Grand Circle Travel’s Greg Cole pays his respects to industry pioneer Graham Freeman, who died at the weekend.
Vale, Graham Freeman.
Graham Freeman, a founder and pioneer of Australia’s backpacking industry, died at midday Saturday 3rd September in Coffs Harbour Hospital. He was 41 years old.
I had the pleasure of working with Graham in the late 90s as general manager of Backpackers Travel Centers (BTC), a business he formed with Jason Cronshaw some 16 years ago. I was attracted – if not a little addicted – to working with Graham due to his boundless energy and enthusiasm. Anything was possible. BTC grew from 4-5 retail shops to 34 shops in 3 countries, before closing somewhat spectacularly about 8 years ago.
As if running a decent sized retail empire wasn’t enough, Graham also co-founded an Antarctic cruise and expedition company, and a wholesale travel company. Recognising the growth in the international student market, Graham also co-founded Extreme Adventures, which is still running very much in its original format, today.
Graham was a skilled and patient negotiator. I sat with him at the negotiating table many times. One of his means to an end was to ban tea and coffee from the negotiating table and replace it with wine. A clever ploy that often saw percentages rise by the bottle, but few ever declined his hospitality.
Graham knew the value of teamwork. Those who worked for him will I’m sure attest to this. He created an environment that made every individual feel part of something bigger, and did so in an egalitarian fashion. With that in mind, it may come as no surprise to learn that Graham was a gifted team sportsman: He was passionate about hockey and cricket and in years past played both very well.
In any industry it’s important to know where it’s been, and where it’s going. And most importantly – how it got to where it is. Graham Freeman was an integral part of the collective of people who built the foundations of the backpacker industry. He was passionate, energetic, and gregarious by nature – essential qualities in our industry. Even through tough times I never heard him complain or blame others. He accepted mistakes as most entrepreneurs do – something to learn and grow from.
His final departure was quiet and peaceful, which is quite unlike Graham. He left a huge footprint on this earth.
Graham is survived by his parents, David and Shirley; his brothers, Mark, Greg, and Peter; his sister, Sue; and his wife Emi.