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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Harry begins Outback adventure

By Phil Mercer
BBC correspondent in Sydney

"We love you Harry," yelled a young female admirer as the royal heart-throb started his gap year with a photocall at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

Prince Harry with a Koala
Photo opportunities now, then three months of privacy?

But Prince Harry only had eyes for Lowana and Yindi. The koalas were part of an official, if not slightly clichéd, welcome.

It included a tiny Wallaby called Wilbury and Spike the echidna.

The prince faked a grimace for the cameras as he struggled to hold his prickly friend.

It was picture perfect; a confident royal, engaging with iconic native animals with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge looming in the background.

Clarence House now wants its young charge to enjoy the next three months beyond the gaze of the media.

Father's footsteps

A spokeswoman said the former Eton schoolboy had decided to come to Australia on the advice of his father.

Prince Charles has been here several times. His first trip was in 1966 to study in Victoria.

One Australian newspaper speculated that such was Prince Harry's wild reputation, his bodyguards have considered electronically tagging him
An official statement back then urged the press to leave him alone.

"The Queen has requested that the Prince's visit should be treated as a private one and that he should be allowed the same freedom from public attention as any other school boy."

Almost 40 years later, Britain's Royal Family is keener than ever to protect young Harry from the media.

His total isolation from the press in Australia seems unlikely.

One photographer estimated a single picture of the 19-year-old could sell for up to £50,000.

Well worn trail

The Australian government believes this royal visit could be worth much more.

Prince Harry

Tourism Minister Joe Hockey said it would send "a fantastic message to the world that the number one destination for young Brits is Australia".

A total of 10,000 school-leavers from the UK head Down Under every year.

The backpacker trail is well worn yet much of Australia has retained that untamed frontier feel.

Young travellers are a lucrative part of Australia's tourism market.

A recent survey suggested sex and drinking were major draw cards for gap year students heading for an antipodean adventure before the serious business of university and job hunting.

One Australian newspaper speculated that such was Prince Harry's wild reputation, his bodyguards have considered electronically tagging him so they can keep an eye on him.

A dozen royal protection officers are travelling with the teenager.

Local police forces in Australia will also contribute to security.

Trip criticised

The cost to taxpayers here is estimated to be in excess of £100,000.

It has ruffled a few feathers.

"This is a waste of money," said an outraged Professor John Warhurst, the head of the Australian Republican Movement.

"The cost should be borne by the British Government or the Royal Family."

The criticism has been deflected by Clarence House.

A spokeswoman said these arrangements were part of a reciprocal agreement between governments.

Prince Harry
Prince Harry was introduced to some of the locals on his arrival

When Australian dignitaries visit London, for example, taxpayers in the UK pick up the bill.

The teenage prince, whose grandmother is Australia's head of state, will work as a 'jackaroo' (or cowboy) on outback sheep and cattle stations, where he will be paid the going rate.

There will be time too for his twin passions of polo and rugby.

It seems certain he will attend some of England's World Cup matches.

Philip Benwell, from the Australian Monarchists' League, told the BBC he hoped Prince Harry would be warmly received by the public.

"Life has not been easy for the boy," Mr Benwell said.

"Let us all try to ensure that the few months he will spend with us will be amongst the most enjoyable he has experienced."

The prince is due back in Britain before Christmas and will eventually pursue a military career.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"He [Prince Harry] already has a following"



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