Grey nomads fully expect to find stunning scenery, endless adventure, and a unique sense of camaraderie as they travel … but many are discovering a different side to the Big Lap.
While sunsets and seascapes are the traditional attractions of extended trips, caravanners and motorhomers are following a worldwide trend and seeking out scenes of gruesome crimes and murders.
The concept of dark tourism is not a new one. The locations of mass killings such as Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng in Cambodia, and Ground Zero in New York have spawned an unlikely tourism industry.
Similarly, former prisons such as Alcatraz, and Robben Island in South Africa have, to some extent, ‘cashed in’ on their notoriety.
In Australia, the deadly deeds of notorious bushrangers such as Ned Kelly are ‘celebrated’, and the human suffering at former penal colonies is recalled for the education – and possibly entertainment – of visitors.
The most iconic example is Tasmania’s Port Arthur Historic Site where convicts lived and died in horrific conditions. Between 1833 and 1877 more than 1,000 people were buried on the Isle of the Dead, and travellers can now join a guided tour to the island to re-live their horror. Port Arthur was also the scene of the 1996 shooting in which 35 people were killed. Today, a simple plaque and a garden with a pond commemorates the victims of the crime.
Most tourism operators are aware of the need for sensitivity when recalling horrific events. While the locations of sites where indigenous Australians were slaughtered are certainly not major tourist attractions, memorial plaques are in place at many. For example, at Red Rock near Coffs Harbour, a simple sign recalls the Bloodrock Massacre from the 19th century.
Dark tourism has now moved from historical facts to made-up events. The release of the Wolf Creek horror movie sparked a significant spike in tourism at WA’s Wolfe Creek.
“They just want to go out for photos and to say they have been,” said Halls Creek Tourism Manager, Natasha Niven. “There are no plaques or details about the movie at the national park … but we do sell ‘I Survived Wolfe Creek Crater’ stickers, magnets, T-shirts and caps at the tourist centre.”