a Queensland holiday.

The activity is an extention of what he was doing as "island caretaker" which morphed as a result of his engaging personality, sense of the good life, and adventure into being a role as "a travel journalist, sales and marketing person and media grunt."

When asked if he actually did any island caretaker work he admitted, tongue in cheek, to "cleaning the leaves out of my spa" and "scrubbing the inlet plate on a desalination plant" for a film crew.

But lazing around didn't seem to be possible as he blogged incessantly about his experiences in the tropical idyll of the romantic Hamilton Island and hosted visitors.

He has a genuine love of nature and admits to being enamored of South Africa where he spent years working prior to winning the Queensland job. So it is no wonder the seascape attractions of the Great Barrier Reef figure in his most memorable highlights.

"The best experiences are where you get close to nature and you can't plan them, like diving with turtles when they came right up to the lens of the camera," he said.

"And then being on a tiny catamaran off Lindeman Island, becalmed on a Sunday morning with a journalist from AAP who'd never seen a whale before.

"Over in the distance about 200 meters away, off went two whale blowholes. Two minutes later they're 50 meters away and we thought they were going past. All of a sudden, a mother whale and calf were 10 meters behind us and passed underneath the catamaran which moved slightly as they glided away.

"I looked over at the girl and she had this little tear coming out of her eye. She was there to write an article on Lindeman Island and they were quite upset because it became a whole different story on this whale experience and nothing about the resort."

Queensland has a 20-year Sister State link with Shanghai and will showcase its tourism attractions and investment potential in the Australian Pavilion at World Expo. Southall visited the pavilion during his visit and representatives of the pavilion, including Commissioner General Lyndall Sachs, attended his media conference.

While he has hung up his wetsuit for the time being, Southall, who now calls Brisbane home, has a busy year ahead completing his ambassadorial duties. The personal spin offs have been a role as frontman for a six-part National Geographic TV series and a book about his island experience.

Plus he's developing with the Royal Geographic Society, which runs British School Expedition Services, a program of quasi scientific visits for young people into remote areas of northeastern Australia.

This will be marketed as "The Best Expedition in the World."

"What else could it be called," said the jaunty Pom whose future seems destined for leisure roles the rest of us can only dream about.


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