Mystery of Britons missing in outback

HOMICIDE squad detectives in Australia have joined a nationwide hunt for two young British women and four other foreign tourists who have disappeared while travelling through the outback. The manner in which they vanished is so bizarre that it has fuelled the legend of the outback as a region of mystery and peril.

The British women, Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, both 22, have not been seen since they left a Sydney backpackers' hotel on 17 April.

They arrived in Australia last year along with almost 45,000 other young Britons on working holidays, joining an army of young tourists who typically converge on a network of backpackers' hotels in the crowded inner-Sydney district of Kings Cross, before setting off on adventures through Australia's interior.

Many foreign backpackers arrive unprepared for the scale of Australia, a country the size of the United States but with only a fraction of the population, most of whom live in towns and cities hugging the coastline.

Millions of Australians, who grew up with legends of 19th-century explorers such as the German Ludwig Leichhardt, the Irishman Robert O'Hara Bourke and the Englishman William John Wills vanishing and perishing while seeking to open up the frontiers, have rarely ventured into the outback. But foreign backpackers tend to cut themselves off from the outside world for months on end the further they travel from the cities.

What made Ms Clarke and Ms Walters different was their meticulous attention to keeping in touch. They arrived in Australia separately, but teamed up in Sydney with plans to travel together through Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory. They worked in various short-term jobs during their travels, including a T-shirt factory in Sydney and a resort on the Queensland Gold Coast. Both women telephoned their families regularly, Ms Clarke's in Northumberland and Ms Walters' in South Wales.

Shortly before they vanished, Ms Walters told her family she planned to head for Darwin, in the Northern Territory, and then to China before returning to Britain. Ms Clarke wrote enthusiastically to a friend about plans to travel across the Nullabor Plain to Western Australia and to Ayers Rock in central Australia.

After 17 April, the phone calls and letters abruptly stopped. That was the day the two women were last sighted, when they checked out of a hotel in Kings Cross. Ms Walters wore two rings on her left hand, one buckle-shaped, the other with a stone, and an oval-shaped gold locket. Both carried their British passports, but Australian immigration records reveal neither has left the country. Both maintained ample bank accounts in Australia to finance their travels, but neither account has been used since that day.

After their families had not heard from them for two months, police in every Australian state launched a nationwide search and set up a special hotline for people to report any clues to their whereabouts. Earlier this month, police broadcast an appeal for help at the third rugby league Test match between Great Britain and Australia in Brisbane.

They were inundated with calls. A man reported the women were working as cooks at a construction site in the Queensland mining town of Mount Isa. There were other claimed sightings at places as far afield as Alice Springs and Yulara in the Northern Territory and the New South Wales snowfields.

The latest theory on which police are working is that the women caught a train from Kings Cross to a town south of Sydney, where they began to hitch-hike. From there, the trail runs cold.

The disappearances of other backpackers are equally bizarre. On Boxing Day last year, a German couple, Gabor Neugebauer, 21, and his girlfriend, Anja Habshied, 20, left another Kings Cross hotel to travel to Darwin. They failed to arrive, have not been seen since and their bank accounts have not been touched.

Another German, Simone Schmidl, 22, left Sydney last January to hitch-hike to Melbourne, but vanished on the way. Her spectacles and sleeping bag were found in bush near Wangaratta, a town in Victoria. Even more weird is the case of Naoka Onda, a 22-year-old Japanese tourist, who left her passport and belongings in Sydney five years ago when she flew to Queensland for a holiday and vanished.

Although police remain baffled by all the cases, some believe a common thread to many backpackers coming to grief is their willingness to hitch rides with strangers as a cheap way of covering Australia's vast distances.

Peter Dameon, manager of Toddy's Backpacker Hostel in Alice Springs, which has a turnover of 500 young Britons, Europeans and Americans a week, has noticed common characteristics among his clientele. 'Young travellers are very trusting and can fall prey to their ignorance. I'm constantly telling them to be careful out here, where the apparent emptiness of the outback can be deceptive. Then there are some who just choose to cut themselves off from their backgrounds deliberately. They fall in love, want to get away from their families or have over-stayed their visas, so they go underground.'

(Photographs omitted)

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on