Anteater Alumnus Seeks Dream Job in Australia

Australian tourism has been famous for its “Where the bloody hell are you” campaign for years, but now, one UC Irvine graduate has the opportunity to land what Tourism Australia refers to as “The Best Job in the World.”

Out of over 45,000 applicants from 196 countries, Graham Freeman has made it to the top 25 in Tourism Australia’s Outback Adventurer competition. Freeman has until May 7 to collect as many endorsements as he can for the position; three finalists will be named on May 15 and undergo an interview process, and the winner will be announced on June 21.

If selected, Freeman will hot air balloon, cattle race and hike his way through Northern Australia for six months on a $100,000 contract, sharing every moment with the online world through video and photographs. Freeman would live in aboriginal tribes, navigate through rain forests and share his global perspective with the world.

While tourists often flock to southern parts of Australia such as Sydney and Melbourne, Tourism Australia’s Outback Adventurer position is meant to provide cultural background to its northern territory, promoting their “working holidays” vacations in which visitors experience cattle mustering in the outback, teaching in an Aboriginal community and picking melons and mangoes in fields. It’s off the beaten path, which is right up Freeman’s alley.

His motto is simple: “Forget the plans, eat with your hands and always talk to strangers.”

Freeman was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He moved with his family to Rancho Cucamonga, California at age 15.  He’s now 24. In 2011, Freeman graduated from UCI with a degree in psychology and social behavior. Since then, he’s been traveling the globe, doing TEDx talks and sharing his journey virtually through a website he created called Nomads in Touch. Shortly after graduation, Freeman – who spent two years as a resident advisor in Mesa Court – set out with two fellow RAs on a backpacking adventure through Kenya, India, South Africa and Guatemala, seeking to share the stories of the people they met along the way through creative media.

One of those stories came from Jackson, a Kenyan man in his early twenties who was in the eighth grade when he met Freeman. Sleeping in a manyatta (hut) with a host family, Freeman became enamored with Jackson, who was stripped of his education after the sixth grade in order to tend to the tribe’s cattle. One day, the tribe’s chief heard Jackson talking about his passion for education. The chief approached Jackson’s father and told him that his son’s education was more important than his labor and that Jackson should return to the classroom.

“Jackson would do anything possible to get to school and that put so much in perspective for me,” Freeman said.

Thinking back to all of the times he witnessed residents in Mesa Court skip class, Freeman’s eyes were opened by first graders in Kenya, who would wake up before the sun rose in order to walk hours to school and then do their homework by the fire at night.

“I’ve been so lucky to travel so much, but I think I developed a sense of who I am in my travels,” Freeman said. “In my travels, my big focus is connecting with people, and I think that’s what makes me perfect for this Outback Adventurer job.”

On April 23, Freeman received word that he had made the final 25 in the Outback Adventurer competition. As one of eight Americans still standing, Freeman has embarked on a social media frenzy known as #TeamGraham. As of early Friday morning, Freeman had over 120 endorsements from 80 destinations in five continents. While going into makeup for his appearance on KTLA this week, Freeman struck up a conversation with German supermodel Heidi Klum, who mistook his South African accent for Australian.

“Good day, mate!” Klum said, introducing herself to Freeman.

After the initial misunderstanding, Klum explained that she should have known because her boyfriend is South African. By the end of the TV show taping, Freeman had a picture with Klum holding a sign that read “Team Graham for the Outback.”

Freemen immediately posted the picture to his “Graham for Outback Adventurer” Facebook page with the caption, “Wooo! Heidi Klum is on Team Graham!”

Photo Courtesy of Graham Freeman

Photo Courtesy of Graham Freeman

The endorsements began to pile up as “NCIS” star Daniela Ruah, the minister of tourism in Jordan and a professional women’s golfer in South Africa all sent in pictures to support Team Graham. Pictures of Team Graham signs sprung up from the Washington Monument, at the Sydney Opera House, the Golden Gate Bridge, the UCLA School of Dentistry, the Empire State Building, on a beach in Hawaii and in Aldrich Park at UCI.

“The support has really been overwhelming,” Freeman said. “I’m running on adrenaline. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I’ll sleep later.”

After his KTLA interview, Freeman decked himself out in safari gear reminiscent of what the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin’s attire and headed to Hollywood Boulevard. Surrounded by hundreds of tourists and flamboyant street performers, Freeman approached complete strangers about his cause and the opportunity to show the world a unique corner of the world that is often unchartered.

Freeman could have saved up some coin and had a nice weeklong vacation in Hawaii after graduating in 2011, but instead, he’s found a passion for going to places rich in culture rather than capital, and if he’s selected as the Outback Adventurer, he just might teach us a thing or two about the privileged lives we live here in the first world.

Underneath the popularity contest that features applicants competing for the endorsements of Bear Grylls, Heidi Klum and Angelina Jolie, Graham Freeman has an inspiring message that implores us to step out of our comfort zones, gain some perspective and appreciate what we have. While sitting on a beach reading “50 Shades of Grey” may be fulfilling, so is the opportunity to teach English in Kenya, dive with great white sharks in South Africa and pick mangoes with native tribes of Australia.

Where the bloody hell are you, UCI? To get involved in Freeman’s campaign, email photos for Team Graham to:

Facebook: Graham For Outback Adventurer

Instagram: Insta_graham23

Twitter: @GrahamMFreeman