Riding high Down Under

Graham Michael Freeman isn't the reigning "Outback Adventurer" for Australia's Northern Territory.

His proverbial crown is no less shiny, though.

The South African bloke will board a flight to Tasmania on Friday as the state's first "Tassie Devil Wrangler" — a title that will likely be a great conversation-starter in future job interviews, he quipped.

In the coming six months, Freeman will create content via photography, videos, blogs, articles and social media, becoming a connoisseur of the island's art, food, wine and history. While residing in Hobart, recently deemed the world's second-friendliest city by Condé Nast Traveler, the outdoor enthusiast is excited to try his hand at scuba diving, kayaking and fishing.

Freeman plans to sleep well on his flight Down Under and dive straight into work after arriving on Monday. First up, orientation, followed by a road trip across Tasmania.

"I've been in go-mode for the past three months and am so ready to touch down and begin the expedition," said the UC Irvine alum, who sounds as if he is on the verge of bursting with anticipation. "There is so much to see and do, and it's going to be jam-packed trying to fit in all that Tassie has to offer in six months."

Freeman's was among an estimated 620,000 applications that poured in earlier this year for Tourism Australia's annual "Best Jobs in the World Contest," which offers six-month positions to winners who travel and document their experiences in different parts of the country.

For the 25-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident, showtime began immediately after touching down in Sydney on June 11. The 18 finalists — three per position — interacted with kangaroos, koalas and media personnel and played football with the Sydney Swans, about which Freeman remarked, "Think of this as the Australian equivalent of shooting hoops with the Lakers!"

Along with the chance to visit Uluru and Kings Canyon, time in the Northern Territory was marked with interviews, leadership challenges, photography and video contests, and "bush tucker" — camel, kangaroo and crocodile for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Freeman, who developed close connections with other finalists — they felt like kindred spirits, not competitors, he reflected — was shepherded into Sydney's Gallery of New South Wales for the final announcement June 21. He remembers facing "blinding white lights from a wall of international press" when Allan Dixon's name was announced.

"It was a really strange moment for me — one of those that is so brief, but at the time feels like an eternity," he noted. "There was obviously a massive wave of disappointment — I don't think there has ever been anything I have wanted more in my life."

But organizers didn't allow Freeman to stay morose for too long.

Aude Mayans and Freeman, both runners-up, were christened visual content producers and whisked away for a month. The duo showcased the Northern Territory's festival season, got within inches of a 17-foot crocodile, painted with Aborigines and swam under Kakadu National Park's luminous waterfalls.

Freeman, who described the experience as "exhilarating," was also the only man with 13 European women on a backpacking tour, which, he joked, "didn't make visiting one of the most beautiful places on Earth any less bearable."

As the "Best Jobs" contest drew to a close, Freeman received an offer from a different group. Tourism Tasmania officials, having viewed the high-caliber work produced by the competition's finalists, interviewed those who were interested in a similar endeavor. Their decision was prompted by a demand for more user-generated content about the region, said Director of Marketing Kathryn McCann.

"Graham has traveled extensively and is extremely well credentialed, and has wide experience in content generation, visual storytelling and knowledge-sharing," she said. "He is a friendly, approachable, credible and outgoing person who will slip easily into the Tasmanian way of life. We think he will do a great job."

Freeman's responsibilities are similar to those carried out by Tourism Australia's fondly named "Best Jobbers," although his role is a separate one. He will also earn a salary package of $100,000 Australian dollars, which, he said, dulls in comparison to the excitement-packed opportunity that awaits him.

For now, he can't believe his journey commences in only a few hours.

"It's been such a validating experience that has allowed for many moments of self-reflection," Freeman said. "As cliche as it sounds, it's a testament to fighting for a dream no matter how obscure or far-off it may seem — taking the time to pursue a passion, pushing yourself that little bit further and having fun no matter what it is you're doing."

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