Fear of "backpacker killers" is right up there with spiders, sharks and poisonous snakes when it comes to the primal fears held by the rest of the world about Australia, transforming the stunning landscapes into nightmarish backdrops.
The incident at Tea Tree Point near Salt Creek in Coorong National Park in South Australia saw two bloodsoaked European backpackers rescued from the sand dunes.
It evoked scenes reminiscent of Australian horror flick Wolf Creek and has sent backpacker agencies into meltdown.
A 59-year-old man has been charged with kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted murder in relation to the incident, which unfolded on Tuesday.
A team of major crime detectives and intelligence officers is now investigating whether the man has committed any other crimes while fast-tracking the processing of his DNA. Acting Assistant Commissioner Doug Barr said they are also checking every missing person file across the country.
"The very nature of this incident cries out to inquire into the background of this particular suspect," he said.
"These sort of cases are very rare, they don't occur very often.
Bradley John Murdoch received a life sentence for the 2001 murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio. Photo / Getty
"When they do happen they are a trigger to us to inquire into what has gone on in the past that we haven't known about."
Tourism Australia spokesman Leo Seaton told news.com.au the organisation was watching developments in South Australia closely for any potential impact on the backpacker industry.
"We are taking it very seriously," Mr Seaton said.
"We're in close and regular contact with our counterparts at South Australian Tourism Commission on this. We're monitoring media coverage internationally and liaising with all our international offices, to keep them fully updated and gauge the reaction they are getting in market.
"We are also contacting industry representatives here in Australia to gauge the reaction on the ground and discuss the impact of this. We'll continue to monitor the situation very closely."
The South Australian Tourism Commission (STAC) held a crisis meeting yesterday with hostel and tour operators across the state in a bid to come up with strategies to keep young visitors safe.
Backpackers' Association chairman Gary Locke told the Advertiser the industry was holding its breath as it monitored the international media's reaction to the Coorong beach attack.
Hostel manager John Dwyer said: "An incident like this could smarten up the industry but I hope it does not shut it down."
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill also voiced concern about the possible impact the case could have on tourism.
This police handout photo shows the scrub where Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees were allegedly assaulted. Photo / Getty
South Australia is not the only state in which travellers have been attacked recently.
Yesterday, a brother and sister backpacking through the Northern Territory were robbed and assaulted in Alice Springs by two men who remain at large.
Last August, three German backpackers were carjacked, kidnapped, beaten and robbed at a Northern Territory shopping centre. One of the tourists was forced to withdraw money from an ATM as a broken bottle was held to his neck during the hour-long abduction.
The attackers made off with their bank cards and mobile phones before fleeing in the travellers' car, which was found burnt out near a park half an hour later.
Local property owner Manolis Darkadakis told the NT News he had allowed the backpackers to stay at his place after they had been fined for illegal camping by council rangers.
And in Western Australia, in a chilling case that also drew comparisons with Wolf Creek, travellers were warned of a "mysterious man" who had left seven tourists stranded in the outback.
The alleged incident occurred in June 2014 when the seven were lured to the remote northwest WA towns of Halls Creek and Kununurra with the promise of work.
British travellers Peter Falconio and his girlfriend Joanne Lees were allegedly abducted in Australia's Northern Territory in 2001. Joanne survived but Peter's body has never been found. Photo / Getty
The man was aged between 25 and 30 and called himself "Joe Sturt" and was known to frequent local hostels recruiting travellers for what he told them were "contract mustering jobs" in the WA/NT area.
In the June 12 incident, described in a poster campaign by hostel owners, seven backpackers from the Kimberley Croc Backpackers YHA in Kununurra accompanied the man to Halls Creek.
"Within 24 hours they had been reported missing persons been sent off by him into different dead end locations with no petrol," the poster read.
"It ended with five persons in a serious car accident, resulting in two being flown to Perth Hospital in a critical condition. The rest are treated for minor injuries and were then left stranded in HC (Halls Creek)."
The man calling himself "Joe Sturt" remains at large but another man allegedly operating a similar racket around the same time was arrested by Queensland Police the same week.
The 25-year-old Northern Terriorty man was charged with stealing offences after approaching a group of backpackers in Broome and offering them work at a remote station.
"At least nine backpackers gave the man money to purchase swags, boots and camping gear for them," police said in a statement.
Those cases, while they could easily have ended in tragedy on a large scale, pale in comparison with backpacker horror stories such as that of serial killer Ivan Milat, who murdered at least seven young tourists in NSW and Bradley John Murdoch, from whom Brit Joanne Lees bravely escaped after he shot dead her boyfriend Peter Falconio.
Sydney-born Milat is serving consecutive life sentences in Goulburn's Supermax jail following his 1996 conviction for the murders of British travellers Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, German nationals Anja Habschied, Gabor Neugebauer and Simone Schmidl and Victorians Deborah Everist and James Gibson.
Murdoch received a life sentence for the July 2001 murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio on a remote part of the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek. His body has never been found.
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