From the Outback to the Seacoast
By Amy Miller
New Hampshire Seacoast Sunday, December 20, 1987
After 10 years of travelling, Dominick Macan came to Hampton to start G.F.I. International,
an adventure travel company. [D.W. Roberts photo]
It’s been a long journey for a British adventurer, who’d like to take like-minded souls on vacations that are definitely not for the weak of heart – like a few weeks in the Australian Outback with the real Crocodile Dundee.
Dominick Macan was hitch-hiking through the northern territory of Australia in 1985 when he hit the highlight of a decade in adventure travel – he was picked up by Rod Ansell, the “real” Crocodile Dundee.
Ansell, the inspiration for the blockbuster motion picture that triggered a rage of interest in Australia, invited his British passenger back to the bush, a land virtually untouched by human contact.
It was yet another in a long string of adventures for a 31-year old Brit who has tramped through the bush of Australia, crewed yachts in the Meditierranean and led dives under the Red Sea.
So what is he doing in Hampton, New Hampshire?
Macan, in the United States since April, is hoping to lead other ambitious travelers on adventure like the ones he’s known. He landed on Hampton because one of his long time associates in the Red Sea happened to be from the Seacoast. Macan and Gary LeBlanc are now partners in GFI (Go For It) International, an adventure travel service specializing in small parties – four people or fewer.
LeBlanc has for years been running what is now the parent company to GFI, UnderSea What We See, a scuba diving tour business in Hampton. Since diving is LeBlanc’s main interest, he has left Macan to handle GFI.
Promising “exclusive adventures for a select few,” GFI offers trips unlike any most people have ever taken, into areas rarely visited. For starters. Rod Ansell has opened his 60,000 acres of land exclusively to Macan and his travel groups.
One of the few white men allowed into Arnhem Land, aboriginal territory of Australia, Ansell can take tourists into truly uncivilized territory. As he talks about Ansell, Australia and other remote spots on the map, Macan’s eyes glow with a sense of the adventures he wants to share.
After nearly a year behind a desk, trying to make his new business fly, Macan is beginning to get claustrophobic. He hopes eventually to build GFI into a business that will give him stability, an income and a chance to do what he loves.
In the meantime, as he looks out over the marsh from Leblanc’s High Street condominium, Macan realizes it could be quite some time before he gets into the intoxicating lifestyle he stumbled into a decade ago.
Macan’s life of adventure began with people he met in Cannes, France, working for Intercontinental Hotels. After studying hotel management in Great Britain, he planned to make a career in the field. During his four years in the South of France, he bumped into many yachtsmen with more alluring lifestyles. He took a job on one boat, the Lady Jenny III, and spent the next four years crewing.
From there he landed next to the Red Sea, in an area off the Sinai in Egypt called Sharm-el-Sheikh. At the time he landed, in early 1982, Egypt had recently received the Sinai back from Israel and resorts along the Red Sea were there for the taking.
"There was quite a lot of freedom because the Egyptians didn't know what to do (with the reclaimed property)," he said.
Macan ran a diving program off a 76-foot yacht, the Lady Jenny III, which spent half the year in the Mediterranean and the winter months in the Red Sea. Two other people were hired by the boat's owner to charter and operate it through most of the year.
"It was dreamland because we were all divers and we built a darkroom on the boat and did (film) processing," he said, making no attempt to hide his enthusiasm.
During the four years he spent on this boat, Macan met LeBlanc, who regularly brought tour groups. "My partner came down about five years ago for a couple of weeks and we became great friends," Macan said.
Macan's girlfriend, a physician now working in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, suggested Macan check out Australia and so off he went in 1985.
After months in the country, Macan decided to go to the city of Darwin. Although he usually doesn't hitch at night, he decided he'd make an exception. After Ansell picked him up, the two immediately hit if off. "It was just one of those rare occasions when you meet someone and it's like you've known each other all your life."
At the time, Crocodile Dundee was not a household word, but Macan was enthralled with Ansell's story of how he had survived in a remote area of northern Australia for months, living on what food he could capture in the bush. Ansell's large fishing boat had overturned, leaving him and his two puppy dogs with a small rowboat, a sleeping bag, a rifle, two knives and a few other less useful items.
Rod Ansell, the character who inspired the movie "Crocodile Dundee" is shown rowing
on the Fitzmaurice River in Australia in this photo taken from Ansell's book, "To fight
The Wild." ansell's contact with Dominick Macan contributed to Macan's adventure
travel business in Hampton.
Although Ansell's adventure is very different from the story that became a movie, Macan was aware of the film and how it was inspired. Ansell, at first silent about his adventure, told a newspaper reporter of his experience in the bush.
The story made headlines, Ansell wrote a book and made a documentary. When he appeared on a national television talk show, Paul Hogan, a famous comedian in Australia, was in the audience. Hogan was inspired by Ansell's story and concocted a movie based on his character. Macan says that when the movie became a hit, the filmmakers were warned they should stop saying it was based on Ansell or they would have to pay the Australian royalties.
As Macan rode with Ansell through the north of Australia, he heard the stories and leaned that Ansell had recently won a bid to buy 60,000 acres of bushland from the government. Macan was invited back to the property, where for three weeks he watched and lived the ways of the bush.
“He said, ‘why don’t you come out here for a couple of weeks?’ so we went out and were sleeping on canvass. It was like having your own guru guide. He’s like the expert on the Australian bush.”
Ansell, who grew up on a large ranch, is one of the few white people allowed in Arnhem Land, a part of Australia out of limits to all but the Aborigines. He was originally sent to teach the Aborigines how to catch and kill water buffalo.
The two men agreed it would be wonderful for tourists to be able to visit this area, and agreed then that Macan could set up the tours.
Macan spent the next 18 months cruising around the Northeast coast of America and the Caribbean, making the business contacts that he hoped would help his new travel enterprise.
During these months, he stayed in contact with LeBlanc, a post office worker in Amesbury, and they talked about setting up a travel business, more likely a diving operation.
In the fall of 1986, Macan went back to the Red Sea, where he and LeBlanc joined for a trip to Fiji. About a year ago they set up GFI, with Macan running the British office in London, LeBlanc the American office from Hampton.
“We quickly saw trans-Atlantic telephone calls are not a good way to start a business and the business was mostly American anyway.” They decided to close the London office and last April Macan moved to Hampton.
A TOUGH BUSINESS TO CRACK
Getting the business started was harder than Macan envisioned. “I thought we could get all the trips (booked) and take turns guiding, while someone at home ran the office.”
Staying in an office is the hardest challenge for someone accustomed to the outdoor life. I’m absolutely going wild. The worst thing is sitting behind a desk. It’s the worst thing because for 10 years I haven’t had to do this.”
Gary LeBlanc, a mail carrier in Amesbury, also operates UnderSea What
We See, a scuba diving tour business that is the parent company of GFI
International. [D.W. Roberts photo]
The location of the office – LeBlanc’s low visibility condo in Hampton Beach – is not making business any easier. Macan notes, though, that much of the business is telephone–oriented, and they currently have high hopes of moving into an office in Lamie’s building in the center of Hampton, which at least might bring the company some foot traffic.
In any event, Macan seems ready to pay his dues. “If you want something bad enough you have to make sacrifices,” he says. He hopes to one day settle down a bit, which doesn’t mean giving up travel, but perhaps more planting his roots.
So far Macan has booked a tour to Fiji in February and one to Australia for next November. He had already booked a trip to the Mediterranean and one to the Galapagos.
Making money isn’t the priority. Getting a chance to travel is the main lure. With the kinds of adventures he has planned, however, Macan is confident GFI will take off. Besides offering travelers a jaunt into the far reaches of the Australian bush, GFI has an exclusive tour to the second largest game park in Tanzania.
The Red Sea expedition that Macan helped lead is now one of the trips his company will book for travelers. Other trips include sailing to the Cocos Island off Costa Rica, billed as the world’s “largest and most beautiful uninhabited island,” and a trip to Taveuni, off the mainland of Fiji.
GFI will plan custom trips to any of their areas, and if they can’t suit a customer’s needs they will refer clients to an agency that can.
The locations of GFI trips makes them exciting without any fanfare, but Macan talks about the little extras he includes to make sure his clients are bowled over. He arranges for guides that are experts in the field and plans many surprises.
The cost is not made for the low-budget traveler, with a trip to either Australia or Africa costing $3,050 plus airfare, and the Galpagos trip costing $2,330 plus airfare. But these are not mass market adventures. Each trip includes the best accommodations, and all meals are paid for, except in Australia, where Macan leaves travelers to choose from many restaurants.
In each location, he does extensive research on where the tour will stay, and how its members will spend their time. “I write to people in each area and find out the major hotels. I have contacts and try to use people I know already.
Macan does not see room for failure, and only looks forward to the day when all the pieces fall together. After nearly six years of living on boats, which are luxurious but still fairly cramped, and now sharing space with LeBlanc, Macan looks forward to a time when he has his own place.
He admits that to some extent he started his new venture simply as a way to get back to Australia to see Rod Ansell. “He just struck me. I wanted to take people down there so I could pay for my trip, not make a profit. Even now, we don’t make a lot on that trip.” Now the business is a vehicle to a somewhat more settled life.
“After a few years, this will be going and I can still travel and be building a base all the time.” Macan has a 9-year old daughter, Alice, back in England. From each place he travels and each adventure he sends his daughter a souvenir.
From Hampton, he sent Alice photos of the area, featuring some taken in autumn, a book on the White Mountains, and a ghetto blaster representing America. They’ll no doubt take their place with souvenirs from many more exotic locations visited by a man ready to take others on the same journeys.