Queensland's tourism department offers 'the best job in the world'

What would you do to secure the job of exploring a cluster of tropical islands and reporting back to an envious world? To date, candidates have been stripping off, making improbable promises, getting tattooed - and just plain begging to be appointed.

The job, billed as the best in the world, was announced this week by Queensland's tourism department, which is seeking to promote the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Since then, its website has had four million hits, crashed several times and received 2,000 60-second video applications.

Among those vying to be paid to swim with turtles and stroll along pearly white sands are an Olympic equestrian gold medallist from Switzerland, an Italian doctor, an ex-British Army commander and a teenager from England who is sick of the cold.

The video clips, downloaded to a dedicated website www.islandreefjob.com, demonstrate the lengths to which candidates are prepared to go. One shows an Australian woman entering a tattoo parlour and emerging with a four-inch tattoo on her arm, stating: "I (heart) islands of the Great Barrier Reef."

Another candidate, from Greece, pledges to wash the laundry of everybody in Australia if appointed "caretaker" of Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday archipelago. Oh, and she will also "clean up after the kangaroos", she says, although there aren't many of those on the reef's idyllically beautiful islands and cays.

With tens of thousands more applications expected before the 22 February deadline, the tourism department has upgraded its one original server to ten to cope with the volume of traffic. Ten frazzled staff are sifting through the video clips, a number of which - for reasons unclear - show applicants taking off their clothes. On others, people sing, or simply stare at the camera and beg.

The whole exercise is a marketing ploy, although there really is a job on offer - if you can call living rent-free in a luxury beachfront villa, swimming in crystal waters and lounging under palm trees a job. The real work is to keep a weekly blog, complete with photographs and videos, detailing the area's unrivalled beauty - and encouraging foreigners to book holidays there, so the Queensland government hopes. The lucky person will be appointed for six months, on a salary of $150,000 (£68,000).

First, ten candidates will be shortlisted, along with one wildcard, to be selected by a public vote online. All of those will be flown to the Whitsundays in May for four days of interviews, during which they will have to demonstrate their sailing, diving and snorkelling skills, and undergo "psychological tests". That, of course, will generate more publicity, and the winner will start work on 1 July.

Not surprisingly, the job advertisement has struck a chord in the northern hemisphere, currently shivering through a particularly ferocious winter. Mongolians and Romanians are among those competing for the job, although so are people from Turkey and Brazil.

On Hamilton Island, the temperature rarely falls below 18 degrees C, and mostly it hovers pleasantly in the mid to high-20s. The tourism industry, by contrast, is in the doldrums, and tourism authorities around Australia are wracking their brains for new marketing whizzes.

Queensland's Tourism Minister, Desley Boyle, said this week that some might question the wisdom of appointing an unknown person to be the state's unofficial spokesman. "I think the biggest risk will be that the successful candidate won't want to go home at the end of the six months," she said.