Graham Freeman: the passing of a pioneer

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.

0 thoughts on “Graham Freeman: the passing of a pioneer

  • September 7, 2011 at 9:52 am
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    For those that knew Graham they would know that the world is a worse place without him. Graham was one of the true pioneers in backpacking retail with BTC being a leader before those that have now followed. His energy, intelligence, forward thinking and commitment to only selling what he believed were great experiences to his clients are values that we seem to be missing of late.

    I was fortunate enough to visit Antarctica with Graham a decade ago and was on the losing end of many of those commission negotiations over a bottle of wine that Greg C talks about.

    Both personally and on behalf of ATA and Oz Ex we wish his family and wife Emi the deepest condolences at this time.

    Reply
  • September 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm
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    Graham certainly was a character who stood out in an industry of characters. He was MD of our Stray Asia travel network and was responsible for getting us to operate there in the first place and for much of our excellent trip content. He certainly was a motivated and creative person with a lot of energy. He will be missed by many. This really has been a shock and I fully expected to be visiting him in Australia while he recuperated rather than going to his funeral.

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  • September 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm
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    Here, living the dream on struggle street here in Cairns, am blown away by such sad news. Graham was a genius in his field, our business dealings, like Greg and Neil and many others, beginning more than 15 years ago. I went up to Laos last year and spent some time at his and Emi’s beautiful palace on the banks of The Mekong. At a time where I didn’t know what my next move in life was, I certainly didn’t expect this move from Grub. Maybe I should have listened to him and Neil in trying to talk me into joining there venture up there… Goodbye kind sir, I will sincerely miss you and your ‘grub’ antics…
    Blessed to Family Freeman and the beautiful Emi.

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  • September 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm
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    I don’t think I could better or add anything further from the 4 top blokes above who know a good bastard when they meet one …..condolences to all of G’s family and to the many many friends he gathered in just the short time he had with us .

    I am sure they are all sorely missing him… just a bloody good bugger who excited and motivated a bunch of fellas who motivate heaps of us everyday… we are a sadder place for his passing…

    Cheeks

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  • September 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm
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    Graham gave me one of my first jobs in Travel. I remember his exuberance and his ability to create a feeling of belonging amongst employees. He was indeed a Pioneer within the industry. I remember, as a 22 year old, being quite inspired by him. He achieved more in 41 years than most do in 80.

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  • September 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm
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    I only knew Graham briefly, but I remember vividly one time at my first ABiC conference (late 90’s), when I only knew a few people in the BP industry – there was a circle of people at a function and I was on the outer…Graham recognised me and opened the circle up and said “join us”…it’s stuck with me ever since…

    Rest well Graham…cheers and I wish there were a few more of you around.

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  • September 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm
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    Absolute shock! Graham was one of the first people I met in the Industry when I started at Oz Experience some 12 years ago. He created a very unique company culture which we used to call “the BTC family” which until this day has never been matched by any other travel chain.

    An unforgettable smile and one of nicest guys you would ever meet.

    My heart goes out to his family and friends. A true pioneer.

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  • September 8, 2011 at 11:20 pm
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    Very sad to hear the news about Graham’s passing. He will be remembered for his energy and always good cheer. RIP

    On behalf of all the BTC Japan Desk staff.

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  • September 9, 2011 at 5:13 am
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    We on earth will miss you Graham. As said in our last e-mails, you most of the time did what you wanted to do and always strived for what you believed in. My deepest condolences to Graham’s family and wife Emi.

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  • September 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm
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    I had the great pleasure of working closely with Graham for over 6 years at BTC. I had the time of my life working with him and the BTC family. As a boss Graham was inspiring, encouraging, light hearted and a big believer in giving people their wings to see what each can achieve. I have a huge level of respect and admiration for him & will miss him dearly. A great man, a life taken too young.

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  • September 13, 2011 at 10:24 am
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    Thanks Greg, great words for a great guy – in 1999 Graham was the first operator to walk in our front door at Global Gossip and look at how we could work together with BTC – how to bring Internet and travel together in the retail space. He and Jason were a pleasure to work with. He will be greatly missed by all those who worked with him, loved him and cared for him.

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  • September 15, 2011 at 10:14 am
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    I too had the pleasure of working with and for grub for a number of years at BTC.
    It was a great time for a lot of us and it has been said above we were a big family and Graham was responsible for that.
    Great times great man
    You will be missed Graham
    Regards to all family and friends
    Chris and Fran

    Reply

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