Start looking for safe sites well before sunset. If you find none within an hour or so, check guidebooks for possible backstops – e.g. caravan parks, national parks etc., even if a fair bit off your route. Most times you won’t need one, but it is close to impossible to spot a good bush camp in the dark – and not that easy even during the day. If you see others in a likely exposed site, ask if they are staying overnight and would not object to your company. Most welcome mutual emotional comfort.
Although rare, drunken and/or bored hoons can concern. Whilst usually harmless, thoughtless drunks close by can be disturbing. Physical attacks are fortunately rare but a few have happened. These problems are mainly limited to 30-40 kilometres of large towns, particularly mining towns on Friday and Saturday nights. Keeping well away from them generally ensures no problem.
Think hard before carrying an offensive weapon. Legal issues apart, if it is visible you must be prepared to use it, and that usually escalates the level of violence.
A satellite telephone provides piece of mind but, when choosing a camp site, first check that it can receive a signal. Regardless though, let the offender see and hear you making a phone call to the police. Even if you have no connection, act as if you had – and shout down that phone giving the location, descriptions, and number plate details if readily visible, and so on. This works very well.
Memorise and write down all emergency numbers in a prominent place. You must also be able to describe where you are (a GPS coordinate is ideal). You must also know the phone number of the phone you are ringing from as that enables the authorities to virtually pinpoint your location.
Camping under eucalyptus trees is an absolute no no! Branches snap off these trees without warning and at any time, even in dead calms. Country people do not call them ‘widow makers’ for nothing.
Install a dry powder fire extinguisher in the towing vehicle, and another close to the trailer door so that its pressure gauge is readily visible for routine checks. Have an immediately accessible fire blanket in the kitchen area. Install a smoke alarm in the sleeping area, but not in the kitchen as it will go off virtually every time you cook – and you may disconnect it through sheer frustration.
Mosquitoes more than just bite. Some carry nasties such as Ross River Virus (which exists Australia-wide and is painful at times thereafter), Barmah Forest Fever, and the potentially fatal Murray Valley encephalitis. Peak mosquito time is mostly between the end of the wet and the beginning of the dry seasons in tropical and semi-tropical areas, and in most other areas after extensive rain.
Repellents are necessary, but some products contain diethyl-toluamide (DEET) which may cause allergic reactions. There are also ‘natural’ repellents based on citronella, tea tree oil, or pyrethrum etc. All lose effectiveness after a few hours. Effective screens or nets are needed whilst sleeping. Vaporising devices made by Mortein and other companies, draw only 3 watts. Most require 230 volts ac so can be run from a tiny inverter. There are 12 volt dc versions but are hard to locate.
An alternative to repellents
For many people, a 10 milligram tablet of B1 taken daily reduces the after effects of being bitten: but needs to be commenced about two weeks before entering affected areas to become effective. Some medicos express reasonable concern that this may mask that you are nevertheless still being bitten: and possibly by mosquitoes carrying disease. Consult your doctor if concerned.
For many, an effective deterrent is about 90% sorbolene, 10% Dettol, a dash of citronella, and another of an essential oil of your preference. It may need thinning slightly with water. (Bulk generic versions of sorbolene can be bought for about $4 a litre). The better known proprietary repellents work very well, but need reapplying every two to three hours – and some people are worried about possible long term effects. Here again, consult a (preferably) local doctor if concerned.
These can cause major allergic reactions. The above remedy protects most people. For those for whom it doesn’t, something like RID may be effective. Otherwise the best solution is to keep away from sand fly areas, or to use antihistamine tablets. Begin using them a day or two before entering known sand fly areas. You may also need to apply antihistamine cream before sleeping.
These are nasty things and some can kill. It is best to avoid swimming in stinger-prone seas between November and March. Stingose or raw vinegar provides relief. Pour it over the affected area/s. Do not rub it in. The lycra panty-hose suits sold and rented in many affected areas are also effective.
Estuarine crocodiles kill. They are cunning and highly aggressive, and strike with extraordinary speed and violence. Pic: 1zoom.net.
Saltwater crocodiles (or estuarine crocodiles as they are now called to avoid confusion) are massively dangerous. Their intent is to trap, kill and eat any animal including humans – and they are truly good at doing so. Tourists are warned of the risk, but few take it seriously. Locals do!
They inhabit north and north-west of Australia. In such areas always assume there are crocodiles unless you are 100% certain to the contrary.
These creatures survive even in tiny billabongs (pools) little larger than a bath tub. It is impossible to tell if one is there – until too late.
They are mostly territorial and patient observers of routines, usually attacking only if a prey is in the same spot a few times, but sometimes at once. They lunge, at stunning acceleration, to at least their own length, including vertically. If caught you have next no chance of escape. They nest on river banks, so camp 100 metres from the water – the often-suggested 50 metres is too close).
Freshwater crocodiles (narrow snouts) are relatively less harmful but may attack if provoked. It is better not to swim in their presence as they dislike being disturbed.
Freshwater crocodile. The snout is long and narrow. They are relatively harmless but do not get closer than two or three metres. Pic: courtesy animal.discovery.com
Most people are scared of snakes and, within reason, that is probably the safest reaction. In practice however, far from all are remotely dangerous unless cornered or trodden on.
Australian snakes generally avoid confrontation. They usually slither away once they sense your presence, but may take a fair time to do so. Unless you are able to identify them at a glance, it is best to regard all as potentially lethal. As noted above however, snakes only rarely attack unless provoked, but all regard being trodden on as unfriendly.
Don’t even think about killing a snake. That’s how most people (almost always men) get bitten. Be extra careful if you’d had a drink or three: outback doctors say that almost all who get bitten are found to have a high level of alcohol in their blood.
Snakes react to light and shade, movements, and particularly surface vibration, but they lack hearing. If you suspect they are around, walk slowly and heavily, pausing every few metres to give them time to sense and respond to vibration. Leave a few metres between any leader and whoever follows. Snakes often react a few seconds after the first person has walked by, so it is typically the second or third person who walks by that gets bitten.
One to avoid – the King Brown. Pic: Rob Gray.
Be especially prudent in the bush. Wear leather boots, socks and jeans (ideally with gaiters) if walking off cleared tracks. Never poke your fingers into holes, or pick up hollow logs. Be cautious walking over fallen trees, there may be a snake asleep on the other side; ditto with sunny rocky outcrops. The main risk is during their breeding season: (October to December in Australia).
If confronted by a snake, make no rapid movements. Especially, don’t wave anything at it. Remain still for a time, and then very slowly back away. Be ultra-wary of approaching injured snakes, or if you accidentally run over one when driving.
If bitten, do not wash the venom off the surrounding skin. It will not seep into the site of the puncture and is needed for subsequent identification. Bind the limb (with a 100 mm crepe bandage). Work first towards the extremity, and then back and towards the trunk. Bind firmly and immobilise the limb by strapping to a board or whatever is available. Make a note of the time – the medicos need to know this. Don’t panic but seek urgent medical attention.
Outdoor life seems to keep long term travellers fit and healthy but accidents and illnesses do nevertheless happen. Consider completing a one-day CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) course, or better still the two-day First Aid Certificate. The techniques constantly evolve so it is good to relearn them regularly. Carry the ‘Remote Area First Aid Field Guide’, or ‘Active First Aid’. The latter book was written by experienced ambulance paramedics. It is simple and concise.
Not becoming lost
Most of Australia’s major tracks are signposted: station tracks are less so. If you intend to travel on other than main tracks carry a compass, and know how to use it. See also page 78.
Personal locator beacons
Australian approved personal locator beacon. Pic: RFD.
Personal Locator Beacons are pocket-sized portable transmitters intended to be used by bushwalkers, off road drivers and other land based adventurers. When activated, they automatically transmit an emergency radio signal that is received by a satellite and re-transmitted to a local terminal that pin-points its location etc. They are potential lifesavers but must be reserved for life-threatening situations. If their use (and misuse) continues to increase, it may become obligatory to insure against the cost of rescue.
They operate only at 406 MHz and must comply with the Australian requirements. They must be registered with the Australian Rescue Coordination Centre (or its equivalent overseas). If buying on eBay make sure it is a 406 MHz unit that complies with AS/NZS 4280.2 and AS/NZS 4280.3. Far from all do. These units can be also be hired in many areas that attract walkers. Check with the National Parks & Wildlife Service regarding this.
Flash floods occur at any time in many parts of Australia, and routinely during the monsoon period. Road authorities officially close flooded roads and reopen them only when vehicles can travel without damaging the surface. These notices are commonly ignored by tourists. There is a fine of about $1000 per axle if you get caught, and the chance of getting caught as well as bogged is high.
The main around-Australia highway about 850 km north of Perth (WA). Pic: RV Books.
Increasingly, tourists travel north, north-western and north-eastern Australia during the cyclone season (November – late April). In these areas, in most years, there are four to six cyclone warnings. Few tourists know this because only cyclones that become threatening (usually two/three each year) are reported in national media. If travelling at this time you need to know a bit about them – and what to do.
Cyclones may form quickly, but usually move at only 10-15 km/h. Most live for a week or so, some longer. There may be no sign that a cyclone is heading your way even only hours away but reptiles seek safe holes and crevices, frigate birds fly away from the cyclone. The sea may look ‘oily’ and/or become spookily calm until the cyclone manifests.
Weather reports on local ABC (AM) radio warn if there is a risk of a cyclone within 200 km or so. If feasible drive 200-300 km away from its current track and centre to keep you clear of cyclonic winds, rain and flooding. Cyclones can and do track erratically and even reverse direction. If caught out, head for the nearest town and seek advice from the police, or SES. Most towns in such areas have cyclone-shelters for travellers. Do not even stay to ‘experience’ a cyclone. Some do and become a menace for rescue authorities.
Cyclone tracks (Australia) over the past 100 years. Sketch: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Once a cyclone watch is advised, the Met-Bureau provides updates on local ABC (AM) stations in the regular news bulletins. If the cyclone watch extends to cyclone alerts, broadcasts are at 15 minutes past each hour. If the cyclone continues to threaten, this coverage becomes practically constant. Cyclone advice can also be obtained via 1300 659 210 (WA), and 08 8922 3630 (NT).
Projected positions, magnitude, estimated affected areas and wind strengths, are also obtainable via bom.gov.au and also the US Navy site: npmoc.navy.mil/
Categories and descriptions refer to the worst conditions that may occur. The statistical probability is that the effects you experience will be less severe – but do not gamble on that.
Protecting your vehicle
Camper trailers etc. are exceptionally vulnerable to cyclone damage, even at Category 1. Flying debris, particularly corrugated iron sheets, is a real danger, but in low-lying coastal areas, the major risk is storm surge. Two to three metres is common. Up to five metres is not unknown.
Many caravan parks in cyclone-prone areas have tie down points. Locate the vehicle/s with the nose into the prevailing wind. Lift the trailer’s chassis onto concrete blocks or remove wheels and place inside the trailer if no blocks are obtainable. Or apply the handbrakes firmly and block the wheels with rocks.
Place loose items inside. Lower corner jacks (if applicable). Tie-down chassis to the tie-down points, or to star pickets driven deeply in at a 20 degree angle as shown (right), using steel chain or cable with a breaking strain not less than 8 kN (1800 lbs). Tie down loosely, then tighten to a ‘twanging’ tension.
Finally, tie down the body to those pickets as well. Then seek safe shelter.
|1.||<125||Damage to crops, and caravans.|
|2.||125 – 169||Minor house damage, significant damage to trees and light vehicles, risk of power failure.|
|3.||170 -224||Roof/structural damage. Caravans destroyed.|
|4.||225 – 279||Significant roof loss & structural damage, dangerous airborne debris.|
|5.||>280||Extreme danger, widespread destruction.|