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Fri, 29 Jan 2021

When holidays go wrong

Birds eye view of the bush.
Image: Josh Withers

We’ve all heard the stories: search parties are out looking for a tourist missing on a local mountain / walking trail / river. Many of us respond judgementally. “Why can’t they read the signs, or tell someone where they’re going, and take the right equipment?”

James Cook University doctoral researcher Steve Schwartz has a different response.

“I think if we’re honest we can look at those stories and realise that could be us one day. A few imperfect decisions and some bad luck in unfamiliar territory is all it takes,” he said.

Instead of calling for more warning signs and a better class of tourists, Mr Schwartz is investigating those stories and searching for what needed to change to keep that tourist on a safe path.

As an experienced search and rescue volunteer he has seen plenty of holidays end in misadventure, and sometimes tragedy.

“I volunteer in an area that combines a high tourist population with a challenging climate and any number of mountains, walking tracks, waterfalls and waterways, so it can get busy,” he said.

“After a rescue, this is something I often think about – what part of that person’s story needed to change, for them to have stayed safe? What knowledge would have changed the outcome? And when was the right time for them to have learnt the things that could have either kept them out of strife, or at least made them easier to find?”

Mr Schwartz is in the first stage of his PhD, collecting the stories of those missing tourists, the people who searched for them, and those who worried about them.

Over the next 12 months he aims to interview people who’ve become lost in the pursuit of leisure, searchers – both trained and untrained – and other people with a stake in the story, including community members, tourism operators and accommodation providers.

“My focus is on domestic or international travellers who got lost on land, anywhere in the country,” Mr Schwartz said. “If you were the one who got lost, or you helped search for them or were in some other way connected, I’m keen to hear from you.”


To find out more about this project please contact Steve Schwartz.
M: 0416 464 821