It was a job offered to the entire world and now that Ben Southall is blogging about it, is it really the best job in the world?
Best job in the world?
Never has a prospective employee woken up on the first day of a new job with such a spring in his step as Ben Southall, the 34-year-old from Petersfield, England, who last week took up what tourism officials in Australia described as "the best job in the world": the caretaker of Hamilton Island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Fending off competition from around 34,000 applicants from across the globe, Southall landed the peachy six-month role - which requires him to explore the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and tell the world about his adventures via a blog - following a 60-second video application and an interview.
The requirements were simple: can swim, and can speak and write English. So far, the swimming doesn't appear to have caused him too many problems. His English, on the other hand, has already landed him in a world of trouble, after he tweeted with excitement about a neighbouring resort he had visited on his second day - and got the name of the island wrong. "Leaving the chef's table and chocolate room on Hayward Island after a stunning gastronomic presentation," he told his global audience, to whom he is being paid $150,000 Australian (Dh440,000) to promote the region.
It is, as several disgruntled followers pointed out, Hayman Island. The error was quickly righted by the Tourism Queensland overlords, but you can imagine the showdown that took place on the sundeck of the luxury three-bedroom villa he has been given rent-free for the duration of his employment. Is the dream already starting to unravel for our reef-trawling friend? Let's take a look at the potential pitfalls of such a hotly anticipated role.
Southall's exploration duties will mean that swimming, snorkelling, diving and sailing will all be on the daily activity menu - which is fine, since the waters are warm and of the clearest turquoise. However, as is the way with this most climatically hostile of continents, in which obscure and deadly species seem to lurk around every corner, Southall will be sharing the waters with the Irukandji jellyfish. This small, transparent creature occupies the number two spot on Australia's Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals list, and its sting can, according to www.hamilton.com, result in "severe pain, muscle constriction and breathing difficulties which require immediate medical attention". Not what you need when you're trying to harpoon your lunch.
Then there's the mail collection to contend with. Yes, as caretaker of the capital of the Whitsunday Islands, collecting the inhabitants' post will be among his daily chores. And with 5,000 residents, it could be fiddlier than it sounds. Among the 5,000 residents are at least 500 dogs. Who knows how many may not take kindly to this zany, adventurous type leaping over their picket fence to deliver supplies from www.amazon.com. And with only a golf buggy to negotiate the island's pathways (no cars are allowed), and several thousand inexperienced, view-gawping tourists heading in the opposite direction at high speed, some sort of collision is guaranteed.
Finally, there's the blogging, in which Southall must sing like a canary of all things wonderful about the Great Barrier Reef in order to persuade tourists to part with their few remaining pennies to holiday there. "Heading out to the uber-glamorous Qualia Resort; one of the world's only six star luxury destinations and how it deserves this title," he shamelessly PR'd on his day-one entry. And then: "how amazing are the dolphins at Seaworld?!"
Surely, he can't keep up this level of enthusiasm, especially when he's been repeatedly stung by jellyfish, bitten by unruly dogs, had a nasty spill in his golf buggy and is suffering from permanent sunburn (he looks disarmingly fair). What are the chances that a few months down the line, once the reality of island living has set in, his entries will start to read more like: "Blisters from my flippers really starting to hurt now" and "grilled prawns for breakfast - again".
And, of course, in that upside-down part of the world, summer is winter, which means rain, and lots of it. That's not just sour grapes - not at all. In fact, we wish our beachcombing friend all the best for his paradisiacal posting. Just don't say we didn't warn him. Read Ben Southall's Island Caretaker Blog at www.islandreefjob.com.