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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 09:22 GMT
Dark side of Australian tourism
By Phil Mercer
BBC correspondent in Sydney

Melody O'Gara
Melody O'Gara has been missing for more than three weeks

The disappearance of a young British tourist in Sydney more than three weeks ago continues to baffle Australian police.

Melody O'Gara, 28, from Bolton, was last seen at a friend's house near Bondi beach.

There's been no sign either of Melina Daubl, an Austrian teenager, who went missing in Sydney around the same time.

Detectives do not believe the two cases are connected but these mysterious disappearances have highlighted the darker side to travel in Australia.

'Worst nightmare'

"It's your world's worst nightmare," Melody O'Gara's father Hugh told the BBC in Sydney, where he's helping the police inquiry.

"Nothing that I've ever gone through before compares to the roller-coaster I'm on now," he said.

Australia is probably considered a softer option compared to going to South America and South Africa
Alan Collingwood
Investigators believe that Melody, who was in Australia on a working holiday, may have committed suicide after her handbag was found on the edge of a cliff near Bondi beach.

Her disappearance has caused unease among some British backpackers in Sydney.

"My mum back home is out of her mind worrying about me," said Sam, a student from Hampshire.

"We're all making sure we're not out late on our own while we're here."

Searing heat

At the end of October, a 52-year-old holiday-maker from Cumbria was found dead on a dusty track in the outback.

The body of Ethel Hetherington was discovered near an Aboriginal community, several kilometres from her hotel at Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock.

An accurate picture of what happened to her and why has still to emerge.

Missing poster for Melody O'Gara
Family and friends have been distributing these missing posters
One theory is that she was invited to the indigenous settlement and died from heat exhaustion when she tried to walk back in searing desert temperatures.

Tragedies and mysterious disappearances are clearly not good for Australia's international reputation.

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar business. However, such unforeseen events don't appear to have scared off many overseas visitors.

'Still safe'

"Australia is still a very safe destination," Alan Collingwood from the Travellers Contact Point in Sydney told the BBC News website.

"Australia is probably considered a softer option compared to going to South America and South Africa.

"Young people want to have adventure and if there is any criticism of Australia is that it's seen to be a little soft in that area."

There have been a number of notorious backpacker murders and mysteries over the past decade.

Cliffs near Bondi beach
Melody O'Gara's handbag was found near a cliff-edge close to Bondi beach
In 1996, Ivan Milat, one of Australia's most notorious serial killers, was jailed for life for killing seven young travellers, including two Britons.

Four years ago, 15 backpackers died when an arsonist attacked an old wooden hostel in the farming town of Childers, in Queensland. Among the victims were seven tourists from the UK.

'Frontier feel'

A few kilometres down the road in Bundaberg, Caroline Stuttle, a gap year student from York, died after being deliberately thrown off a bridge during a robbery.

In the Northern Territory, a man will face trial next year accused of killing the British tourist Peter Falconio, who disappeared in the Outback in July 2001.

Such incidents are rare but they inevitably make the headlines.

Despite these highly-publicised deaths and disappearances, Australia retains a frontier feel that will continue to attract legions of visitors from overseas.


SEE ALSO:
Backpacker suicide fears revived
15 Nov 04 |  Manchester
Family appeal on missing tourist
02 Nov 04 |  Manchester
Tourist's funeral to take place
11 Nov 04 |  Cumbria
Australia serial killers jailed for life
08 Sep 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Appeal lodged on backpacker death
11 Nov 04 |  North Yorkshire


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